Tag Archives: blogging

Breaking Through the Block

One of the reasons I like to blog is that it keeps me writing regularly. Like lots of academic librarians my job comes with expectations for research and scholarship, so I need to be able to write up the work that I do and get it published. Writing is hard — I think writing comes truly easily for only very few people. I’ve found that the more I write, the easier it is to write. Many books on writing suggest setting aside time for it every day, and while I can’t always preserve that time I do tend to write at least a little something more days than not.

But everyone has a bout of writer’s block at least occasionally, which is precisely the place I’m in right now. I think I know why: I’m in the midst of analyzing and writing up a big research project so it’s likely that most of my creative focus is occupied with that. Even so, I’ll be working on this big project for a while yet, and I need to figure out a way to move past the block and keep writing, especially as I work through the data analysis.

Thinking about writer’s block has me thinking about strategies for overcoming writer’s block. Here are some that have worked for me. If you’ve got a great tactic for breaking through the block, please share in the comments!

Schedule your writing (and thinking) time
In the past Steven’s written about finding a good time to write and creating a writing routine, and as I mentioned above I try and find the time to write at least a couple hundred words every day. The key for me is that this doesn’t have to be academic writing or even related to libraries: writing in my personal journal counts, as does writing quick blog posts for work or for some of my other interests. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my daily word count, which gives me a nice motivational boost.

I also find that it’s helpful for me to occasionally schedule thinking time. Usually this is on my way to work in the morning, which is most productive on the days that I walk, though I imagine it would also work well if I drove to work. This intentional time to think about what I could write about doesn’t always result in an executable idea, but it definitely helps get the mental gears moving. I think it also puts me into a more receptive frame of mind, so that when I do come across something of interest I’m more likely to be able to write about it.

Keep track of your ideas in a file, and revisit that file often
I’ve mentioned before that I keep a text file of sources of inspiration for scholarly research, which of course can be just as readily used to gather ideas for blogging. During a period of writer’s block it’s easy for me to forget about that file, and as I went back into it recently I realized I hadn’t gone through it in a few months. I’m going to make the effort to check the file more often, clearing out ideas that have been turned into full-fledged pieces of writing and adding in new thoughts.

Read, read, read (or watch, attend, talk, etc.)
This is probably a no-brainer, but reading news and blogs about librarianship and academia can provide great fodder for both informal and formal writing. I’ve gravitated away from listservs in recent years in favor of RSS feeds, but if you’re a die-hard listserv reader those can be good sources. Ditto for conferences and other professional development opportunities, both live and on the internet. Even a chat with your colleagues around the proverbial water cooler can inspire writing thoughts. When I’m writer’s blocked it’s easy to feel stuck my own head, unable to move past what seem like the same old boring ideas. Exposing myself to information from a wide variety of outside influences can help me think (and write) about new topics.

Ask questions
Finally, here’s where I’ll practice what I preach: ACRLog readers, what would you like us to blog about? Are there any topics you’d like to see us cover? Let us know in the comments!

Reflections On Blogging

Editor’s Note: ACRLog is hosting a team of ALA Emerging Leaders. Each month one of our Emerging Leaders will contribute a guest post, and each will focus on some aspect of gearing up for the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. This month the series takes on a slightly different topic than the Annual Conference. Miriam Rigby, Assistant Professor, Social Sciences Librarian for Anthropology, Sociology, Ethnic Studies,Geography & Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon, shares some thoughts about blogging.

One of the questions posed to our Emerging Leaders team when we took on this project to write posts for ACRLog and ACRL Insider, was whether blogs were still relevant. Based on my habits, which include subscribing to over 60 blogs through Google Reader, my initial gut reaction was “of course!” But then I started wondering, “are blogs the new Second Life?” No offense to people who find Second Life useful or entertaining, but outside of the realms of librarianship and advertising, very few people I know think it is relevant; some are surprised to hear it still exists or is used at all. And these people are visibly shocked when I tell them of ACRL conference presentations in which Second Life is used, or even discussed. Anecdotes, to be sure – from a small pool of people no less – but noteworthy, I think.

Blogs seem different though. The New York Times has dozens of blogs. There are mega-blogs run along the lines of traditional news sources, with multiple, regular columnists and editors; take Boing Boing or Gizmodo for instance. There are even peer-edited blogs such as In the Library With the Lead Pipe. And if, for a minute we can conflate the ideas of blogs and rss feeds, even the Anthropology Department that I am a subject-specialist for at the University of Oregon has a “blog” to which I can subscribe to keep up to date with all of the awards and accomplishments the department achieves.

