What Happened To The Personal Web Site

You could make a case that the personal blog has impacted academic librarianship in several noticeable ways. First, changing the dynamic of how new ideas are proposed, and how new resources are shared. Second, shifting how academic librarians communicate ideas and engage in discourse. And third, and perhaps most significantly, influencing thought and establishing new trends in academic librarianship. Arguably, blogs appear to have eclipsed what was once the domain of the published journal article. While I still believe in the viability of the published article as a communication vehicle and as a demonstration of one’s ability to succeed in the venue of traditional disciplinary publishing, for many academic librarians – particularly those new to the profession – that may no longer be the case. And if blogs were ever to replace scholarly journal articles as the gold standard for those on the tenure track, published journal articles would likely languish even more.

But this post isn’t a discussion of the blog’s impact on publishing. It raises the question of the blog’s impact on another professional communication mode that seems to be on the decline – the personal web site. In the pre-blog days if an academic librarian wanted to achieve some of those things for which a blog now serves, a personal web site was the best available option. It could provide a personal profile, access to a CV, a listing of articles and presentations, resources that the site owner wanted to share with colleagues, and specialized resource pages designed to enlighten colleagues, promote new ideas, and create a name for oneself. Perhaps the blog’s ability to accomplish the latter is the primary reason why the personal web site is no longer the first choice – or a choice at all – for many academic librarians who want to establish themselves as thought leaders in the profession and influence their colleagues.

Why am I thinking about personal web sites? One of my summer projects, not yet fully completed, was to move my personal web site to a new domain and to give it a redesign. I’ve been gradually moving the content from my previous employer’s server to a new location – my own domain. As the task nears completion it got me wondering whether the site and its content would still hold the same professional value as when I began a personal web site in 1998 or whether it would just be perceived as an anachronism. In the earlier days of the Internet having one’s own site was all the rage. I don’t believe the current choice is web site versus blog. I think it makes sense to have both. A blog is a superior way to share news and ideas with immediacy. Although it may be in decline, a personal web site can still offer some advantages. It provides a place for more in depth information. A librarian with a web site can establish his or her expertise in a subject discipline with a resource list or provide more detailed information about his or herself.

Given these potential advantages to maintaining a personal web site, I wondered how many academic librarians, both bloggers and non-bloggers, also maintain a personal web site. My methods were wholly unscientific. I merely searched the web by name or looked for a link to a personal web site from a blogger’s site. I examined three categories of of academic librarians:
* my fellow acrlog bloggers
* prominent academic librarians
* academic librarian bloggers

ACRLog Bloggers:

Marc Meola – staff page only
Barbara Fister – yes and yes
Lisa Hinchliffe – staff page only

What I would call a “staff page” – a page in your library web site that identifies you but really isn’t a developed site, doesn’t really count as having a personal web site. To my way of thinking a personal web site is more robust – it at least has more than one page and a diverse range of information and resources. Staff pages are pretty common, and most are pretty thin on content.

Prominent Academic Librarians:

Jim Neal – yes (doesn’t blog)
Julie Todero – yes (doesn’t blog)
Pam Snelson – staff page only (doesn’t blog)
Susan Nutter – staff page only (doesn’t blog)
Betsy Wilson – enhanced staff page (doesn’t blog)
Stanley Wilder – unable to locate page (doesn’t blog)
Larry Hardesty – staff page only (doesn’t blog)
Jim Rettig – does an election site count? (does blog)

Selected Academic Librarian Bloggers:

Library 2.0- An Academic Librarian’s Perspective (Laura Cohen) – no personal web site found
Academic Librarian (Wayne Bivens-Tatum) – staff page only
Ubiquitous Librarian (Brian Matthews) – yes (under construction)
Information Literacy Land of Confusion (Michael Lorenzen) – yes
Information Wants To Be Free (Meredith Farkas) – combination blog/web site
Medium is the Message (Eric Schnell) – yes, somewhat limited
Pattern Recognition (Jason Griffey) – no personal web site found
Wandering Eyre (Michelle Boule) – an expanded blog, not quite a web site
Library Marketing (Jill Stover) – staff page found; no web site
See Also (Steven Lawson) – no personal web site found
Baby Boomer Librarian (Bill Drew) – replaced his personal web site with a wiki

Note to my fellow academic bloggers: the results are based on quick internet searches and blog visits; if the information is not correct or you don’t agree with my assessment – chime in.

