UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Guest Post: UK Library Blogs – What Do We Think We’re Doing?

Posted by ukwebfocusguest on 2 April 2007

Background

Roddy MacLeod was invited to launch the guest blog spot in the UK Web Focus blog by giving his views on issues which have been raised on this blog. Roddy’s posting addresses the use of blogs in the UK Library community.

UK Library Blogs – What Do We Think We’re Doing?

Brian doesn’t need to twist my arm for me to say that UK Web Focus is one of my regular reads. Several UK LIS-related blogs, such as UK Web Focus, Karen Blakeman’s Blog (which moved on the 19th February of this year to this new site), Phil Bradley’s Weblog, Chris Armstrong’s info NeoGnostic and Peter Godwin’s Information Literacy meets Web 2.0 have emerged as very welcome sources of information, advice and opinion for the rest of us information professionals, as many of us are still finding our feet in the blogosphere. Brian’s Blog Experiments are also useful in this respect.

In the UK, we appear to be lagging behind the USA somewhat in terms of uptake and exploitation of blogs. Brian recently warned about the limitations of blog statistics and so I don’t want to make too much of this, but LIS bloggers in the USA seem to have a much larger following than their UK equivalents. According to Technorati, UK Web Focus is today ranked 81,591 and according to Bloglines has 55 Bloglines subscribers. Phil Bradley’s Weblog is ranked 41,011 with 136 Bloglines subscribers. Compare this to The Shifted Librarian ranked 4,320 with 44,734 Bloglines subscribers, and librarian.net ranked 6,740 with 3,734 Bloglines subscribers, and you can clearly see the discrepancy between the two sides of the Atlantic.

Perhaps this is only to be expected, given the size of the respective communities, but it’s therefore very good to see the recent emergence of a number of UK library blogs, and the swapping of ideas between those involved in them. Thanks to Duncan Chappell, Glasgow School of Art, there’s now a LIS-Bloggers JISCmail list which already has over 250 subscribers, and there’s a British Librarian Bloggers Google Group. I’ve also been noting new UK library blogs in the Blogorama section of each issue of the Internet Resources Newsletter.

There are too many to list them all here, but some of the UK university library blogs which I monitor because they cover the same sort of technology-related subjects that I deal with, or appear interesting for other reasons, include LRC Blog from the University of Glamorgan, Engineering Info @ Imperial College London Library, ILS Matters from the University of Worcester, Library and Learning Resources from the Glasgow School of Art Library, Shush! from the University of Northampton, Library News for Applied Sciences from the University of Huddersfield, University of Bath Library :: Science News and Library News for Maths and Computing from the Open University. There’s also our own collaborative blog at Heriot Watt University Library, called spineless? (sadly, currently ranked only 1,313,575 on Technorati :-( ).

Even a cursory glance at some of the blogs mentioned above, or other UK library blogs, reveals new ideas and considerable innovatory thinking. For example, as you might expect, GSoA’s Library and Learning Resources is full of good images and design ideas (Duncan Chappell recently wrote an article in Information Scotland (February 07, Vol 5(1)) which mentioned some of the ideas behind the Glasgow School of Art Library blogs – this is not available on the Information Scotland Web site at the time of writing, but check back in the future). There’s a fitting use of an image and another nice one (ILS Matters incorporates particularly impressive photos). It looks as if Perth College Library sees its blog as an opportunity to do some information literacy as well as resource announcements. The University of Bath puts human librarians in the picture which is nice, and thought is being given to categories or tags for classifying posts.

So, with respect to these and other UK library blogs, what exactly do we think we’re doing? What is the purpose of these library blogs? What are their aims?

It was recently suggested by Nicholas Carr, writing in the Technology Guardian that an important function of blogs was simply to act as a kind of global echo chamber by commenting on comparatively few original items published elsewhere, or by replicating items appearing on other web sites.