As an aside, subscriptions like these, through my Google Reader, are crucial to my blog reading habits; this rss aggregator compiles all of the blogs I follow in one place, and I am notified when there is a new post. This saves me hours of bouncing around the web, trying to find out if anyone has posted something new.

Blogging is not just a hobby or a personal journal option, but also a career for many. It seems to me, that some people who are anti-blog are that way because they have an outdated view of what blogs are. Blogging is a format that has grown up and developed itself in terms of content over the past decade or so. And as it is a fairly versatile format, I don’t think that it will disappear too quickly. What I mean by all this, is that when anti-blog people think of blogs, their negativity may stem from an outdated idea of teenagers’ LiveJournal or GeoCities pages from the ‘90s; they expect the rants of an individual, rather than interesting news and links to more information. Blogs certainly still can be this (not to suggest that this particular one isn’t great, it is), but they can also be well crafted, cited, authoritative sources of cutting edge science like the Public Library of Science’s (PLoS) Medical Blog. Blogs don’t have many constraints; if you can imagine it, you can probably make it and call it a blog. And as that lovely Wikipedia entry states, you can embed pretty much any content you like.

Of course, I couldn’t write a post on information sharing on the web, without mentioning social networks like Facebook and Twitter – places that are somewhat blog-like in the way that people write posts (no matter how short) and share information with each other. Perhaps these will kill the Blog?

Perhaps, but on the other hand, where is this information that is being shared via links coming from? Online newspapers… and blogs! In response to this, and Facebook’s ongoing privacy issues, some people are leaving Facebook for other sites like Tumblr, a socially networked blogging platform, while others are coming up with their own new concept for online networking and information sharing, as with Diaspora.

Notre Dame recently hosted a science and mathematics career conference for 11-14 year old girls, Expanding Your Horizons. Data Librarian, Michelle Hudson, had the pleasure of talking to some of these young women about careers in library science and information architecture, and in the process, discussed blogging with them. Apparently, none of them “blog,” but they do use Facebook. (Michelle notes that it wasn’t clear if they recognized features like “notes” on Facebook are blog-like, and their reading habits were not explored.) So, maybe there are generational differences, maybe blogging is for people over 30. Or maybe it’s a semantic issue; many things look like blogs to me, which may not be called blogs, or be understood to be blogs by their users.

But what kind of a librarian would I be if I just told you my thoughts and didn’t invoke some Web 2.0 participation via blog comments? So, you obviously read some blogs – you are here reading this. But how many blogs do you tend to read? What are your favorites? And do you go directly to the blogs’ webpages, or do you import them via RSS to a reader? And do you think blogs are relevant, or do you know of some newer, cutting edge method of keeping up to date with news and internet memes?

I Never Fell Off The Turnip Wagon

It looks like my attempt at providing some humor here at ACRLog may have gone a bit awry. Last week I wrote a post that was clearly intended to mock a bogus web site listing a completely absurd list of so-called predictions about the future of higher education. I was totally aware that this site serves no purpose other than to get bloggers and others to create a link back to the post. True, I did in fact provide a link to the post – giving the site owners the link love they seek – but I guess I just couldn’t resist doing so purely for the entertainment factor. I got a few laughs just looking at the ridiculous predictions, and I thought you readers would too – and I hoped you would be further entertained by my effort at satire – probably not my strong point as a blogger. I wrote this being reasonably sure you all are well aware of the true intent behind these sites and their posts about “the top 50 colleges for sunbathers” and “25 foolproof tips for an exciting classroom”.

But apparently I came off appearing rather naive to at least two bloggers. Both Ellie Collier and Roy Tennant took my post as an opportunity to warn the librarian community about these sites which are little more than an effort to scam us into doing something that wastes our time and benefits the site owners. BTW, see my comment to Ellie’s post. Turns out that AL Direct picked up on my post and broadcast it out to the library community at large; that’s where Roy picked it up (gosh, I thought he was a regular ACRLog reader – now I find out he only reads it if AL Direct mentions it). Both Roy and Ellie explain these scam sites pretty well, so go read their posts if you want to understand it better.

