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 It seems to me, that some people who are anti-blog are that way because they have an outdated view of what blogs are.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?

11 thoughts on “Reflections On Blogging”

  1. I am currently involved in a (mostly down under) blog challenge of #blogeverydayofjune. Part of the challenge lies in keeping up with and commenting on other people’s blogs – indeed, some involved with the challenge have set themselves the challenge of 30 comments in 30 days, rather than blog themselves.

    Personally, I get most of the feeds through Outlook’s RSS reader – although one of our number has set up a netvibes page to capture and list all the blogs in one spot. One or two I subscribe to by email.

    In all, I currently subscribe to over 30 blogs, either library or technology related (and one or two pure personal interest such as – a wonderful Sydney based photo essay blog.

    I love the ‘nowness’ of blogs. I get to see and hear what my contemporaries in my industry think about the same issues I am facing. I get ideas and valuable information and links from blogs such as Prof Hacker, In The Library With the Lead Pipe and the notes on the podcasting blog Adventures in Library Instruction.

  2. Hyperbole and a Half is one of my favorite blogs! Thank you for sharing it. 🙂

    Like you, I aggregate my favorite blogs and cartoons using google Reader. I’ve been doing this for a while, but only recently have I noticed that many of the writers and cartoonists I follow are actually making a living at what they’re doing. More and more of those artists have been able to chuck their “day jobs” and become full time bloggers and artists. Proving that people are willing to pay for the content they like–the woman who writes Hyperbole and a Half just paid off an emergency room visit with donations from her followers. Many other artists provide the content for free, but pay the rent by selling books and merchandise.

    I think blogs and cartoons are not only relevant and an excellent way to find news (or entertainment), but they’re creating a new economy all their own.

    And I’m not even over 30!

  3. I love blogs and no I don’t think blogging is only for those over 30. I’m under 25 and love everything about blogging and blogs. I read over 75 blogs, the majority of which are updated at least twice a week. The topics range from librarianship to medicine to cooking to parenting. I read what I find interesting. I use (and adore) my Google reader and only wander outside of it to post a comment or to check a past post.

    I use facebook and twitter, but I mostly stick with blogs and RSS feeds because almost all forms of social networking are blocked at work, which is where I do the majority of my keeping up with news. So, for me, blogs are still very relevant, and are the only way I can stay in touch with the outside world at work.

  4. @Claire – thanks for the link, that’s a great list of librarian blogs and an interesting project/challenge!

    @Marion & Elizabeth – I am also (just barely) under 30 myself, so that was definitely a bit of a prod. I’m glad to see it worked. 🙂 Though, it might be that the librarian crowd is a bit different than the “average under-30” person. But you both make good points about how blogs can be highly relevant in terms of functionality — either to promote fund raising from a broad range of readers (who probably aren’t all subscribed over facebook), or working around random censorship walls.

  5. I’ve used Google Reader for a couple years now. Every once in a while, I have to go through and clean up my feeds as I tend to subscribe willy-nilly to anything that looks interesting and fresh (currently I have 97 subscriptions ranging from library topics to geek humor). As much as possible, I try to click through to the original site (1) because I know it helps the site’s stats and (2) I am more inclined to comment if I’m on the site.

    I don’t think blogs are in any danger of moving out. There will always be a need for long-form, reflective writing. While it is certainly more convenient and energizing to communicate via Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, and the like, there are times when I need to step back and examine my thoughts in a private space. Blogs can provide that and at the same time provide an open space for further discussion. Viva la blog!

  6. I get most of my news from blogs. I have about 20 main blogs which I look at multiple times a day (never while on duty of course) (examples: Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, Americablog, Crooks and Liars), then another 40 or so I look at occasionally (examples: Slate, TalkLeft, BradBlog). I also look at newspaper sites from other countries (the Guardian, the London Times) – but rarely American sites.

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