Why We Blog

The Gyspy Librarian has written a follow-up to my previous post about why I blog. His response is definitely worth a read, particularly if you’re still wondering why in the world all of these librarians are blogging. While the entire post is a very good read, Angel gets to the heart of blogging when he writes:

I have heard from some nice and smart people in the biblioblogosphere, so I now also write for that audience in the hopes of adding to conversations here and there. But there’s also another, more important reason. A librarian inspired me to become a librarian. For some reason she said, “you know? You’d make a good librarian.” What do you know? I actually bought it, and I went to library school. My hope is that some day I will be able to inspire someone, and so I will have repaid her faith in me. What started out as a personal quest is now also a way to give something back to the profession and the community.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

This post was prompted by an email from a business librarian at another institution, who was inquiring about my use of both a blog and a wiki to disseminate library information. In the email, the librarian asked:

Are people actually reading? No offense 🙂 I find that often librarians’ efforts in distributing information is in vain or not fully appreciated. I notice that your blog [in this case, referring to my Business Blog] has 16 subscriptions via Bloglines so there is a steady readership. However, how are the students responding to this service?

I can assure you that no offense was taken, but I believe the question gets to the heart of one of the primary reasons people have for fearing the use of new technologies. That is, what if you build it, and no one comes? Using newer technologies like this are often a risk, because you never know if anyone will use a resource or service until you build it. And unfortunately, it can take some time and effort to put something together. Imagine choosing software, training staff, getting staff buy-in, marketing a service, or spending lots of money, etc., only to find that no one really cares about the service/technology, and no one uses it. The possibility of failure is extremely intimidating, but we have to face those challenges (and deal with those failures) if libraries are going to continue to thrive in the future. The beauty of the biblioblogosphere is that you can find inspiration, or avoid potential pitfalls, by learning from others.

In my case, I’ve taken a couple of risks with using blogs and wikis to disseminate library information. For me, the risks that I faced were mostly my time, effort, and pride. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn how to set up a wiki or blog, customize it to your liking, and then add (and continue to add) content. And, if I developed these (what I thought were) really cool resources and no one used them, well, I’d have to swallow my pride and start something else.

Fortunately, my risks are paying off thus far. I’ve been very pleased that the Business Blog and the Biz Wiki have both been used extensively. While I wish the Blog had more subscribers to the RSS feed, I am finding that RSS usage has not yet taken off on our campus. In fact, I imagine most of the 16 subscribers to the Business Blog are librarians from other libraries, not students/faculty at my university. I am working on that though by trying to promote RSS through workshops and other means.

It appears that most users are accessing the Business Blog and the Biz Wiki through a traditional web browser. We have the ability to measure click-through statistics through our InfoTree, which is where most students would access the resources. Last year, the Business Blog was accessed through InfoTree 2265 times. And since the Biz Wiki went live in August, it has been accessed 1193 times through InfoTree. Our InfoTree currently has 3113 records of databases, websites, subject guides, search engines, etc, all organized by subject area. This past quarter (Sept 5-Nov 20), the Biz Wiki was the number 25 most-used resource in InfoTree with 1065 click-throughs. The Business Blog, during the same time period, was the number 53 most-used resource in InfoTree with 497 click-throughs.

Because of the Biz Wiki, I believe the usage of the Business Blog will decrease to a certain extent. Before the Biz Wiki, I used the Business Blog more as an on-the-fly research guide. That is, as business students had questions about their projects, I would post things about finding resources for their projects. I still do that to a certain extent, but the Business Blog is now transitioning more into covering current awareness about business topics, promoting business resources, etc. The Biz Wiki is a little more broad in subject coverage, as it is replacing my traditional html research guides, but with a little more content. I believe students will go to the Biz Wiki before the Business Blog when they’re looking for the best business resources for their topics.

I think we all at one time or another think that our efforts are never “fully appreciated” . But the way I figure, that can be the case in almost everything that we might do in life. Efforts in trying new things may be in vain, but I believe that if you are really passionate about something, your users will find out about the resource and start using it. I’m lucky in that I get to talk to about 500 business students each quarter in library instruction sessions, so the blog and the wiki are the last things I show them in class. The blog and the wiki are also the easiest place to find my contact information, so if I show them this last, hopefully they’re more likely to remember that the Business Blog and Biz Wiki are resources that can help them with their work. I’ve also been very fortunate to have a great deal of buy-in from my colleagues. They are very good at referring business students to the blog and wiki, and they use the resources themselves when helping students find answers to business questions. I try to get as much feedback from my colleagues as possible about both the Business Blog and the Biz Wiki, as they use the resources and also see how others use them. Probably one of the best features of both blogs and wikis is the ability to edit and change things. In other words, if something is not working as intended, you can change things very easily.