I would anticipate that most UK library bloggers are capable of much more than this. There may be good reason for occasional items, such as the appearance of a particularly good new resource, to be posted on numerous library blogs within hours of each other, and as each of these blogs has its own targeted audience, this ‘duplication’ causes no problems, but there are many more things we can write about as well.

Another issue is whether, or to what extent, library blogs should be ‘linkers or thinkers’ i.e. is it the place of a library blog to pass comment on something, or simply report the facts? In this respect, library blogs are probably quite different to librarian blogs, where opinion is almost certainly both welcome and essential.

Our blog at Heriot Watt arose out of a suggestion that the library newsletter needed updating, and after considerable discussion, we decided to create a blog instead of a print/online newsletter. A blog was seen as a potentially good way to help market the library, its resources and services as well as keep our community informed on other matters. Early on, therefore, we decided that it needed to contain more than simply postings about library opening hours or this week’s long list of new books.

In planning spineless? we had no intention of writing an overly formal strategy, or of creating a blueprint straight-jacket, but we did end up with a document which sets out its general purpose and style.

The following are some extracts from this document, and is offered here for discussion (not for instruction). I hope that it, and this post, will generate comments and examples from elsewhere, plus the sharing of experiences, so that we are all better able to answer the question “What do we think we’re doing?”

Who is the spineless? blog for?
All staff and students of Heriot-Watt University

What is the purpose of spineless?

  • To distribute information about the Library’s resources and services
  • Market and promote resources and services
  • User education
  • Encourage more involvement and feedback from library users.
  • Lend a human voice to the Library and try to create a sense of community
  • Transparency, consult with users

Suggested posts for spineless

  • Information about new services or resources.
  • Posts to market the Library’s services and resources, e.g. Subject Librarians can feature a particular resource in their subject area.
  • Refresher information, i.e. what is Athens, how to get started with e-resources.
  • Posts to inform of changes/developments in resources or the delivery of services.
  • Posts inviting feedback, e.g. on a proposed change to a Library service, resource or trial.
  • Answer frequently asked questions, e.g. a weekly: “Ever wanted to….” column where we take a common question from the enquiry desk and do a generic answer.
  • Perhaps an occasional feature on a member of library staff, to explain what they do, and how their work assists the library in its purpose.
  • Responses to comments in the satisfaction survey.
  • Publicise user comments/suggestions/complaints and answer them.
  • Find a friendly student we could feature every now and then on the blog – showing how they find/use/discover material in the library.
  • Other items meeting the purpose of the blog which will spark interest in the library and its resources.
  • etc.

Posting style for spineless?
Mostly informal, friendly, jargon free, interesting, user focussed, encourage a conversation with Library users, informative, user focused titles/headings.

Try to create posts from a user perspective. This is sometimes easier said than done, and in some cases may not be appropriate, but here are some suggestions:

Think hard about the title. How can it be made to appear interesting and relevant to readers? E.g. “BSI release Interface ver 3.12″ might become “New British Standards Online interface makes it easier to find full-text Standards”.

Try not to assume that readers know anything about what is under discussion. It may often be necessary to include reminders – e.g. “IEEE Xplore, the full text access technical literature service in electrical engineering, computer science, and electronics.” Rather than just “IEEE Xplore”

If appropriate, explain who the service/item is aimed at, and what subjects it covers.

The above is concerned with content and style. With respect to the design of library blogs, I personally prefer a simple approach. I recently did an infoskills session with 20 MSc students, and not one of them had heard of RSS, Bloglines or feedreaders. Whilst many students are obviously familiar with MySpace, Podcasting and other Web 2.0 initiatives, there are loads who are not yet even aware of Google Scholar, and this is one reason we kept the design of spineless? as simple as possible. Other library blogs (e.g. Library and Learning Resources) have taken a different approach. There’s no right or wrong here, I would hope, and we can all learn from experience and sharing ideas.

Please feel free to post comments below on this topic of “UK Library blogs – What do we think we’re doing?

