July 25, 2014

The Bloggers Among Us

By Meredith Farkas

A survey of the library blogosphere shows the mainstreaming of the medium

Say “librarian blogger,” and most people would probably imagine a tech-savvy person in his/her late 20s or early 30s, working in a technology-oriented area of the field. They might assume that bloggers are low on the career ladder and relatively new to the profession. They even might think that people who blog don’t publish in the professional literature.

While this may describe some bloggers, a survey I conducted of 839 blogging librarians (see box below) depicts a much more diverse and rapidly growing population. True, most respondents are under the age of 40, but more than one-third (37%) are over 40—a significant and growing segment.

The largest groups of bloggers work not in tech but in public service areas such as reference (15%), general public services (7%), and youth services (5%). While only 6% of all library bloggers are administrators, almost 40% directly supervise other staff members, and 34% have been in the profession for more than a decade. Bloggers are also well represented in more traditional media. More than 55% of bloggers have been published in print or online journals, and 20% have been published in a peer-reviewed publication.

Blogging has become central to communication in libraries and traditional library media in the past few years. Almost 70% of respondents have had their current blogs for two years or less. At least 147 responding library professionals started blogging in 2005, according to the latest survey. This pace has increased, with 178 respondents starting blogs in 2006 and, by the middle of August, 135 more in 2007. The largest group of respondents (18.5%) has been in the profession only one to three years. One sign that the trend is clearly upward: the number of respondents in library school has increased from 8.6% in 2005 to 13.2% in 2007. (For an explanation of how blogs are currently used by libraries, see “Why We Blog,” LJ 11/15/07, p. 28–31.)

Tech, books, and more

The blogs with the most reach, read by thousands of people, focus on how libraries can use technologies to improve services. Given that technology changes so rapidly, many popular bloggers are the first stop for librarians. Styles vary. Library Stuff (librarystuff.net) and Librarian in Black (librarianinblack.typepad.com), with their frequent news-related posts, serve as a filter for those of us who can’t keep up with so many sources.

Walt at Random (walt.lishost.org) and blyberg.net offer more analysis of library technologies. Blogs like librarian.net and Tame the Web (tametheweb.com) strike a nice balance between news and commentary. Bloggers who write a lot of commentary tend to attract more comments, sometimes even heated debates.

While those who write about library technologies are often the most visible, the biblioblogosphere is far more varied. The author of Maggie Reads (maggiereads.blogspot.com) contributes book reviews. The “M” Word (themwordblog.blogspot.com) focuses on marketing. Kansas State Librarian Christie Brandau writes about her experiences and promotes Kansas libraries in Travels with the State Librarian (ksstatelibrarian.blogspot.com). The topics are eponymous on the Alternative Teen Services blog (yalibrarian.com) and Senior Friendly Libraries (seniorfriendlylibraries.blogspot.com). Librarians write about cataloging, information literacy, open access publishing, medical librarianship, access services, and much more.

Collaboration grows

Some librarians primarily blog about their lives and hobbies. The distinction between a personal and a professional blog can be murky. Bloggers may write a range of posts, with some more personal in nature. In fact, most respondents (64%) say they consider their blogs personal, though many of them write on professional topics.

The majority of bloggers (67%) contribute to more than one blog. There are collaborative blogs and individual blogs, staff blogs, and blogs for patrons.

A collaborative blog can be an excellent option for those who don’t want the sole responsibility for a blog but want to share their ideas. Some 24% of respondents contribute to a collaborative blog they consider professional in nature, and 12% contribute to a collaborative personal blog.

Women close gap

Men are more likely to blog than women. While women make up approximately 80% of librarians, they represent only 66% of library bloggers surveyed. Still, the percentage of female bloggers has risen, up from 57% in 2005, perhaps because blogging has become mainstream and no longer an activity predominantly for techies.

Most bloggers surveyed do have an LIS master’s degree; however, 15% are not degreed. The latter are more likely to have been in the field for a significant number of years.

Academic librarians still lead

Nearly two-thirds of respondents currently work in academic or public libraries. Two years ago, twice as many academic librarians blogged as public librarians, but now the percentages are almost equal. Still, academic librarians remain overrepresented, as NCES Library Statistics Program surveys show that the total staffing in public libraries in the United States is 30% higher than the total for academic libraries.

Why are academic librarians more likely to blog? Perhaps because so many academic libraries encourage or require their staff to publish—they’re also overrepresented among published librarians and conference speakers—and blogging is considered good writing practice (22% identified writing practice as a primary reason they blog).

