Do Academic Librarians On The T-Track Blog

How blogging impacts on the academician’s career continues to be debated and discussed in the blogosphere. We’ve discussed academia’s conflicted reaction to blogging here previously. A worthwhile list of the pros and cons of blogging for those with and working for tenure appeared in a post by Christopher Sessums titled “Academic Research and Blogging.” He writes:

Recently a professor/mentor of mine noted that I seem to spend more time writing on my blog rather than writing for academic journals. She noted that I will not get tenure or be promoted for my blog posts but that I will for publishing in peer-reviewed journals. I’ll admit, she made a good point. I use my blog space to reflect on ideas for “proper” articles. In many cases I receive useful feedback that helps me tighten my argument or consider alternate or opposing viewpoints. In this light, my blog serves as a handy testbed and sandbox which allows me room to play.

What are some of the pros and cons? The blog allows freedom to explore, the ability to get ideas out there more quickly, the benefits of feedback provided in comments, and regular blogging may help with writing skills. Of course blog posts can also be poorly written, offer little in the way of cited sources, contribute to sloppy research methods,and fail to reach the intended audience.

Academic librarians are doing a fair amount of blogging, and I wonder who these folks are. According to data collected by Michael Stephens for his blogger survey 41% of the 283 respondents claimed an academic affiliation. That is nearly double the number of bloggers from the next largest group, public librarians. So who are all these academic librarian bloggers? I wonder how many are on the tenure track? I ask this because it is my guess that librarians on the tenure track are not blogging. Why? Probably because some senior librarian or mentor, not unlike Sessums reports, warned against blogging because it counts for tenure status about as much as cleaning out the library staff room frig once a week.

If that’s the case it could be unfortunate. While a blog has all the potential in the world for being a pointless time sink, a thoughtful, well designed and maintained blog can be far more helpful to academic colleagues than a stack of academic journal articles. There’s a place for the scholarly publication of course, and it shouldn’t be a case for anyone of all of one and none of the other. If you’re an academic blogger, tenure track or not, you ought to be able to show you’ve got what it takes by publishing a credible scholarly article or two. Otherwise, all that talk about your academic library blog helping you to write better, to get your thoughts out, to test new, radical ideas, to gather feedback from colleagues, may not amount to a hill of beans if you can’t demonstrate the ability to go beyond blogging as a means of professional communication.

4 thoughts on “Do Academic Librarians On The T-Track Blog

  1. As an academic librarian who maintains a personal blog, Digital Reference, I would have to agree with the suggestion that blogging is a good place to keep your writing skills sharp and to test out ideas. If all goes well, I should be starting the tenure track next fall. While I’ve got quite a few ideas for articles I’d like to publish, I expect to first mention some of those ideas on my blog in the hope that those blog posts will either get useful comments or be bandied about the blogosphere; either way, it’s safe to assume that my fellow librarians who maintain read and/or blogs will help me be better prepared to write for scholarly publication. So far, none of my senior colleagues have advised me against maintaining a blog; although I haven’t asked my colleagues directly if they think I should continue to write for my blog while I am also trying to get published, I think I can reasonably assume that my blogging efforts would continue to be supported.

  2. I’ve written about this very topic a few times on my blog, Pattern Recognition. Here’s a link to one, where I say:

    “There’s a lot of baggage tied up in academia’s love affair with the vetting of information sources…issues of authority, issues of access, issues of relevance…but with the current moving us towards individual or university self-archiving and the web taking publishing out of the hands of the few and into the hands of the many, we’re overdue for a shift in the academic publishing paradigm.”

    And that’s pretty much how I feel about that. :-)

  3. Take a look at the next figure in Michael’s presentation though – I’d like to see type of library cross-tabulated with location, because librarians outside of the US generally don’t have tenure systems. Some of that 41% would certainly be from outside the US.

    I wonder if the reason tenure-track librarians in the US don’t blog is simply because their colleagues in the faculties don’t either. I would like to see more of these librarians blog about other writing that they are doing and research they are working on. Librarianship doesn’t have the strong preprint and discussion networks that some other disciplines do (In terms of research – communities of practice are extremely strong) eg economics and political science, and I do think blogs could be a way of developing those networks. Librarianship benefits from not being weighed down by confidentiality agreements and patents and other IP issues that have affected pre-publication discussion in other disciplines. So writing librarians are more free to discuss their work in progress.

    I’m also interested in bloggers who make the progression the other way around – they start to publish in journals as a result of the writing experience/exposure gained through blogging.

  4. I have 7 blogs and am retired. I visit a lot of blogs written by writers, researchers, librarians and other academics. I think blogging is bad if you need to publish for the job–any job, or if you are trying to write a book. There is an energy and thought process that goes into writing, and if you are using that up by blogging, you don’t have it to draw on for the “real thing.” Then there is the appearance of time wasting, and in academe, appearances mean a lot. Blogging was not ubiquitous when I retired (2000), but I did have my own web page and the library web page to keep up, and even that sucked the creative juices out of me because I was always tweaking and trying to make it better. I would set my research aside and say I would just make a few changes on the webpage, and before I knew it, I’d lost 2 hours of research time.

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