Thanks. Now I need to go and blog on spineless?

Roddy MacLeod
Senior Subject Librarian
Heriot Watt University

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21 Responses to “Guest Post: UK Library Blogs – What Do We Think We’re Doing?”

  1. Thanks Brian. I see that Duncan Chappell’s article is now available at: http://www.slainte.org.uk/publications/serials/infoscot/vol5(1)/vol5(1)article4.htm

    Roddy

  2. Hi Roddy – Thanks for the reference. Note that WordPress doesn’t seem to be hyperlinking this URL correctly – it has problems with the parentheses (which I’ve tried to fix, but to no available). Users will need to copy “http://www.slainte.org.uk/publications/serials/infoscot/vol5(1)/vol5(1)article4.htm” and paste into a URL box.

  3. Very interesting posting Roddy – thanks. Brian – great idea to have a guest ‘speaker’ as well. A few comments of my own which may echo or contradict yours… I think a danger that the fledgling blogger faces is deciding what the blog is going to be about. We’re very used to situations in which we have to decide on the content of a paper, or a webpage, or indeed a website. However, with blogs I think that we need to recognise that we’re in totally different territory. A blog isn’t any one thing – nor do I believe that it should be. On the courses that I run on blogging people often say ‘what do I write about?’ It’s a very reasonable question of course, but in many respects it doesn’t matter. A weblog is flexible enough to change over the course of time, and the addition of categories or labels for example means that it can change.

    There’s also a danger in thinking that ‘a blog is for life, not just Christmas’. That puts a tremendous weight of the shoulders of the blogger, which is detrimental. A blog can just be for a particular topic, project, event and thrown away when the reason for its being is over. All too often we think that things need to be perfect. Well they don’t. Much of the time ‘good enough’ is actually good enough. This is also something that I see people hitting up against when looking at Web 2.0 resources – it’s often much more important to just DO something, and watch it evolve over time, rather than do lots of planning. We’re not used to thinking like this, and it’s going to take time for us, both individually and as organizations to go with this.

    Another important point with weblogs is the speed issue. Blogs are for speed, immediacy and quick responses among other things. This is a challenge for an organization, and will increasingly be so in the future – if I see somewhere being criticised the first place I’m now inclined to look is to see if they have a blog, and if so, have they commented on the criticism. Organizations are increasingly going to have to consider how to incorporate this first line response function into their press and PR. Blogs change the way that organizations work – or at least, they should do. If they’re not, then they’re not working properly. Like many of the Web 2.0 resources blogs challenge the existing paradigm – that’s what makes them interesting.

    You’re quite right that the Brits are lagging (badly) behind the US. I think this is, at least in part, due to our psyche… Brits do I think tend to be rather more reserved (huge generalisations here I do of course realise), and it takes quite a lot for us to say what we think. I’ve also seen sly comments that refer to the familiar nature that bloggers use to talk to/about each other. Somehow to say ‘Oh, Roddy wrote something interesting in his blog’ is often regarded as bad, because I’m assuming that other people will know who I mean, and that a clique is being built up. This is something that I think needs to change over time… the most important thing that we can do is just to get people to write stuff. Refer to other people, add your own voice, opinions, ideas – tell everyone! That’s what blogging is about, surely, if it’s indeed about anything at all. We need to encourage more blogging – everyone who arranges a conference needs to have at least one person dedicated to blogging it *and* photographing it and adding pictures to flickr. This shouldn’t be out of the ordinary any longer – and it’s not exactly rocket science.

    Oh dear… I seem to have rattled on… sorry! Thanks again to both of you – all very interesting!

  4. Some interesting points from Phil Bradley. I certainly would agree with his idea that “A weblog is flexible enough to change over the course of time.” This is one reason why blogs can be so intriguing.

    However, for Library Blogs, and e.g. to get management on board, at least in the initial stages, I think it does help to have a few aims set out. Though nothing should not be ‘written in stone’.