Outside of public and academic libraries, the other 37% of bloggers work in school libraries (5.4%), medical libraries (3.2%), corporate libraries (2.6%), library consortia (3.8%), many different kinds of special libraries, and positions outside libraries like publishing and information technology.

While most library bloggers work with technology to some extent, only 37% identify themselves as tech-savvy. This may be because they write about a wider range of topics, or because they consider themselves less technologically advanced than the company they keep. Most bloggers’ jobs don’t focus on technology. Only 21.5% of bloggers say their primary responsibility is to work with library systems, the web site, and other technologies; 35% work in traditional public service areas.

Solo librarians (5.8%) and librarians working in technical services areas (9%) are fairly well represented in the library blogosphere. Approximately 10% of respondents are in nontraditional positions or have a wide range of responsibilities.

Why they blog

Respondents were asked to list their top three reasons for blogging. The majority (69%) identified sharing ideas with others. Other popular reasons include building community (38%), contributing to the profession (23.2%), and reaching out to patrons (23%).

Some people use their blogs more as a tool for their own continuing education. Nearly 40% believe their blogs help them to keep up with trends in the profession, and 27.3% cite blogging as a way to process their own ideas.

It’s fairly new to think that librarians’ careers can benefit from blogging. In 2005, only 4.3% of respondents said they were motivated in part by potential career promotion. That number had tripled to 13% by 2007. Indeed, some of the profession’s most influential practitioners and scholars are also bloggers. Several librarians have gained name recognition and respect through their blogs, leading to speaking engagements, faculty positions, and book deals.

For new librarians on the job hunt, a blog can bolster a thin work history. It’s true that a blog can backfire if the posts are negative, overly personal, or poorly reasoned/written, but a blog can also demonstrate a positive, constructive, and passionate attitude about the profession.

Anonymity

Nearly one-quarter of librarian bloggers post anonymously. Some may have bosses who don’t support employee blogging. Others simply feel more comfortable expressing themselves under the radar. The Bitter Librarian (bitterlibrarian.blogspot.com) and Tiny Little Librarian (tinylittlelibrarian.blog-city.com) vent publicly on their blogs about their interactions with patrons, a genre of blogging commonly known as Ref Grunt (taken from the blog with the same name at refgrunt.blogspot.com).

The controversial Annoyed Librarian (annoyedlibrarian.blogspot.com) challenges librarians to question current trends in libraries, like gaming and Library 2.0. While people blog anonymously for many reasons, the percentage doing so may decline as blogging becomes more accepted, even encouraged, in the workplace.

Building community

Communities form even in such an individualistic, international medium. Some 38% of respondents say networking and becoming part of a community, thanks to comments and TrackBacks, are key reasons to blog. Bloggers and general readers alike who are interested in or annoyed by a post can chime in, and the conversation takes place in that single space.

In the blogosphere, conversations are often distributed across many blogs thanks to TrackBacks, which let bloggers know when someone else has linked to their post. Tools like Technorati (technorati.com) and BlogPulse (blogpulse.com) let people follow these references from blog to blog.

The largest and most robust community involves librarians who write about technology issues. Librarians in the health sciences, youth services, law, archives and special collections, and schools, among others, also form communities. A community of largely anonymous librarians write not only Ref Grunts but also library parodies and other acid-tongued commentary.

Librarian bloggers have formed communities around their interests in fashion, crafts, and conservatism and their dislike for their jobs. Unlike most traditional community members, a blogger can belong to many different communities, as participation is largely determined by patterns of mutual linking.

Writing from rural Vermont, I’ve made important online connections with people all over the world who have commented on my blog or who have blogs on which I have commented. Sometimes you get to know people so well through blogs that you even forget whom you’ve met in person and whom you’ve only communicated with in the “blogoverse.”

The distributed dialogs across blogs have been loosely compared to citation networks in scholarly publishing. Obviously, many blog comments are not as deeply considered, but the blogosphere allows ideas to be collaboratively processed over hours, days, and weeks.

Blogging can be a great leveler, too. People are judged more by their ideas than their résumés, so anyone can make a name for him/herself. Also, blogging can build a bridge for those geographically isolated from other (or like-minded) librarians.

Librarian bloggers also read—or skim—a lot of blogs. The bulk (47.7%) read up to 40, while the remainder read more, and 10.7% of respondents even reported reading more than 200.

Some 71.1% of those surveyed said they read blogs in a web-based RSS aggregator (Bloglines, Google Reader, etc.), while 15.1% said they visited each blog individually, 7.5% read blogs in a desktop RSS aggregator, and 4.1 read blogs on a personalized start page. I suspect that librarians differ from the general population, most of whom consume RSS feeds through a personalized start page like MyYahoo!

