Good blogs, bad blogs

Fifteen or so public librarians were probably surprised yesterday or today to get email from someone they’ve never heard of*, just asking them to provide their service area population, and noting that it was for a book about public library blogs–including at least one blog from their library.

I believe that everyone I asked responded within half a day. That’s nice. It means they didn’t treat the email as spam or some kind of nonsense request. It’s not a difficult question for any public library to answer, so I didn’t expect it would take much work.

Several of them commented. Some wanted to know when the book will be out (I now plan to send email to all 196 libraries when it does come out, or at least all those I can find email contacts for). Some were intrigued.

Two had questions that surprised me, and encouraged me to write this semi-philosophical post (that could even turn into a C&I essay at some point, but probably not). Paraphrasing, the questions were:

  • Are you using our blog as a good example or a bad example?
  • Do you say positive or negative things about our blog?

I answered both, to be sure–in the first case saying “I wasn’t looking for bad examples, and I’m not sure how someone outside a library and its community could determine that a blog is a bad blog” and in the second “I wasn’t out to criticize any blog, although I do note unusual template choices–and in general I’m descriptive rather than either praising or criticizing.”

Those answers (also paraphrased) are correct. But the questions are interesting, particularly since both blogs involved appear to be doing just fine. So, herewith, a few comments about good blogs and bad blogs–in this case, limiting myself to “official library blogs.” (The rules, if there are any, are different for personal blogs, and I’ve certainly seem personal blogs that I consider “bad” as in “generally destructive.”)


What’s a good library blog?

That’s easy (I believe). Any library blog that serves the library and its community is a good library blog.

You’ll find remarkable diversity among the 252 blogs in the forthcoming Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples (I could give you a link, but for now it would only show Balanced Libraries: Thoughts on Continuity and Change.)

My sense is that most of the blogs probably are serving their communities. Maybe not huge chunks of the communities in some cases, but blogs aren’t huge overhead either (at least most of them shouldn’t be).

What’s a bad library blog?

Short version: A blog that nobody in the community has any use for and that the librarians or other staff find painful to update.

Even then, that’s not so much bad as pointless and a waste of time.

You could imagine categories of library blogs that would be bad, but these are all strawblogs:

  • A library blog that tears down its own library as being worthless, doomed, whatever.
  • A library blog that makes fun of patrons or humiliates them.
  • A library blog that states an explicit mission and leaves that mission wildly unfulfilled–e.g., “We’ll provide weekly updates on new activities” as part of the banner on a blog that gets updated once every other month.

I haven’t seen any blogs that fit those categories. I’d be very surprised to see any such blogs.

Yes, there are library blogs that get updated less often as time goes on. Sure, lots of library blogs die after a while. That doesn’t make them bad. It might or might not make them failures: that’s for the library and its community to say.

A group of soon-to-be-former colleagues at OCLC use “It’s all good” for their blog. From what I can see of the public library blogs included in the book, and certainly given my intent in putting the book together, I think that phrase applies here as well.

As for being critical: Well, I do run metrics, but those are descriptive, not prescriptive. I do include a sample post (except in a few cases where it would be meaningless), but I selected an interesting post or a “typical” post, certainly not one that would make a blog look bad. When I describe the blog template/interface, it’s to note unusual aspects–but those unusual aspects may be perfectly appropriate (for example, some of the many teen blogs have “teen” color schemes).

I do have a list of 20 or 30 blogs that I found particularly intriguing as I was going through the set. I haven’t decided whether that list will be part of the final book; I’m afraid it might incorrectly be regarded as special praise, when it’s really just saying that I found these blogs noteworthy. Update 8/17: Just finished what I believe will be the final proofreading pass. I will not be including the “intriguing blog” list in the book–it’s either too short or too long. I may post it here once the book’s actually out–but there are so many blogs worth pointing out… [end of update]

So: Does that answer the question?


*What? I may be well known among libloggers and reasonably well known in the library field in general, but it’s fair to assume that at least two-thirds of American public librarians haven’t the vaguest idea who I am. Why should they? And, for that matter, most of the emails went to Canada (and one to Ireland)…

4 Responses to “Good blogs, bad blogs”

  1. jessamyn Says:

    I occasioanlly point to “bad” blogs when I’m giving my talks, not to say “oh hey these people are bad” but mostly to point out that not everyone can have a blog like AADL and it’s totally okay to try things out and not hit the ground running. A lot of the blogs I point out are either new (so without a lot of comments or activity) or were for a specific purpose and still sort of hanging there. It’s hard to shut down a blog for some people, so even if the book club is no longer active, I think some libraries aren’t sure what to do with the blook club blog, or how to keep the content but indicate that it’s now static, not dynamic.

    In any case, I think it’s good that you pointed this out generally. I think people sometimes compare their blogs to what they see as “better” blogs and feel weird about their own blogs, but really if your blog is doing what you want it to do, or trying to, and your staff/patrons don’t hate it, it’s probably as good a blog as you need.

  2. walt Says:

    Jessamyn,

    Indeed, “not everyone can have a blog like AADL”–and although AADL is certainly in the book (and on the list of “intriguing blogs” that might or might not stay in the book), it’s an intimidating example for small or medium–sized libraries.

    In some ways, I’m more impressed by the blogs at libraries with fewer than 400 people in their service area (which are both, if I remember correctly, blogs-as-library-websites). And by some very dynamic blogs in libraries still small enough to be considered rural.

    I’m really hoping that this book will be helpful to smaller libraries by showing what’s actually being done.

    As for blogs that are deliberately not being updated–I’ve seen a few with a final post saying that it’s a final post and why. Of course, several dozen just disappeared…

    Now here’s my question: Why are so many public library blogs in the 0s (that is, in zip codes beginning with 0)? When the book comes out, you’ll see what I mean…

  3. Mark Says:

    You state that you would be surprised to see a blog that tears down its own library as being worthless, doomed, whatever, or one that makes fun or demeans patrons. Unfortunately, I have an example. Library Mofo (http://community.livejournal.com/library_mofo). While not exactly a blog, this is a Live Journal group that allows librarians anywhere to vent about customer interactions (many times in a very demeaning manner). While a majority of librarians are trying to find ways to use Web 2.0 technology to reach out to customers, these people are using Web 2.0 technology in a very negative way.

  4. walt Says:

    Color me surprised. I didn’t stay at that site long enough to see whether people were naming their own libraries; one could only hope they’d have better sense, but given the tone of the first page, that hope might be in vain.

    I guess my “I’d be surprised” deals only with “official blogs”–I’d be surprised to see *a library* put its name on a blog that tears down its clientele or its community. There are certainly some strongly negative liblogs! In some cases I’ve unsubscribed from them…


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