When I first built the Business Blog, I had lofty dreams that students would be posting comments to my blog posts left and right. I thought that each post about a project or resource would be a great discussion medium. I’ve been disappointed in this area, as the only comments I’ve received were either from spam or other librarians. I first thought that this might be the result of a false perception that students shouldn’t comment on “Chad’s Blog” for fear of me or others thinking they were “altering” or “tampering” with the content of “My Blog.” I am now more inclined to think that most virtual discussion about research and class projects is taking place over email, IM, and in courseware discussion boards (like Blackboard or WebCT). As far as the Biz Wiki goes, I have had a few users fix my typographical errors, but that’s about it. And I’ve got no way of knowing if those users were students or not. The Biz Wiki is basically brand new, but I imagine it will follow the same trends as the Business Blog with very few (if any) comments or edits coming from the user community. And you know, I’m okay with that. The users are going to use it however they want to meet their needs. It’s not my job to tell them how to use it. It is my job to keep updating and adding content that is appropriate and pertinent to their courses and class projects. That requires a lot of work, but I know that if I don’t keep up with it, my efforts truly will be in vain.

Why I Blog

I got an email yesterday from a graduate student wanting me to answer a few questions about blogging. Her class is studying blogging as a form of organizational communication. Her questions got me thinking about why I blog, so I figured I’d share my answers to her questions here. I’ve written about this before in a previous post, so some of my ramblings below may be redundant. I’d be interested in how other bloggers might answer her questions, and I imagine any additional input from other blogger’s couldn’t hurt the student’s project any either.

When did you begin to blog, and why?
I first began my Business Blog in March of 2004. I used it primarily to promote library resources to business students. I could point students to the blog in each library instruction class that I taught, so they could go to the blog to find appropriate resources for their projects. I now have a wiki that points students to more broad business resources, so now the Business Blog is expanding into business topics and current issues as well.

I began my professional blog, Library Voice, in January of this year. I was reading blogs of other librarians for quite some time, and I wanted to contribute to what was going on in the blogosphere. I really didn’t have many expectations for a huge number of readers, I just wanted a place where I could put my own ideas down in writing.

Does your job require a blog, or is it your own personal choice?
Blogging is my own personal choice. The Business Blog was another way for me to reach out to students and faculty at my university. We are required to maintain library research guides that list popular subject resources, so I used the Business Blog to complement that.

My other blog, Library Voice, was a personal choice as well. I liked what I saw going on in the blogosphere, and I wanted to contribute to the conversation. While I write mostly about work-related matters in this blog, everything I write about is my own choice.

Do you write your blogs at work or elsewhere?
Posts for the Business Blog are written entirely at work.

Posts for my personal/professional blog, Library Voice, are written at both home and work, but mostly at work. I see blogging and reading other blogs as a way of keeping up with what is going on in my profession. As a business librarian, web author, teacher, bibliographer, and tech enthusiast, I read a lot of blogs to keep up. Writing about my interests helps me to further understand what I’m reading and to apply what I’ve learned.

What is the primary purpose or aim of the blog?
As mentioned above, the Business Blog was originally designed to point business students to sources for particular projects. It is still used to promote business reference sources and databases, but it now has a current awareness aspect to it as well.

In Library Voice, I blog about issues in librarianship, technology, and education. I use the blog primarily as a way to keep up in these areas. Writing about these topics helps me to formulate my own ideas about the issues, as well as contribute some to the conversation.

Does your company have any policies or guidelines about blogging?
Not currently. I guess an unwritten policy would be that I never write anything that I wouldn’t want my boss (or future boss) or my colleagues (or future colleagues) to read.

Are your blogs monitored by your organization?
Not really. I imagine my colleagues or superiors may have read a post here and there, but there really isn’t anyone policing what I’ve been writing. I don’t blog anonymously, so having my name on everything I write keeps me honest. I also write a great deal about what I am doing at my organization (which is no secret, either) so I try to represent the organization well.

