SirsisDynix Weblogs & Libraries Q & A

Back in February, I did the SirsiDynix Webinar: Weblogs & Libraries: Communication, Conversation, and the Blog People. I got the statistics, survey and audience questions a few days ago from Crystal, who made the whole thing run so smoothly. One of the things she suggested is I might answer some of the questions here as well as share some of the polls we ran through the talk.

The mechanism for the SirsiDynix presentations is very useful: the polls engage the audience and the presenter gets valuable feedback and data!We opened the session by asking what type of library folks were coming from:

Attendees by Library Type

The session had between 200-250 people listening/watching. Not all audience members answered the polls or there were multiple folks registered as one. For this question, 166 folks answered. It was midday on a week day, so I think the school librarians couldn’t attend, but I was glad to see such an even breakdown between academic libraries and public libraries.

The most fascinating poll to me was the question that asked “Does your library have a blog?”

Weblogs & Libraries Poll

I actually thought more libraries would have blogs!

At the end of the session, we asked folks how they would follow up:

SirsiDynix Webinar: Weblogs & Libraries Follow Up Poll

I hope some of the folks in the 67% decide a weblog might be useful for enhance their library’s presence, creating a conversation and building community.

In the data I received from the Webinar were questions we didn’t get to from audience memebrs. Crystal suggested I might answer some here:

Questions:

What is the difference between WordPress and Blogger and when would you recommend one over the other?

WordPress is open source software (OSS). One of the best classes I had at UNT was a class focused on OSS – I moaned about it then but now it just makes so much sense for use to be looking at how OSS can be used in libraries. WordPress is free to download and install on your server at your library. Blogger is hosted, off-site. You have no control over that server or that site. It is, however, a great way toi experiment or a perfect choice for small libraries that need a hosted solution.

From my article in the February Computers in Libraries “How and Why to Try a Blog for Staff Communication,” this passage fits here as well (I wish the articles Rachel and I write were available online!):

Open source software solutions prove to be the way to go for many institutions. With a community of support, various enhancements, available plug-ins, and relatively simple installation, software such as WordPress can be the perfect solution for internal blogging. How can you decide between all these choices? Look closely at your library’s resources: staffing, funds, and time. If you do not have staff that can install and configure software on a Web server, you may want to look at hosted solutions first. If funds are an issue, you may want to look at a free hosted Blogger Weblog or a local install of the no-cost WordPress.

Rachel’s article this month, which still has not appeared in Ebsco, is all about the benefits of OSS for libraries. Please look for it in the March CIL or online at your favorite leased database!

Do you recommend having a few weeks of blog posts before you go “live” with your blog (ie, tell people it’s there)?

I would suggest a soft opening: put the blog up and add some content then link to it from your opening page (or make it your opening page!). After a few days or a couple weeks, start promoting: fliers, bookmarks, etc. I like the idea of a bit of library schwag devoted to the blog: pens, pencils, etc.

The soft opening does two things: gives time for any glitches to be discovered and gives staff time to get comfortable. Remeber though: the library weblog will be wehre 90% of your new content probably goes. It needs to be foundl. It needs to be interesting. And it needs to be sustainable.

At SJCPL, whenever we had a big program or event, I checked the blog to make sure there was coverage there. I kid you not, no one is going to find that little update you made to a page buried three levels deep in your library Website!

RSS feeds – how do you get one on your blog?

This is an easy one: blog software comes complete with RSS built in! WooHoo. The minute you turn on your library blog, you are turning on an RSS feed as well. Wnat to make sure? Throw your blog URL into Bloglines or Blog Bridge and see what happens?

The second part of the equation is education:

Teach RSS & Aggregators ASAP!

Your staff and users will thank you for it! I kid you not: giving the power to aggregate news, blogs and more into a single place to your staff and users opens up a whole new way to look at the Web. Add a class to your roster that introduces Bloglines, Blog Bridge or the aggregator of your choice. Remember that Web-based aggregators allow folks to check their subscriptions to RSS feeds from anywhere.

Combining an overview of news sites that offer feeds, customized searches in Feedster or Technorati and reading lists like those offered in Blog Bridge or created yourself by simply listing your favorite blogs and sites, this type of training session can really invigorate staff. Library users will benefit as well from learning how to subscribe to their favorite news sites, and throw the library blog’s feed in too for built in promotion!

What are the reasons that libraries do NOT allow comments to their blogs? If you allow comments can that lead to spamming?

Sure. It can lead to spamming. But there are plugins available as well as moderation to prevent blog spam from getting out of control.

My take, however, is turning on comments can be very scary for some librarians. “Oh! What if they start asking us questions?” a librarian said at a recent stop of the Roadshow. That’s good – GREAT – if you get questions! But you need to be ready to respond. That’s the next step for Library Weblogs: conversation! It is time to enter into networked conversations.

I do have some concerns, though about the impact of blogs on group identities.
When 6 staff members each have individual blogs, is the collective concept of ‘the library’ somewhat lessened?

This is interesting. I haven’t encountered too many library weblogs that use individual blogs for staff members, other than the multiple blogs at AADL. Most seem to divide topics into categories or have individual author names. What I think happens is the group voiice becomes the collective voice of the library. For example, at the SJCPL Blog, you’ll find posts about new books, the Academy Awards, Brokeback Mountain and a librarian who participated in a climb of the Hancock Tower for charity. These are all individuals who add their experiences, thoughts and interests. Collectively, it creates the presence of the library. A particular author may really engage a particular reader, but it all happens under the unbrella of the library creating conversation.

Is there a loss of branding and message for the ‘library’ when each staff member is voicing their views independantly?

No. I think not. IF you’ve done the education piece: create the goal and mission of the library blog, gather your authors, discuss posting procedures and guidelines and let them go forth and write, armed with knowledge of the mission and comfortable with sharing their voice. Reign in someone who gets outside the mission. This is a learning process too.

What will be the unintended consequences when patrons begin to view their librarians as a individuals and not just as ‘roles’ (i.e. researcher, children’s reference, etc.)? Have any studies examined these issues yet – or is it just too soon?

I think the best unintended consequence (or inteneded!) is that the library will have a human presence. Library users will get to know authors and their interests. That’s important on so many levels, especially in this plugged in, social world where so many folks share themselves online. Want proof of how important the hum,an connection can be in libraries? Click on over to the Feel Good Librarian and read about the conversations and connections that go on in that library.

I have not found any studies, but boy of boy is that question ripe for research!

Comments from Attendees:

“I wonder why we are still using e mail to plan our state conference. If I were more knowledgeable we would be blogging our way to success.”

“As to getting involved in the LIS side of blogging I was thinking during your talk about those of us who don’t have the time/energy/creative juices to write a blog but have the occasional idea that might like to share with the ‘sphere. We can still contribute to the conversation by sharing our ideas, new services, etc. with folks who do blog. I’ve always had positive experiences passing ideas along to LIS bloggers (present company included) who in turn share those ideas with their readers. Something to include in the presentation?”

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