Looking to the future

What does the future hold for the biblioblogosphere? Clearly, the number of bloggers will increase, covering many subject areas beyond technology. Blogs that focus on certain populations, such as teens or medical practitioners, are gaining in popularity.

Many areas remain underrepresented. In the future, perhaps we will see more blogs from those who work in access services, archives, and special collections and those who work with seniors, immigrants, distance learners, and other underserved populations. Other underrepresented groups in the blogosphere include library school professors, school librarians, and library vendors.

Emerging challenges

Before 2005, it was far easier to build a large audience simply because there weren’t many librarians blogging. Indeed, the most popular blogs today were launched before blogging really exploded in the profession.

Still, there is always room for authentic new voices. There is a niche for nearly every interest. No matter how esoteric your blog topic, chances are good that someone will share that interest. If your writing is compelling, readers will start reading and commenting on your blog. A link from a prominent blogger could generate a meteoric rise in readers and subscribers.

Blogging may affect policies and practices in libraries, and vice versa. For instance, writing a blog is still rarely counted toward tenure, but if it were, it might change the tenor of many blogs. Many good blogs contain a mixture of the personal and professional, so perhaps that human element would be lost.

Blogs by librarians on the tenure track might start to look like nothing more than short-form journal articles. On the other hand, this could lend credence to the argument that blogging is a form of scholarly communication and lead to a richer intellectual exchange in the blogosphere and the increased use of blogs as a teaching tool.

Currently, libraries rarely dictate what their employees can and cannot blog about. However, as more librarians write openly about their work, their patrons, or their vendors, some administrators may start to tune into the extracurricular blogging activities of their staff and be concerned that people could perceive a blogger as the library’s spokesperson.

So far, I know of only one library worker who was fired for negative comments about patrons that he had written in a blog community, but I’m sure clashes between bloggers and administrators will become more commonplace as the blogosphere expands.

The use of blogs within libraries also will grow as we continue to engage our users (see the sidebar “Blogging Directors Embrace Transparency,” LJ 11/15/07, p. 30ff.). No matter what the future holds, one thing is certain: the library blogosphere will expand as blogging becomes a more mainstream personal and professional activity.

Questions for follow-up

In the next iteration of the survey, I’d like to incorporate more open-ended questions. How would people categorize their blogs by subject. What keeps them blogging? And where do they get inspiration for their posts? I’d also like to know more about the types of posts people write.

Additionally, it would be interesting to get some metrics on the number of people reading each blog and if certain blog genres or posting styles attract more readership; it may be difficult to get reliable data on the latter given the myriad ways people can view blog content. Still, as long as librarians blog, it will be a fascinating area to track. I’ll keep you “posted.”

PERCENT NUMBER
Under 24 2.0% 17
24-30 23.6 198
31-40 37.7 316
41-50 19.2 161
51-60 14.9 125
Over 60 2.6 22
Answered question 839
Skipped question 0
Source: 2007 Survey of the Biblioblogosphere: Demographics

PERCENT NUMBER
Library student 7.0% 59
New grad looking for a job 2.0 17
Working less than 1 year in the profession 5.0 42
Working in the profession for 1-3 years 18.5 155
Working in the profession for 4-6 years 15.6 131
Working in the profession for 7-10 years 14.8 124
Working in the profession for 11-15 years 12.9 108
Working in the profession for 16-20 years 6.8 57
Working in the profession for more than 20 years 14.3 120
Other (please specify) 3.1 26
Answered question 839
Skipped question 0
Source: 2007 Survey of the Biblioblogosphere: Demographics

Instant Messaging 58.9%
Wikis 58.9%
Flickr 52.8%
MySpace 26.0%
Facebook 48.2%
Twitter 21.2%
Ning 30.5%
LinkedIN 29.2%
Other (please specify) 14.5%
Answered question 695
Skipped question 144
Source: 2007 Survey of the Biblioblogosphere: Demographics


Author Information
Meredith Farkas is Distance Learning Librarian at Norwich University, Northfield, VT, author of the blog Information Wants To Be Free (meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/index.php), and author of Social Software in Libraries: Building Collaboration, Communication and Community Online (Information Today, 2007). She also is an LJ 2006 Mover & Shaker


 

In 2005, Farkas conducted an informal survey of the attributes and attitudes of librarians who blog. The initial survey received 165 responses. In August 2007, she repeated the survey and received 839 responses. To view the results from both surveys, please visit tinyurl.com/2f76zp.

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