What inspires you to blog?
For my Business Blog, I really get inspiration from the students. They are the primary audience of the blog. I try to write things that will help them in their projects, and I try to keep it interesting to them. Since I’m using the blog now to for current awareness of business topics/issues, I try to blog about things that they may find interesting.

For Library Voice, I get really inspired by the conversation that takes place across the blogosphere. It really is amazing the way topics and issues get batted around on different blogs. Everyone has a voice, so you’re bound to have multiple perspectives on the same topic. I’ve also met several great folks in my field through blogging. Bloggers like to share, and I’ve contacted a number of fellow bloggers, and they’ve contacted me about various things.

Do other members of your organization blog?
Yes. We’ve got quite a few blogging librarians. We’ve got:
The News Blog
The Art Blog
The Communications Blog
The First Year Experience Blog.

Is blogging for you an act of self-empowerment?
Well, I suppose I like going back and reading what I wrote about a topic, and it is sort of cool to see what you’ve written. I like writing about issues that interest me, and I like keeping up with what is going on in a variety of areas. So perhaps the keeping-up aspect of blogging is more in line with self-empowerment, as I do feel empowered by the knowledge that I get from reading others’ ideas and blogs. The actual writing, for me, is more about wrapping my own thoughts around a particular idea, a form of self-expression and self-discovery.

Do you feel you can write about anything and not be judged? Have you ever “vented” or wrote about negative feelings toward your organization?
My mama taught me, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, then you’re better not saying anything at all.” I try to live by that, but of course, it is often hard to follow. My thoughts are, if you’re going to be writing something negative about your organization, then you better be thinking long and hard as you write. It’s easier to say something bad and be forgiven, because everyone has a loose tongue every now and then. People mess up and speak before they think. But to actually put those thoughts in writing requires a considerable more amount of thought and effort.

Others may disagree with this, and perhaps say that I’m being a coward. However, I’ve never been much for confrontation. I try to solve problems at the source. A problem would have to be pretty huge for me to go and blog about it to the whole world.

Do you feel like you are writing for yourself, or your audience?
With the Business Blog, I try to write for the audience. It’s geared towards faculty and staff in the College of Business, so I try to write about things that will interest them. I also try to use the blog to promote resources that we pay a lot of money for, so that drives what I write as well.

For Library Voice, I mostly write for myself. I like how putting something down in writing can help flesh out some ideas about things. To a certain point, I am also writing for an audience, which in general is the library community. However, I have to clarify that I’m not writing for, as Indiana Jones would say, “Fortune and Glory.” Rather, I am writing to share ideas about issues in librarianship, technology, and education. Sharing is another thing that my mama taught me, and blogging is the perfect medium for it. I’ve learned a lot from other bloggers and I’ve gotten a lot of ideas and have turned some of those ideas into successful initiatives at my library. So for me, blogging is just returning the favor.

Pew Internet Report: Teen Content Creators and Consumers

The Pew Internet & American Life Project released Teen Content Creators and Consumers today. From the summary:

American teenagers today are utilizing the interactive capabilities of the internet as they create and share their own media creations. Fully half of all teens and 57% of teens who use the internet could be considered Content Creators. They have created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations.

Teens are often much more enthusiastic authors and readers of blogs than their adult counterparts. Teen bloggers, led by older girls, are a major part of this tech-savvy cohort. Teen bloggers are more fervent internet users than non-bloggers and have more experience with almost every online activity in the survey.

Accorrding to the report:

  • 19% of online youth ages 12-17 have created their own blog. That is approximately four million people.
  • 38% of all online teens, or about 8 million young people, say they read blogs.
  • Only about a quarter (27%) of online adults do so.

Teens mainly read blogs of people they know:

While public discussion has raged about whether blogs constitute legitimate journalism or are a reliable source of information, for teens, blogs are much more about the maintenance and extension of personal relationships. When teens do read blogs, they mainly read the blogs of people they know. About 62% of blog-reading teens say they only read the blogs of people they know. The remaining group (36%) reports reading the blogs of both people they know and people they have never met. A mere 2% report only reading the blogs of people they do not know.

Synopsis available here. Full PDF available here.