Don’t Write the Comments?

We had a month of especially active blogging in January and early February this year here at ACRLog. In addition to the regularly scheduled posts from Erin and Lindsay in our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series, there were also great posts about the upcoming Symposium on LIS Education from Sarah, and on better communicating our ideas to different audiences from Jennifer.

But what really pushed us over the top last month was a group of guest posts about the new ACRL Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education. First we featured the open letter from a group of New Jersey information literacy librarians sharing their concerns about the new Framework replacing the old Standards. Several responses followed: Ian Beilin and Nancy Foasberg wrote in support of the Framework, then by Jacob Berg responded to both the open letter and Beilin and Foasberg’s response. Donna Witek contributed a post on the Framework and assessment, and Lori Townsend, Silvia Lu, Amy Hofer, and Korey Brunetti closed out the month with their post expanding on threshold concepts.

Since the Framework was scheduled to be discussed and voted on at Midwinter at the end of January, the timing of this flurry of posts isn’t surprising. These Framework (and related) posts tackled big topics and issues, issues that academic and other librarians have been discussing in many venues. So I have to admit that I was surprised to see that there was practically no discussion of these posts here on ACRLog. One person left a comment on the threshold concepts post sharing a citation, and there were a couple of pingbacks from other blogs around the web linking to these posts.

The absence of discussion here on ACRLog seems even more remarkable given the presence of discussion in other venues. I’m active on Twitter and there have been many, many discussions about the IL Framework as a replacement for (or supplement to) the Standards for months now. Whenever a post is published on ACRLog it’s tweeted out automatically, and these Framework posts sparked many a 140 character response. I’m not on any listservs right now (I know, I know, somewhat scandalous for a librarian), and I’m also not on Facebook, but from what I gather there was discussion of these posts on various listservs and FB too.

Even in our post-Andrew Sullivan era, I still read plenty of real live, not-dead-yet blogs — indeed, trying to keep up with my RSS reader is sometimes a challenge. But it’s been interesting to see the comments, the conversations, move elsewhere on the internet lately. Not that our ACRLog comments have been totally silent, but more often than not I login to find that the comment approval page is pretty quiet. This is despite some of the obvious advantages to blog comments over other options (though as anyone who’s ever encountered a troll can attest, there are disadvantages too). While Twitter can offer the opportunity to immediately engage with folks over a topic or issue — and there are many, many librarians on Twitter — the 140 character limit for tweets can often feel constraining when the topic or issue is large or complex. Listservs allow for longer-form responses, but of course are limited to those who subscribe to them; as a walled-garden, Facebook also suffers from audience exclusivity.

All of which has me wondering if there’s a way to combine these different media to enable interested folks to participate in the conversation using whichever platform they prefer. I know there are plugins out there that can pull media streams together, but can these be combined in a way that’s less about displaying information and more about encouraging discussion? Or is that too much work to solve a problem that’s not really a problem? Should we be concerned that different conversations about the same topics in librarianship are happening in different online places, perhaps with little crossover?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments. 🙂

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Write the Comments?”

  1. This is something I have noticed as well, and not just on library-related blogs. I find it disconcerting, because on sites with great commenting cultures, I usually find the quality of discussion much higher than on social media. Admittedly those sites are greatly outnumbered by sites with poisonous and usually unmoderated commenting cultures, so that might explain why so many avoid commenting.

    A lot of the blogs I can think of that do have a lot of comments have multi-site commenting systems like Disqus of IntenseDebate, which does make it easier to log in and track multiple conversations. And, to be honest, give that lovely rush of feedback when someone upvotes you (something shared by social media platforms with favorites, retweets, and likes). Still, plenty of sites with those are quiet, so it’s not just that.

  2. I started my own (non-library-related) blog about a year ago, and while the hits have steadily gone up, I’ve also been surprised by the lack of comments. I always respond personally to each comment, and I try to engage the writer in discussion, but so far as I can recall, only one person has responded a second time in a thread. It seems to me that there is a shift taking place, possibly as the previous commenter says because people are finally burning out from flame-wars and vicious environments, or possibly because blogs are beginning to be seen as “serious writing” as opposed to the more participatory environments, and thus intimidate people from posting their random thoughts as comments.
    I don’t really have a solution, but I’ll be interested to see if and how ACRLog approaches it.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Carl and Michael. I also wonder whether the often vicious commenting culture on some spaces make folks wary to comment even on blogs that are lucky enough not to have trolls. It’ll be interesting to see whether things continue to move in this quieter direction!

  4. Perhaps people are more comfortable leaving comments either in their own environments (Twitter), or completely anonymous. Even when I specifically request feedback, I get very little – except to correct mistakes (not that I don’t appreciate constructive criticism). Perhaps we need to sacrifice protection from spam for increased anonymity.

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