Over the summer we have been debating the issues around Academic Library Blogging which I thought I would share. I’m also hoping the post and any comments may help consolidate my ideas also as I keep changing my mind about what should be the purpose and content of our blogs!
Currently we have an Electronic Resources blog (which is linked from our website but I think is primarily aimed at library staff), other specific project blogs (mainly hosted on internal software and password protected), communication blogs (again, password protected) and 5 subject blogs. The subject blogs have been set up by their corresponding subject librarians and contain a variety of content from Learning Centre updates (such as changes to opening hours etc.) to useful subject resources the subject librarian has come across online. The frequency of posts varies; some average around one post a week, others one post a month or less.
At the beginning of the summer break (seems like yesterday but was actually almost 4 months ago!), we decided it might be a nice idea to combine some of the subject blogs which cover similar subject areas (e.g. the Science areas and the Engineering areas). This would mean less duplication of posts and the ability to share resources which may be useful across different subject areas. So I found out about how we could use categories within WordPress to create different RSS feeds for the different subjects within one blog, set up a rough blog, and imported the content of each of the blogs.
I then started thinking about how the majority of people are likely to use our blogs. From looking at the stats on Feedburner (we use this to allow users to subscribe by e-mail), it seems that more people use the e-mail subscription than the RSS subscription. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out how to set up e-mail subscriptions for each category feed, and I was also concerned about how confusing it would make it for the user if they had to work out which subject to subscribe to and whether they wanted RSS feed or e-mail. We would end up with about 10 different subscription options which really isn’t ideal. Although it would be great to get people using RSS feeds (this is something I would really like to encourage, particularly with our staff and researchers to help them keep up-to-date in their area of interest), in reality this is not going to happen in the short-term.
As well as the practical issues, we were a little concerned about how the blog would be managed with so many administrators and whether we would need to agree to a style of writing and a recommended post frequency (we didn’t want to see hundreds of posts on one subject and only one or two for another). There were also concerns that those physically visiting the blog may find it very confusing. My main concern when considering things like this is always that it makes sense from a user point of view and I just wasn’t convinced that this would. If we had all subjects on board and everyone was familiar with RSS feeds and using categories to filter posts on the blog, it may work, but for now I’m not convinced.
Despite us deciding against the joint blog for now, it was a very useful exercise as it really made me think about the purpose of our blogs. In my mind there are two primary reasons for the blogs as they stand at the moment:
- To disseminate information about Learning Centres – events, new services, opening hours, news etc.
- To share information and recommended resources relating to subjects
I would also like to encourage discussion on the blogs but this is something we haven’t managed to achieve yet so they are primarily one-way communication channels (commenting is available but not widely used).
In my mind, I think there is definitely a need for both these applications, but I’m not sure they should necessarily be combined. I think in the future I’d like to see a departmental blog to keep all users notified about Learning Centres (a sort of “newsy” type blog), with additional subject blogs as necessary. This would eradicate most of the duplicate posting as the subject blogs could stay focused purely on the subject material and not the general information. It would also mean that students (and staff) across all schools would be able to subscribe to the Learning Centre blog whereas currently we only offer it to certain schools depending on the librarians, their familiarity with the technology and their willingness to blog.
How has anyone else decided to approach blogging in academic libraries? Do you have an ingenious solution which I haven’t thought about? Please let me know in the comments if so. 🙂
Whilst we’re on the topic of library blogging, I wanted to share a brilliant quote from Phil Bradley recently on the LIS-Bloggers mailing list:
If you can’t think of what to write, then not only should you not have a weblog, you shouldn’t have a library or a job. Your library or information centre should be fascinating – what new resources do you have? What are members of staff doing? What plans have you for the future? What about administrative details, like changing opening hours? Any interesting queries that you’ve had? What about the resources that you find on the net that would be helpful for your users? What about a site of the week, resource of the month, client of the year? What about photographs of interesting collections, or covers of new books? Surely it’s not a question of what to write about, but more a problem of what NOT to write about?
This certainly gave me food for thought, as I’ve often heard staff wonder what they can blog about and worrying that they might set up a blog and then not know what to post about. I’ll be remembering to bear all these uses in mind next time someone says they don’t know what they can blog about, thanks Phil!