I also checked out a number of A-List bloggers to see how many of them maintain a web site in addition to their blog. Turns out that not too many of them do. Seems the trend is to blend some traditional web site content (CV, articles, presentations) into the blog site, usually in the “about” section.

So what can we learn from this? The sample of prominent (legacy) academic librarians I chose suggests that traditional web site content may be a bit more commonplace among that crowd, but certainly blogs are quite limited. While I found more of the blogging academic librarians less likely to have well-developed web sites, I found more web site-like content than I expected. But I think it’s safe to say that for most newcomers to the profession a personal blog will win out over a personal web site. LIS students, especially those about to graduate, should give serious consideration to a personal web site that can function as a portfolio of academic accomplishments and demonstrate web design skills. For the new grad, a web site may be of greater value than a blog.

A web site, in my experience, is more time consuming initially to design and implement, but once established it requires just occasional updating. I think there are some good skills to be learned from this process – FTP, file structures, web site architecture and design, absolute vs. relative linking, bookmark linking, etc. Re-designing my personal web site gave me an opportunity to get more Dreamweaver experience, to figure out how to get a flash file to load on a web page, and to experiment with new design features. Is the personal web site passe? For academic librarians that appears to be the trend. But I don’t doubt that its decline has something to do with the recognition factor and where a librarian gets more bang for the buck. In that department, these days, a blog has the web site beat by a mile.

15 thoughts on “What Happened To The Personal Web Site

  1. I have a blog and a “personal page” at karin.dalziel.org – though I regard the personal page as my C.V. – and it runs on blog software.

    While learning HTML is a good skill to have (this is coming from someone who once coded thousands of pages in a text editor), I think the days of hand coded web pages are ending rapidly. Programs like Drupal and WordPress let you make websites- not just blogs. Many can be installed with one click by your web host. You can install templates and alter them to make them your own. And- best of all- you can update them with ease.

  2. Thanks for the mention, though I wonder why you didn’t actually link to the blogs you name.

    Thanks also for not finding my personal site: it is a barren wasteland. :)

    Why? Because a reasonable number people seem to be interested in what I write on the blog. Some people might be interested in past presentations or publications, but they can find those linked on the blog. I can’t think of anyone who would be interested in my CV or resume.

    So I think you are right about bang for the buck. Build up a blog by writing interesting stuff with some frequency and you find yourself making new friends and professional contacts and carrying on provocative conversations with people from all over the world. Build up a personal site, and I don’t quite know what you get.

  3. Thanks for mentioning me in your article. I found it to be a very good analysis. I did have a personal page at my former employer and also one at my own domain name for several years. I started the one at billdrew.pbwiki.com because I wanted to learn PBwiki and I also wanted one that would be very easy to update. It proved especially valuable in the interview process for my new job here at TC3. Many of the people on the interview committee visited the site as did the academic dean who we all report to and the college president. I know the president visited it because he mentioned it to me.

    I do not update the wiki frequently but the content is up to date. I use my blog for my postings when I have time.

  4. Steven. Great post. I made the same observation when I posted on Twitter last month. It so happens I have a personal web page, but I find it rather embarrassing since it still has the mid-1990′s look of when it was created. Maybe this is my call to action?

  5. My case is a little eccentric. I have my librarian identity and my fiction writer identity. Each website is about only part of me, with links to my other self. (That does sound deeply confused, I know, but I really am a fairly well-integrated person at heart.)

    I think this is fairly characteristic of Web 1.0 rhetoric – self-representation that is relatively formal, controlled, and intended to provide a limited amount of basic information framed for a particular audience. My Heckle and Jyde identities, oddly enough, mingle more comfortably at Facebook and in my personal blog where I don’t try to separate them – whether that’s because I’ve changed or technology has, I’m not sure.

    I suspect there’s a new and complex rhetoric developing for the self-fashioning involved in Web 2.0 technology that is significantly different than the kind of identity projected when a web page was the primary means of telling the world who you were. It almost seems now we are what we’re interested in and talking about – not who we declare ourselves to be – and that’s what shows in our social networks.

