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To blog or not to blog…is that really the question?

Libraries are often encouraged to blog. By no means, let me discourage your library from blogging! But, because it is so easy to set up a blog, some libraries overlook some important questions they should answer before starting out. Some libraries have jumped into blogging, without necessarily evaluating whether or not it represents the best solution for their need. As is the case with any new technology, not every application is a good fit for everyone. Let’s explore some of the “hidden” questions a library should ask when deciding if blogging is an appropriate outlet.

Maybe not what you think

Blogs have been around for a long time; at least if one measures time in “Internet Time.” The format itself has been around since the mid-1990’s. There were more than 70 million blogs worldwide in July 2006, and more than 80,000 new ones are being created every day. The popularity of blogs has exploded. Their newfound visibility has made them a force to be reckoned with in the political arena, and the medium is now a subject in many schools of journalism.

What this means, is that the blogosphere is HUGE.

The word “blog” is a derivative of the full term, “weblog.” Although this type of format (a journal/diary online) may seem like a unique entity, the reality is that blogs are simply regular, plain old web sites. The only difference between a blog and a web site (and only in some cases), behind the scenes, is that the author simply types in their post and clicks a “publish” button. There’s no need for HTML or any type of coding. This is why blogging is sometimes referred to as “point and click publishing.” This idea is especially appealing to libraries that may not have the technical expertise in-house or funding to do their own coding or web design.

However, there is one key aspect of blogs that some libraries fail to recognize. The blogging medium represents a two-way interchange of information, unlike most web sites. Think of it this way:

“Blogging seems really hot right now. Should my library start blogging?”

Now, replace that sentence with:

“Conversations seem really hot right now. Should my library start having conversations?”

If you’re not ready to have your online patrons talk back to you, then you probably aren’t ready to blog. The blog format is not just about your library putting information out to the online community; it’s also about that community being able to respond by posting comments. Go ahead and moderate those comments if you wish (although make sure you moderate promptly or people may give up on your blog). But if you don’t give your patrons the ability to talk back, then you are not enabling conversation.

Not for the uncommitted

There’s another issue that has to be considered by prospective bloggers: the investment of time. Blogging is a time-intensive activity. Not just in terms of actually writing blog posts, but in time spent planning what is going to be posted.

Regardless of how many staff are involved in the library blog, coming up with material on even a weekly basis can be a challenge. Often, staff can be very enthusiastic at the beginning, only to realize several weeks after launch that they really didn’t have more than a few things to say. What happens then? The blog becomes dormant and what little audience might have been built up in the interim disappears, unlikely to return.

Perhaps the hardest lesson for the blogger to absorb is that blogging is not Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” Libraries can add to the blogosphere. They can even add great material to the blogosphere. But there is no guarantee that any audience or participants will appear to support the effort. Bloggers who are determined to succeed not only have to post regularly, but they must do so realizing that it may be years before they have a significant audience. There is too much competition to expect otherwise.

It’s *not* about the library

There’s another philosophical issue libraries need to tackle before they dive into the blogosphere. Libraries need to truly internalize the fact that the blog is not about them. It is really about the online patron.

Content that merely promotes events and collections will generally not appeal to any but those writing it. Content creators must find the hook that captures the readers’ interest. Readers have one main question in the front of their minds: “What’s in it for me? If you can’t provide the answer to that question in your post, then you have not gained a reader. Tell your readers why the subject is important to them. Will their kids become better readers? Will tax forms suddenly make sense? Will they learn about something they can now use every day?

Library bloggers cannot assume that simply because the library is saying something that anyone will care. Just like any writer, library bloggers often like to think that everyone will like what they create. But simply appealing to the goodwill of the reader does little to garner a regular readership.

Not for every reader

Remember that your blog is competing with literally millions of others for readers’ attention. What can your library offer that no one else can? Readers of your library’s blog are likely reading many other blogs as well. What kind of information can your library bring to the virtual table to make it stand out?

Simply re-hashing the news from CNN won’t be enough. Connect that news to something library-related and make it relevant to your blog’s readership. Part of this is finding the niche audience for the blog. Who is the audience…really? Trying to get everyone to read is not an effective strategy. Target your blog to a particular type of reader and it is more likely to be successful. Know your audience and how to focus your content to that audience.

So, what does this mean to me, Laura?

  • Figure out what patron need (not staff need) you’re trying to fill with a new blog.
  • Make sure you’ve got enough content to post a minimum of once per week for at least a year.  It’s a pain to do this now, yes.  But when the well dries up, you’ll be glad you did it.
  • Make sure that the style of writing is conversational, not educational.  People don’t read educational lectures for fun.
  • Write your posts from the angle of what it will accomplish for the end reader.  Why should they care?

Some (older articles but still good) resources:

There are 4 comments

  1. I like the “conversation” quote, it reminded me of the Cluetrain Manifesto — all business is a conversation. Maybe even the library business?

  2. After having taken the time to read this “weblog” I found myself (not a blogger) having the opinion that the Shakespearian title/question was well answered, not just for libraries and librarians, but for any potential blogger.

    Blogger, know thine audience and know thyself.

    It would be very interesting (and amusing) to see the message of this blog done to a kind of informational parody of “to be or not be.” For me, it almost begs to be done.

    Maybe that kind of thing isn’t the target audience for here.

  3. Very good points. Blogs look/sound easy to do, but one with consistent content production is hard. And without a focus or material, it’s lost. Finding the TIME to create content is hard enough, another factor that should be considered. Thanks.

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