Librarianesque Session Notes

These notes are for the BloggerCon session Librarians I moderated on Saturday, April 17, 2004. What follows are points in no particular order. I’ve combined some of the discussion with related themes.

I hoped to get through my tape of the session tonight, but I just don’t have the energy to do it. I will listen to the rest of the tape and flush out these notes further on Monday evening.

The Librarianesque Session was excellent. More than 40 people were in the room. I knew quite a few people, but I also saw a lot of unfamiliar faces.

Many people in the room worked in academic settings. There were some special librarians and a couple of school and public librarians. At least 1/3 of the room were people who said they weren’t librarians.

The introductory questions I asked revealed the knowledge and interest of people in the room regarding weblogs. Almost everyone in the room raised their hands when I asked who knew what a weblog is. About half of the people in the room acknowledged having a weblog. Many indicated they were interested in learning more about blogging. One person responded to the question about being in the room because someone else told him to be there. No one admitting being in the wrong room.

I decided to just let the discussion go where people wanted it to and tried not to intervene too much. People raised a lot of issues that varied greatly from the list I developed based on conversations I’ve had with other librarians about blogging. It began with two librarians talking about the blogs for their libraries: Susan Herzog and Garrett Eastman. Their statements inspired others to begin asking questions and building on what they’ve said.

One academic librarian observed that students and users are often comfortable in an online environment, so introducing them to blogs may not be as big of a shift as we think it might be.

Between Simmons College speaking appearances, Jessamyn West did indeed join us and contributed to the discussion several times.

People raised a lot of good points and it gave people the opportunity to talk about their blogs and learn what others are doing in certain situations.

A few librarians talked about challenges with marketing the blog to users, coworkers, and managers. Joshua Farber, who works for a prep school, talked about how one of his coworkers was upset because someone linking to the blog did not use a proper citation format. He wonders how we can communicate to others that linking on the Web is substantial, especially on a blog.

Several librarians, like Susan Herzog and Jessamyn West, talked about blogs as a way to market a library, its resources, and events. Someone pointed out that people doing Web searches could end up on any page of the library’s blog and learn about their local library, which could be especially useful for people who don’t usually use the library.

Someone talked about using the blog as a way to place changing content “above the fold”–putting useful content in a place on the library’s Web site where users will easily see it.

One audience member pointed out that blog readers are often a self-selected audience.

Two people talked about how clunky it can be to search blogs, especially since many don’t have their own built-in search engines and many search engines don’t include content from blogs. If blogs had better navigational tools, people might be more interested in using the technology. (Addendum 4/20: Garrett pointed to an article by Christina Pikas about searching blogs.)

Using categories could be one way to improve navigation, someone suggested. That can get clunky: as the amount of content on the blog grows, so does the amount of posts in each category. It becomes cumbersome for someone to go through each category looking for specific content. While talking about categories, several women talked about issues surrounding how to select appropriate terms, like whether to use a controlled vocabulary (for example Library of Congress Subject Headings, which are used in many libraries) or using less formal terms.

A participant suggested the ability to have a “blog this” bookmarklet built into his browser to make blogging something he finds on the Web much easier.

We talked about several differences between a weblog and a Web site. A contributor doesn’t necessarily have to know HTML in order to make an entry. Weblogs are easy to update, change, and edit. In some settings, librarians can control a weblog, but they would have to go through the computer department in order to do anything with the Web site. It can be easier to enable other staff members to contribute to a weblog than a Web site.

Issues of trust and authority came up, too. With a common perception about weblogs being that they’re often places where people express their opinions or keep a personal journal, what do people think when their library or librarian has a weblog?

Christina Pikas from Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab talked about using her library’s weblog to establish her credentials. By writing weblog entries and pointing out useful resources, she’s letting her community know she’s available and knowledgeable about the field. She thinks it might be a way to attract new clients and encourage others to use the library because of her expertise.

We talked about blogs as a community-building tool, since some blog software gives people the opportunity for interaction through comments and discussion groups. Someone mentioned the use of blogs among community groups connect to a library, like a book group.

Whether or not to use referer logs as a basis for questions to answer on the blog came up, too. A woman talked about the temptation to respond to items in the referer log, like a search string that directs someone to the blog, in order to give the seeker the best information.

Someone told me Dave Winer, conference idea-man, stuck his head into the room at one point, but I didn’t see him.

Thanks to everyone who participated in the session and Garrett Eastman, Mary Chitty, Kris Liberman, Vernica Downey and many others for helping me plan the session. sj and Sun monitored the session. Bob, Jesse, and Jay McCarthy helped with tech support.

(I was hoping to listen to the Webcast before typing these notes since the audio tape I made didn’t come out well, but it still doesn’t seem to be available. As I’m listening to the tape, I kept thinking “What’s that popping sound in the background?” Eventually, I realized that the sound is me writing on the chalkboard. I’m sure it’s throughout the Webcast since the computer doing the Webcast–and thus one of the Webcast mics–was sitting directly beneath the chalkboard.)

A note on names: I could remember who said some things and forgot or didn’t catch the names of others. Since I was moderating, I didn’t do a very good job of writing down who said what. I also am very aware that some people do not want to have their name on a weblog and perhaps someone said something in the session s/he doesn’t want a coworker to know came from her/him. If I used your name above and you would like me to remove it or I didn’t use your name and you would like me to, please let me know.

Christina Pikas posted notes on her blog Christina’s LIS Rant.

what follows are the notes I jotted during the session:

self-selected audience

Garrett Eastman got into blogging because scientists don’t blog, but he can see a need for it.

students/users more comfortable in an online environment

marketing

outreach–get the people who aren’t coming to the library into the library

what can I see above the fold on the Web site–accidental visitors

everyone is able to post to a weblog

trust

niche blogging–what to do with the blog

librarians are using blogs outside of the library because the library doesn’t have a blog

weblogs enabling new behaviors–more efficient ways to do what we’re already doing

people owning and manipulating their own thoughts/writing on a weblog

what can information be for someone

empowering

community building

reinventing social conventions like journalism

e-mail as real time vs. blogging as thought before writing

commentary from other bloggers

knowledge discovery –> knowledge sharing — knowing how to find information disconnected pieces

discussion group vs weblog fixed vs. dynamic

networking between librarians

authority power dynamics

end level “how can this be useful”

from the chalkboard:

keptupacademicllibrarian

diff between website & blog

blogs for CM

justifying blogging

authority

blogwithoutalibrary.net

knowledge discovery

storytelling –> marketing

drawing users in

categories –> make your own?

indexing blogs

popularity does not equal authority

trust

trackback

networking tool

end level “how can this be useful”

knowledgemanagement tool for us or for users

Librarianesque Session Blogroll

Violation of Rule Number One (“I do not post photos of myself on my blog”): Sooz posted two photos of this session. In the second photo, Kris Liberman’s head is in the right foreground, Christina Pikas is in blue above her, and Jessamyn West is in the dark top with her hair up. That’s me on the desk. In the first photo, which I think was taken before the session officially began, Bob Stepno is to my right (I’m on the desk) against the wall. Sun is to his right, wearing red. The famous Jay McCarthy is to Sun’s right. I think Sam’s coat is what we see next to Jay.

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