Rory Litwin has some pretty harsh words about librarians who are still excited about the web and new web-related technologies in the latest issue of Library Juice. I’m beginning to suspect that he likes picking virtual fights.
“As an example I would like to cite the blogging craze – and it is a craze in its current form – because so many people, librarians included, have started their own blogs for no discernible reason and through blogs have renewed their irrational excitement about the Web in general.”
This statement might very well apply to my blog, since I don’t have any particular focus other than my own interests. Possibly, my comments would be better served in the form of a private off-line journal, or as email messages sent to certain friends. However, in the past year I have approached my blog with the mentality of being a part of a wider community of my peers, much like the way other scholarly communication has been done for centuries. I don’t think I’ve gotten to the point where my little essays and opinions will be quoted and passed around, but I’m working my way there. I see this as a tool to contribute to the wider conversation in the profession.
There are other blogs that are more focused and in many ways are the best supplements to officially recognized professional literature that I have found. Jessamyn West and the LISNews collaborative blog are my two main sources of recent news about library-related issues. I’m finding out about things well before they show up in any of the traditionally recognized mediums. Jenny Levine and Sarah Houghton keep me up to speed on the latest technology that may impact my work. Half the stuff they write about will likely never show up in the professional literature, even if it should.
There are other blogs out there that are less insightful or informative than those I mentioned above. In fact, as was the case when personal web pages were the new fad, there are quite a few blogs out there that are little more than public diaries. However, I think that Litwin is throwing the baby out with the bath water when he chastises librarians for their excitement about the blog medium.
“Many people are now using the blog format where a chronological organization is not appropriate to the content they are putting up, for no other reason than that blogs are hot and there are services supporting them. This is irrational. I feel that librarians should be a little more mature and less inclined to fall for Internet crazes like this. That is not to say that a blog is never a useful thing, only that blogs – as everything on the web – should be seen for what they are and not in terms of a pre-existing enthusiasm.”
As with any new toy, eventually the shine will wear off and those folks will realize that the blog medium, regardless of its simplicity or fashion, does not fit their needs. Since Litwin does not provide specific examples of these inappropriate uses of blogs, I cannot address them. My experience with librarian blogs has been such that the chronological format works well. There is only one instance that I know of in which the blog format may not fit. The reference team at my library has replaced their frequently asked questions notebook and miscellaneous announcements notes with a Blogger weblog. The advantage of this format is that the contents are easily searchable. The disadvantage is that several workarounds have been used to organize the entries. I suspect that what they really need is a blog for the announcement bits and a separate wiki for the “this is a good resource for (fill in the blank)” type entries. I am confident that eventually they will move on to some other format that better serves their needs, and in the meantime, they will have become familiar with yet another piece of modern technology.
Quite a few of the new blogs that are created daily by librarians never make it out of their infancy. For the most part, they’re too busy or uninterested or have nothing to write about. Still, I think it’s important for librarians to try new things, and if blogs are the latest internet fad, then at least librarians should play with them long enough to evaluate them. My first blog was called “because everyone else is doing it” and was basically a public forum for occasional rants, links, commentary, and some library-related information. It was a good experiment, and as I became more familiar with the tools, I began to see other uses for blogs. The chronological format works well for my radio playlists.
Blogs introduced me to RSS feeds, and from there I have been thinking of several different ways librarians could use RSS. It even instilled a desire to learn Perl and PHP so that I could know enough coding to hack a feed of our new acquisitions as they are added to the collection. If we’re going to put up new book lists, then why not also make a feed for them? The University of Louisville Library not only provides RSS feeds for their new books, they also have subject-specific feeds. Soon it may be possible to create feeds from saved searches in the catalog, much like what some online news sources provide. Those feeds would be even more specific and would alert faculty, graduate students, or anyone else interested, when new items are cataloged that fit the search terms. I digress.
All this is to say that weblogs are useful, and that librarians should be savvy enough to know when and where to make use of them. We all aren’t permanently dazzled by new shiny toys.
I look forward to reading responses to Litwin’s essay in the librarian blogosphere.