There must be at least 500 librarian blogs. Probably closer to 600. I imagine Walt Crawford has probably given some more accurate librarian blogger data in one of his blog studies, but I think I’m in the ballpark. So let’s say you are a librarian and decide you want to have a well known blog. With the field as crowded as it is how do you get noticed? What do you need to do to make it to the A – or even the B or C – list? Maybe you just want a blog that uniquely covers some new, unknown territory. I got to thinking about these things because a newer- to-the-profession academic librarian recently posed these questions to me.
You can find all sorts of advice on the Internet about developing a good blog, but I think my younger, less experienced colleague thought I had some special insights on how to make it big as a blogger. Maybe he was asking the wrong person. But wanting to be helpful – what academic librarian turns down a challenging question – I gave some advice over the course of a few e-mail exchanges. And you know what they say about free advice.
Succeeding as a blogger in a crowded field, to my way of thinking, comes down to three things. All are probably easier said than done. First, find the right niche because that will establish your identity as a blogger. I come across lots of blogs and many of them are missing character. If your tag line is “thoughts about librarianship and working in libraries” or something like that it allows you to write about everything but in the end you may stand for nothing. I think the best librarian blogs are the ones where you know what the blogger stands for, and you can be reasonably sure you going to get some consistency over time. Here at ACRLog you know we’re going to be focusing on academic librarianship (maybe not right now). If that’s what you like to read about – and to get some attitude on the side – then this is the blog for you. If we suddenly started covering totally different topics everyday I imagine we’d lose the bulk of our readership pretty quickly. Finding the right niche is probably the hardest thing to do. It requires you to figure out what no one else is writing about and to capture the market on that topic – or you could just write about things with an incredibly unique point of view – the way no one else is seeing them. You’ve got to be different. Originality is the key.
Now finding a good niche will only take you so far if you lack good content to keep your audience coming back. So the second thing is to identify a niche that is likely to have a steady source of content. It doesn’t mean you have to blog everyday, unless you are filtering a steady stream of news on a specific subject. But without good material to keep the ideas flowing, so you can post at least once a week, the blog will probably fail to be sustainable. Witness the many librarian blogs that have bitten the dust. Again, a bit easier said than done, but not impossible. One way to do this is to look for a niche that librarians would find of value and would draw upon sources of information external to this profession.
Designing Better Libraries is a good example. Most of the content comes from journals, magazines, websites and blogs that most librarians don’t have time to read. So for them the content is new and fresh. I really enjoy the subject matter so I’m always eager to put a library spin on the posts. That way I’m not just regurgitating the material. Given the amount of information on topics related to design, creativity, and innovation there is almost always something to write about. In fact, if I had the time I could do two posts a week. It’s pretty easy to write posts that say “So-and-so over at Generic Blog just wrote a great post. Here’s the link. Go read it.” Not very creative, and it gets old pretty fast – both for the writer and reader. Library Stuff is one of the few blogs that can manage that style of pointing to other posts, but only because the posts have terse commentary – often with a touch of wit, joy, sarcasm or anger. Showing emotion or passion can make a difference. How about showing the readers your personal side – letting them share in your real life? That’s not where I graze, though I see it works well for some bloggers.
Having a blog with a good niche and steady content won’t help if no one knows about it. So number three is promoting your new blog. We saw a good example of that last week when the blog In the Library with the Leadpipe made its debut. Several of the bloggers posted announcements to their friends on Facebook (where they also started a group), and asked a few established bloggers to take a look and spread the news. I think I saw it in at least five places, including LISNews and Walt Crawford’s blog. So just as it begins the blog is getting buzz. I’ve come across a fair number of interesting librarian blogs but they just seem buried in the blur of too many blogs called “The Something Librarian”. Though it may sound contrived, it can help to occasionally offer opinions, challenge traditions, take a position or anything that might get other bloggers to link to or comment on your posts. I think filter blogs like Kept-Up Academic Librarian have their place, but it’s also quite satisfying to generate a conversation and learn more from the comments and allow them to broaden your horizons.
I don’t know if my new colleague will achieve his goal of establishing a more widely read blog – I hope he will. Personally I think it’s getting hard to stand out in the crowd and attract the attention of the bread and butter of librarian blog readers – the younger generation of librarians who are accustomed to blog reading. Now I imagine they are spending more time sending and receiving tweets for their awareness and entertainment, and that reading blogs is, or will soon be, somewhat tired. I sometimes question how sustainable all of this librarian blogging is, and whether we’ll still be doing this five years from now. Perhaps it will last as long as we have a good topic, something to say about it and a need for conversation with our colleagues. But until then I wish my colleague good luck in his journey to librarian blogger recognition – or at least in bringing life to a blog that creates some value for those who read it. I admire his ambition but hope that, as always, he is motivated by a desire to provide meaning for others and a passion to help them learn. With these simple outcomes as your instrinsic motivation you will always be successful no matter how many librarians read your blog.