    What Phil says about possibly using blogs for topics, etc is also true, though I would point out that the main part of my post concerned specifically library blogs.

    I suppose one equivalent, for libraries, of responding to criticism or comment, by blogging, is the sort of thing we are doing with spineless at: http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/03/10/your-suggestionstell-everyone-how-to-get-into-other-libraries/ e.g. occasionally answering comments and suggestions that we’ve received.

    Roddy

  5. Pete said

    My library blog got management support on the ‘yeah, ok’ principle ;) Oh, and the ‘cool!’ effect helped…
    I’ve decided to make it about new stuff in the library for now, along with invitations to comment on specific issues. It’s an experiment; we’ll see how it goes. Marketing it is the next big issue.
    As for my personal blog, I try to be a ‘thinker’, whilst linking to items of interest. I don’t want to be a mere reporter of other blogs; this just contributes to the ‘clique’ feel that the blogosphere can have.

  6. Hi Roddy, much food for thought.

    Although I don’t come from a library perspective, I went through a similar process of writing a paper about what/who/why the blog should exist. Its a long journey but I agree with Phil: just get going! Let the evolution and flow happen as it happens, and let authors develop their own style and content over many months. Bureaucracy, lethargy and anxiety are your enemies.

    We actually decided to have both a newsletter (thrice-yearly) and a blog, with very different audiences. Sometimes it’s still good to get something on people’s desks that they can pick up and pass around.

    “Linkers or Thinkers” – now that is a great point.. currently I think I’m trying to do both, but my biggest concern about our blog right now is lack of focus. Hmm… Well you’ve certainly got me thinking..

    Brian – guest authors is a great idea, and no reason not to have repeat offenders…

    Cheers
    James

  7. It’s great to see blogs become more widely used in settings like libraries. It would be interesting to take that to the next level: what if you could have a community for library users, which allowed them to blog around topic areas and individual books? That would allow you to maintain the top-down information service approach applied by current systems, but also allow your users to join in and help create a much richer source of data. See LibraryThing for one example of this in the real world.

  8. Tom Roper said

    One factor affecting the technorati rankings is longevity. The UK WebFocus blog started in November 2006, Phil has been blogging on Typepad since October 2005 (though I’m not sure when his previous Blogger site started). The two US blogs you compare them with started in January 2002, (the Shifted Librarian) and September 2003 (librarian.net).
    May make a difference, though I agree with your general point.
    Tom (blogging since December 2003)

  9. Luddite librarian said

    You don’t think we’re in danger of just too much navel-gazing here? I mean, who reads all this guff? Is anybody actually doing any work out there? I can’t believe we all have time to write all this stuff, let alone read it all. Sorry, have to go. Things to do that might actually be useful! Sorry to sound so crabby, but really …… It can’t just be me…. can it….?

  10. Nice one, Luddite! Yes, there is probably far too much navel-gazing that goes on in the library world, and elsewhere, for that matter. Some of it takes place in blogs – definitely. You’re not a Luddite – you’re a realist.

    But I would hope that this post and discussion is not all ‘guff’. As I’ve found out, there are many libraries which have recently started to produce library blogs, and others which are planning to do so. There is, consequently, some interest in the methods and reasons for doing so, etc, and therefore almost certainly things which can be learnt from discussions about these things.

    Or – are you saying that Library blogs are just guff? If so, I definitely disagree. Look at some of the examples of Library blogs that I mention above – there’s good work going on.

    Hmm – just ordered £400 worth of new books, told people about a SAGE journal free offer, arranged a presentation about a new service which will transform journal current awareness, checked the plans for full text indicators on http://www.techxtra.ac.uk forwarded some new book materials to a lecturer, helped a distance learning student – its possible to do other things and blog on the side as well :-).

