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 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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