To Blog Or Not To Blog – That Is An Academic’s Question

I’ve been trying to focus some attention on faculty blogging just recently (without much success I suspect) as I think there’s some valuable insight for academic librarians to gain in that sector of the blogosphere. Now comes an interesting point-counterpoint set of essays over at Inside Higher Ed. This continues an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of blogging for academics, and for me this includes librarians, especially those on the tenure track.

In his essay that questions the value of academic blogging, Adam Kotsko, presents a view that blogging is not all that it is cut out to be when it comes to communicating with fellow academics. He writes:

I think that everyone needs to realize that having a productive conversation in an online format is very hard work, which is why it happens so rarely. Many bloggers can point out online conversations in which they were pushed to think in a new direction or got genuinely valuable feedback on a question, but as with all human endeavors, there is a high percentage of dross to go along with the occasional gold. Policing comments is a difficult job, and efforts to keep conversations on-topic or ensure that contributors have some substantial knowledge to share will often cause resentment in light of the “democratic” leanings of online communities. All this is on top of the obvious problems with online interaction as opposed to in-person conversations.

While Kotsko is tired of blogging he indicates he’s not quite ready to leave it behind all together.

The counter essay from Scott Eric Kaufman suggests that there is still value in blogging for two main reasons. First, he says that blogging gives most academics something they don’t have but long for – an audience for which to write. Second, he points to the communities that develop around blogs which he says are a good thing for us to have. He writes:

I’m talking about the communities we currently have, only five years in the future, when we’re scattered around the country, unable to communicate face-to-face, but still connected, still intellectually intimate, because we’ll still regularly be engaged with each other’s thoughts.

I would agree with Kaufman that blogging is still a worthwhile endeavor, and it certainly has helped to bring academic librarians closer together in conversation. A blog like ACRLog gives us an ongoing opportunity to not only share news and information, but to exchange our ideas and thoughts about how developments in and beyond higher education are impacting on our work. And there is a growing core of academic librarians who add to the conversation in their own blogs. While we’re on the topic of academic librarian blogging. I’d like to add to the ongoing conversation about anonymous blogging, I agree that it has its place. I’ve noted that a number of faculty blogs are anonymous, and I can understand someone being concerned about their views impacting on their current job or future opportunities. However I have a problem with anonymous bloggers who use their posts to insult or criticize the work of others. It’s a cowardly act and I think this post by John Berry effectively expresses the issues and this point.

17 thoughts on “To Blog Or Not To Blog – That Is An Academic’s Question”

  1. I thought it noteworthy that both authors, pro and con, are doctoral students. Perhaps that has some impact on how their positions have been voiced.

    Online publishing broadly considered, and blogging in particular, tends to encourage writing for a general audience, of if not that then certainly a broader audience than is the target of writing for a scholarly journal. The style in writing for a general audience is what is required for interdisciplinary work and also the type of writing we might want our (undergraduate) students to appreciate and emulate.

    Said that way, there may be substantial benefits to blogging that accrue to others than the author. But there remains the question of whether generating that benefit is perceived as part of the mission of the unit in which the author is a member and, if not, whether the author perceives it to be part of his job to transform his unit so that this external benefit does become part of the unit’s mission. So it is a risky business and in discussing the benefits and costs we might confound that with the question about who bears the risks.

  2. Interesting! There must be something in the (scholarly) water this week about this: I’m on a discussion list for Pagan scholars, and we’ve been talking about the same question. Consensus seemed to be that while blogs had value for the author (and the community of readers/posters), conveying academic credibility to said author was not usually among their benefits.

  3. Re: the John Berry post: do you think the AL (who we are probably thinking about there) attacks others or the ideas of others? Do you think one can distinguish these? It seems to me that she attacks what she sees as ill-advised, foolish, or shortsighted ideas of others, and not the persons themselves (though maybe I am wrong here). Further, it seems that if she did not take the approach that she did, there would be even less discussion of the counter-ideas that she espouses.

  4. My sympathies are more with anonymous authors than the people who claim it is cowardly. In professional writing it seems to me more likely that bad ideas and practices will not be critiqued honestly for fear of repercussions than anything else. What harm is it doing the named author that the person is anonymous? And what help does it have to have the person’s name? (So you can deny them that job, reject their article, reject their conference proposal….?) If the anonymity just lets them go off on someone without warrant, then I agree it’s cowardly.

    Joseph Fulda has a discussion of this in “The Ethics of Pseudonymous Publication” in the Fall 2007 issue of the Journal of Information Ethics. Fulda claims that authors have a duty to not deceive their audience, and therefore questions about whether pseudonymous authors have a right to address the very audience from which they seek to conceal their identity for fear of repercussions are very difficult, and can only be answered by persons with a very sure moral compass. Gee thanks Joe.

    Fulda points out that the veil of pseudonymity is more easily pierced than what many people suppose, and that when it is, people tend to hate you even more. Anonymous bloggers perhaps might take heed of this point.

  5. I disagree. I am an anonymous blogger ( and I need to be considering that I’m an untenured librarian. My interest lies in documenting my experience as a new mother on the tenure track, but it is a reality that what I write while untenured could be used against in my bid for tenure. In my posts I try not to criticize people and hide behind the veil of anonymity. I intend to come out of the bloggers closet after a decision on tenure has been made. It is a tough choice, but I’ve decided to remain anonymous for now!

  6. I acknowledged in my post that anonymous blogging has its benefits, and I understand there are situations when it is the best option. I respect the opinions of commenters here, but I’ll maintain the position I made in my post – and my agreement with John Berry. If you want to criticize my work, at least have the courage of your convictions to say who you are. That said, anonymous evaluations – such as those received at the end of a presentation – are of value. But I think the two situations are quite different. And yes, when the anonymous writer is insulting and ridicules – that is offensive – and if you want to offer constructive criticism anonymously – at least keep it professional.

  7. “I have a problem with anonymous bloggers who use their posts to insult or criticize the work of others. It’s a cowardly act…”

    I have to strongly disagree with the lumping of “insult” with “critici[sm]”. I agree anonymous (or any) insults are to be looked down upon, but criticism is a rather different enterprise than insult. Criticizing ideas is not personal, and I don’t see why it matters if the criticizer is anonymous or not.

    Too often I see the de-valuation in our culture of “criticism” as another form of insult or personal attack, and it is an easy way to shut down conversation, dissent, or disagreement.

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