I was actually a bit concerned that AL Direct did mention it – no, I never mind getting referrals from AL Direct – because just a few stories above that AL Direct was linking people to another bogus post from Learn-gasm on the “Top 100 blogs for library students” (Ok, I’m definitely NOT linking to that one. Doesn’t the site name “Learn-gasm” tip you off that something smells rotten). So I’m wondering if AL Direct realizes I’m not taking this stuff seriously. Anyway, speaking of that “top 100″ blogs post, someone from ACRL wrote to me to complain that ACRLog wasn’t included on the list but that ACRL Insider was – clearly an act of injustice. My response was “pay it no mind” as I tried to explain why that post was nothing but a scam job – and there was no problem in being left off it. I’m pretty sure aspiring academic librarians know about or will learn about ACRLog without the help of an affiliate site.

So fellow bloggers, I appreciate your public service announcements about the dangers of going to or providing links to these scam sites. I do understand your intent, and this post is in no way critical of your reactions to my original post. If that post provided an opportunity to bring a much larger problem to the attention of the library community – that’s a good thing. But I can assure you I wasn’t fooled, duped or otherwise led astray by the 25 predictions post. If that was the case I’d be linking to these dumb sites all the time. I must get at least 5 or more e-mails a month telling me to go see and share these posts – and then there are the “freelance bloggers” who want to know if they can write a post for ACRLog. In fact, to an extent my attempt at ridiculing them was mostly a pent-up burst of “now I’m going to take you to the woodshed” in return for all the spam mail they send me. Maybe that was not a good idea, but I don’t regret the post. It was definitely a one-off mention of one of these sites and you definitely won’t see it happen again at ACRLog.

So in the end it’s good to know that you other bloggers are reading us here at ACRLog. Now, I have just two requests for you:

1) Please do get my name right – it’s STEVEN, not Stephen.

2) How about a post where you tell your readers about the great new columns from Barbara and STEVEN.

So You Wanna Be A Librarian Blogger Star

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.

Resist The Rankings

I suppose I should be elated. The folks over at a site called The Library Shelf just wrote to give me the good news:

Congrats, your blog The Kept-Up Academic Librarian has made it into the TOP 20 of the TheLibraryShelf blog community, powered by SocialRank!!!

Great, just what we need. Another effort to rank librarian blogs.

What I find amusing about this is that I routinely analyze the stats for both Kept-Up and ACRLog. By every measure possible ACRLog kicks Kept-Up’s ass when it comes to readership, comments to the posts, comments at other blogs, mentions in publications like the Chronicle and AL Direct, and any other indicator of popularity you can identify. Yet, ACRLog is no where to be found in the ranking. And yet the ranking includes blogs that you and I both know get little readership while there is no trace of blogs that have significant readership.

Am I complaining that ACRLog wasn’t ranked. Hell no. I’m writing this to tell you three things.

First, blog rankings suck. These rankings suck whether they are weekly, annual or of the “all-time favorite” variety. Second, blog rankings don’t work. I’ve yet to see a ranked list of librarian blogs that has any hint of rationality to it. Third, if your blog does get ranked somewhere please resist the urge to tell your readers about it, to inflate your ego about your role as a blogger and most of all to put the ranking site’s badge on your site – because that’s what this is really all about – getting more traffic to the ranker’s site. Isn’t it incredibly shallow to shil for some “let’s be the next YouTube” gang that really couldn’t care less about your blog? Going ga-ga over these rankings just encourages more efforts to rank blogs. If we just commit as a community to ignore them they will go away.

If you think your blog is accomplishing the goals that you set out to achieve when you started it, and if you are reaching an audience that cares about your blogging – even if it might be small – then consider it a success on your own terms. You don’t need a ranking to confirm your contributions to the library community.

Now I know other bloggers find these rankings amusing and harmless, and some even say they are a good way to discover new blogs (even though the rankings usually list the same blogs over and over again), but if this is one of the few ways this community can entertain itself and derive some sense of accomplishment, well, that’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of our self-esteem.

Here’s a suggestion. Let’s not pander to these meaningless rankings. I suggest that if we want to acknowlege our community’s bloggers who are doing really good work (high quality writing, regular postings, originality of ideas and topics, innovative suggestions, etc.) let’s all contribute to an annual listing – not numeric rankings – but a collection of ten blogs worthy of our praise. Let’s also include a collection of new blogs that came out that year that deserve more attention. And let’s do it ourselves. And let’s not just make it a popularity contest of “my favorite blogs”. Make it an accomplishment worth earning by way of recognized excellence in writing, originality and other criteria we can really respect – not just raw numbers. I think LISNews has done some sensible blog listings of this type in the past – which I commend – and I recommend that it be our sole source of liblogoverse acknowledgement for excellence in blogging. Personally, I can live without it. But if people like this sort of thing, well at least this is an approach I can support.

Oh, and don’t call them blogging awards. Don’t get me started on awards for blogging.