  6. Why didn’t I link to the blogs I named? I guess I’m either lazy or I’m trying to save a little time by skipping something readers could figure out for themselves. It’s probably the former and not the latter.

    Barbara raises an interesting point I didn’t considere. Is the personal web site too 1.0 for today’s web world. Admittedly my web site is strictly a read-only site – there’s no write-to-it option. But is that a turn off for folks? I still think there’s a good deal of value at the Keeping Up web site – even if you can’t add to it – but there sure is a lot you can take away from it. But just the same the old-style web site just doesn’t allow for much peer production.

  7. One feels almost compelled to comment after having been cited as in this way! :)

    I did once have a personal site (1998-2005) …. http://web.archive.org/web/20050405204255/alexia.lis.uiuc.edu/~janicke/lisa.htm … but the server was retired and I – like many others I suspect – didn’t so much make a decision not to have a personal site but rather regularly run out of time in my weeks to do everything that might be good to do. It’s on the list. But, the list is long.

  8. Barbara, you raise a compelling point about co-mingled identities in Facebook and perhaps then throughout the 2.0 world. Your (1.0?) approach of separation isn’t unique among mid-career librarians I know. It is more difficult now than ever before to maintain separate identities in multiple professional venues (such as your library and fiction writing careers) and also in personal expression as well, isn’t it? What do we gain from it? Do we lose anything if we give it up?

    Informal discussions in my library on how we present ourselves in a 2.0 world have caused me to reflect on balance, professionalism, individual responsibility for presenting the voice of the organization, and displaying whole selves to our community of users. I was uneasy to hear a colleague say that since we were now talking about Facebook (for example) as an intentional place for our organization to be, this person was changing the photo, info, etc. so it would more fit the library job title image. This meant reshaping the represented identity to lessen or eliminate aspects of what he does as a community volunteer and believes in the wider community. This is not the direction I’d like to see librarians go, so how deeply ingrained is the idea of separation of identities? I loved your closing line — “It almost seems now we are what we’re interested in and talking about – not who we declare ourselves to be – and that’s what shows in our social networks.”

  9. There was a thread on a discussion list recently about whether or not the discussion list, itself, had lost much of its utility as a useful technology (very “meta”), and I see shades of that argument in this discussion. What is the personal Web page for – personal history, CV; dissemination of information; enhancing the ability of others to discover your ideas (chiefly through links to your other Web resources, citations to your print work, or links to content you’ve deposited in an OA repository)? Which of these goals is best suited for a 1.0 application like a Web page, and which are better addressed through a 2.0 application?

    Looking at my own profile, I see a variety of personal Web pages, each reflecting an aspect of my life:

    https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/swalter/www/index.html
    http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/people/faculty/walters/walters.php
    http://www.h-net.org/people/editors/show.cgi?ID=123824

    Then, there is my Facebook profile (a type of page that Steven didn’t include in his survey). Mine’s at:

    http://uillinois.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16821593

    And, of course, the blog, which, in my case, is far more local in concern than the more ambitious projects of my colleagues:

    http://www.library.uiuc.edu/blog/services/

    Certainly, blogging is not the only way to meet the goals that personal Web pages once served in terms of presenting one’s ideas, and not even big-time bloggers like Michael Stephens have completely eschewed the traditional model of dissemination of ideas in print, but the landscape is far more complex than it was when I put my first library Web site together (on resources for the study of American education) in 1998!

    Thanks for helping me to think about it!

  10. I read this post with some interest, particularly this section:
    “In the pre-blog days if an academic librarian wanted to achieve some of those things for which a blog now serves, a personal web site was the best available option. It could provide a personal profile, access to a CV, a listing of articles and presentations, resources that the site owner wanted to share with colleagues, and specialized resource pages designed to enlighten colleagues, promote new ideas, and create a name for oneself.”

    My blog has dedicated pages that list my articles and presentations. I periodically blog about resources for others. The only thing I don’t have on there is a CV. That’s mainly due to the fact that I believe in tailoring such things for any given context. Maybe some blogs have a hybrid quality (i.e. elements of the personal website and blog) to them?

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