    Roddy

  11. Pete Williams said

    Roddy,

    Interesting post and blog. As a Subject Librarian, I’ve been toying with the idea of using one as a means of communicating news to my departments for a while now. What has made me pause is a suspicion that hardly any students (let alone staff) would read it. This suspicion seems justified if the evidence of your group of MSc students is anything to go by.

    Given that it has been around for a while now, I wonder if this ignorance of RSS (which tallies with my own experience) is likely to change over time or whether it indicates a more fundamental problem with this particular Web 2.0 technology? Why have your students heard of MySpace and not Bloglines? To me it suggests that the whole assumption that blogs might supersede static websites as a key source of information in the future is flawed. Flawed, because RSS requires both action and some sort of ongoing commitment on the part of the user.

    Why do people visit library websites? I would suggest that it is generally to answer a specific question. I would also guess that, in this age of information overload, most of our users are not particularly interested in hearing from us when they don’t have a question in mind. So even if our students do eventually become au fait with RSS, I wonder if they will be any more likely to subscribe to a library blog than they would to, say, their local council’s blog?

    That’s not to say that librarians shouldn’t explore blogs as a means of communication – and indeed they do seem to offer exciting new possibilities. But I think we need to be realistic about their reach both now and in the future. And I can’t help thinking that if you were really interested in communicating with your users you shouldn’t have discontinued your print newsletter just yet.

    Regards,

    Pete

  12. Pete,

    You make some good points.

    Our spineless? blog shows 4,200 hits in a few weeks, so some people are obviously reading it, but blogs do need to be marketed, just like other library services. For example, we feature headlines and links to the last three posts on the Library home page http://www.hw.ac.uk/library/ – click on ‘Library news & new stock’ – I think this is a good way to feature it and let visitors to the Library website see our news. We’ve circulated details of the blog around departments, and its been mentioned in the HW news http://www.news.hw.ac.uk/news/3128-spineless_News_Service_From_The_Library We will be doing some more marketing as well.

    It would be interesting to get comments from others on how they promote their Library blogs internally.

    Knowledge of RSS will grow. I’m sure that undergraduates are more likely to be familiar with it than MSc students, who are a bit older, for example. I don’t think that blogs will supersede static pages, but they can compliment them.

    I completely agree with you that RSS is a bit complex. We’re involved in a new JISC project – ticTOC – which will make it simpler, at least WRT journal TOCs – see http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/03/30/library-projects/

    We are also making plans for another project proposal which would attempt to solve some aspects of information overload, as far as RSS is concerned. Its too complicated to explain here, but I’m excited by the concept.

    Roddy

  13. Interesting that discussions about blogs tend to end up as pro/anti conversations. People used to say ‘what’s the point?’ regarding websites; you don’t hear that so much anymore.
    I personally disagree about the ‘just do it’ approach, as this kind of blog can end up thrashing aimlessly about in an already crowded cybersphere. I think it’s a much better idea to create a blog when something you are already doing (or not doing as you don’t have an obvious medium) screams out for a blog.
    I’m connected to three work related blogs. One is a student update blog, (promoted by good old fashioned flyers and linked from our website), one is for our own CPD purposes within the college, and the final one was started on a whim for me to muse on my own CPD activities. The last one is the least likely to survive.
    Is size of audience that important? Blogs are easy, quick and free. Therefore, if you’re only reaching a niche audience of 100 students per day, I would argue it’s still worth doing.
    To those who say they can’t find the time to do these things, I would say they can’t afford NOT to find the time to do these things. It’s CPD, end of story.
    I undertake my fair share of desk duties (will be on this afternoon at 2.30) and don’t forget what the day to day stuff is all about. Try it before you knock it!
    I think blogs are getting librarians talking to each other, which can only be a good thing. If it helps spread ideas and information locally, and across continents, I’m all for being involved.

