In the second guest blog post of the month Eddie Byrne gives his thoughts on the Blog Masterclass facilitated recently by myself and Kara Jones.
Eddie Byrne is Senior Librarian with Dublin City Public Libraries with responsibility for Web Services. A graduate of University College Dublin School of Library and Information Studies, he has worked for many years in the public library sector. From 2000-2002 he served as Metadata Project Co-ordinator for the Irish public service.
Eddie’s review of the workshop, in which he describes the promotional video for the event, the structure of the workshop and the workshop materials, may be of particular interest to those who work in public libraries, museums and archives, as UKOLN is in the process of developing a series of events and briefing documents to support this community. It is particularly pleasing to receive this evidence of the success of the event.
Having flown into London on the morning of Sunday, 7th October, the scene was now a familiar one for me, as I made my way from Heathrow to the Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington for the 9th Internet Librarian International 2007 conference. Familiar, as this was my third appearance on the trot at the conference, and familiar also as when I first came to London way back in the last century (!) having left school, I headed for my first ‘real’ job (read ‘summer job’) and, where do you think it was, yes, in the Copthorne Tara Hotel in Kensington of course! Now the less said about that the better, let’s just say I was starting at the bottom! Three days there and I cracked! Peculiarly enough, my visits to the Copthorne Tara have on each occasion since also been of approx. three days duration. But those visits have been much more satisfying, let me add! I was attending the afternoon masterclass entitled ‘Using Blogs Effectively Within Your Library‘ and being given by Brian Kelly (UKOLN) and Kara Jones (University of Bath). Brian of course I was familiar with from last year, and from following his blog; Kara was new to me, but her ‘performance’ in selling the course to me on a VCasmo multimedia announcement was, let me add, a determining factor! This class appealed to me largely because the blurb in the programme included the words ‘practical’ and ‘sustainable’, and was also going to talk about ‘real user experiences’. Kara also mentioned in the VCasmo announcement others crucial elements such as ‘good practices‘ and ‘things that work and things that don’t‘. I was sold!
The first thing I must say is that the class had an agreeable format, with Kara and Brian interchanging in order to keep us attentive and on our toes (or rather the edge of our seats, seats were provided)! I also welcomed the multiple handouts distributed during the class – it saved one having to take copious notes, thereby freeing one up to do some ‘active’ listening and actually participate. Simple but invaluable. Kara also introduced a little technological gizmo that allowed her to poll participants to get their input at various points, fun and functional at the same time.
We involved ourselves in a number of exercises; one to identify possible blog uses and the benefits to be accrued, another to identify potential barriers, those we thought could be easily addressed, and those that presented greater challenges. The fruits of our labour were posted to the class wiki (in real time!), so I won’t reproduce them here, they can be seen over on the WetPaint wiki. Also, in this context, Kara’s presentation entitled “Why Have a Blog?” was particularly good in covering all the angles.
It is worth saying at this point that what I found of particular value was Kara’s and Brian’s use of the Web as a delivery platform and as a means of networking with potential participants prior to the conference. The social network platfom ‘Ning’ was used in this context in order to illicit user experiences that would contribute to the substance of the class. Some of the presentations were available on ‘Slideshare’ prior to the conference and others on ‘Google Presents’ immediately afterwards; making presentations available in this manner can be of great advantage to participants preparing in advance or reviewing material afterwards.
Many other topics were of course covered in the masterclass: blog basics; the technical issues in setting up and maintaining a blog (hosting, software, look and feel); launching and monitoring your blog (marketing, statistics); evaluation (role, policies, feedback); and more besides. What is of particular value in a workshop or masterclass such as this is that you are required to do some critical thinking, and you also get the invaluable perspective of others, those working in different areas, and therefore bringing a different perspective, as well as those who have tried something, been there, done that. I found it interesting to note that, despite the participants working in diverse areas and coming from different backgrounds, there was a commonality in terms of issues, concerns, perceived opportunities, and most of all a shared enthusiasm for using a tool that facilitates communication, user participation, user engagement, collaboration, and resource building.
If I can refer to that word ‘practical’ again, this class was that. From forcing us to ask ourselves the ‘why’ of doing it, the ‘how’ to doing it, to the ‘watch out’ while doing it. I particularly liked Brian’s suggestion of having a documented blog policy – I think it becomes so much easier for you, your organisation and your users if you have it down on paper (remember paper?). It clarifies so much. Stating the purpose and scope of your organisation’s blog, the intended audience, policy on comments and third party use. I also welcomed the focus on demonstrating value, using evidence to justify the setting up of a blog in the first place: analysing your blog statistics and seeking feedback, asking the user for their views on the blog and how it may better serve them. Brian recently involved himself in such an exercise on his blog, and the results make interesting reading. He provided a handout with those too!
The suggestion was put forward during the class that one should experiment with blogs for particular events or occasions. That to do so gave a taste of the strengths and opportunities of blogs. I would go further. They are more than just experimental, a one-off event of note, or a particular programme with a short-term lifespan, are ideal candidates of themselves for blogs in my estimation; they are relatively easy and quick to set up, involve little in the way of overheads, and are as easily de-activated should you want to when the event is over (I favour leaving the blog visible as a testament to the event and as a permanent record). And there is always a high profile event around the corner that merits its own blog. I indeed make widespread use of them in my library service. And whereas they do help inform and guide you in implementing other blogs in your organisation, their existence is no less important than that permanent presence you desire with your ‘lead’ blog. Is it contradictory to say that the temporary blog is here to stay?