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 šŸ™‚ 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.