    **I think one of the links in this post (information literacy) got truncated: it should be: http://perthcollegelibrary.blogspot.com/2007/03/what-is-athens-and-why-should-i-care.html

  14. I have started a blog and a wiki for SINTO – the information partnership; a partnership of library & information services in and around South Yorkshire. It was set up when I attended a seminar on blogs and wikis, rather than as a result of an analysis of need, but it does seem to make sense. I wanted to communicate with a community of library workers in many different libraries to tell them what SINTO was doing and to discuss professional issues with a local focus. I send out lots of e-mails on specific activities to our various mailing lists but I wanted somewhere anyone could go just to check out what was happening. It ties in with our existing web site and a wiki I set up at the same time and together I hope they will provide information and CPD especially to small libraries.I do act as a ‘linker’ i.e. I report on things I have picked up from other sources as in my job I have more opportunity to read widely and I can digest this for colleagues in the front line who may have missed out on things.
    I think that there are many librarians out there who are not familiar with Web 2.0 in general or its application to libraries. Also many people lack the time to go on-line while at work and perhaps lack the interest to do this in their own time. And don’t forget that in many public libraries staff have very limited access to PCs so don’t have the opportunity to join in. It would be a shame if blogs were just read by other bloggers. We do need to get out to a wider audience.
    It’s hard to tell how much impact I am having so far. When I started it I explained that it would not be a personal blog – that I would not talk about the fact that I had porridge for breakfast – and got two replies asking how I liked my porridge! (with brown sugar since you ask).

  15. Hi Donald – thanks for drawing my attention to the broken link. Now fixed.

  16. […] the interest generated by Roddy MacLeod’s gust blog post last month I am planning on having a regular slot from guest […]

  17. As a follow up to this post, I made a summary blog entry about the first six months of the Spineless? blog at http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/blogging-highlights/

    Spineless?’ most popular posts, according to WordPress, which counts views (though this surely doesn’t take account of scrolling down blog entries), have been:

    Open Access (many of the views, in this case, would have been external to our university). 246

    http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/03/11/open-access-some-pointers/

    Library opening hours over Easter. 224

    http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/04/03/library-opening-hours-easter-weekend/

    PerX (again, this would be mostly external). 182

    http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/06/04/library-projects-perx/

    Reminder about books due for return. 165

    http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/04/20/reminder-library-books-due-for-return-or-renewal/

    Library open on May holiday. 133

    http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/05/18/library-open-21-22-may/

    New business database. 125

    http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/05/14/try-this-news-and-business-database/

    There was also considerable interest in posts about the ScienceDirect ebook trial.

    Least popular –
    New issue of IRN in January. 1 view.

    http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/01/22/latest-issue-of-the-internet-resources-newsletter-is-now-available/

    What does this show? Well, all stats need to be treated with care, but I think it shows a fair interest in the basic things – opening hours, book returns, etc, and perhaps a bit dissapointing interest in some of the things (new journal titles, some free trials, etc) which we might think/hope our users would be interested in.

    Overall, the stats have been good, I think – 8,386 views. There have been very few Comments. I didn’t expect many, really, as so far at least its been more of an information blog than a discussion blog.

    Roddy

  18. Hmm – I just posted a long entry here summarising 6 months of the Spineless? blog, and mentioning stats and our own summary at http://hwlibrary.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/blogging-highlights/
    but its disappeared into space.

  19. Hi Roddy Thanks for the post. It was trapped in the Askimet spam filter. Fortunately it was first in the list so I spotted it and could retrieve it – I now get over 100 spam comments a day and can no longer check to see if legitimate comments have been incorrectly labbeled as spam.

    Your stats provide much-needed *evidence* – so thanks for this.

    Brian

  20. […] JISC or MLA. For further information see the blog policies. « Snap Preview Facility Guest Post: UK Library Blogs – What Do We Think We’re Doing? […]

  21. […] about librarian bloggers (or lack of!) in the UK. I also found a similar discussion last year on Brian Kelly’s blog and it doesn’t seem like much has changed since then. At my last study school I was shocked […]

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