Library blogs and the curiosity penalty

The most recent post, announcing Cites & Insights 9:10, noted that I might have additional comments about some of the essays in this issue. This is one of those comments…discussing the two related Perspectives that make up about two-thirds of the issue, namely “Public Library Blogs: A Limited Update” and “Academic Library Blogs: A Limited Update.”

If I did Cites & Insights on a strictly rational basis, those two Perspectives would never have appeared. In the time required to do the research (such as it was) and prepare the articles, I could have written two other articles that would probably be more fun to write and attract more readers–and have time left over for pleasure reading and the like.

If I did Cites & Insights on a strictly rational basis, I wouldn’t do Cites & Insights–and particularly not when sponsorship goes away at the end of this year. I manage our checkbook and check our accounts on a strictly rational basis; otherwise, not so much.

Why not?

Well, let’s see:

  • The book-length studies done in 2007 didn’t attract many paying readers. Between them, I’d say I probably earned out about $3 or $4 an hour for the time required to do them. That’s miserable return–matched by simply not reaching very far or attracting much attention.
  • When I published the study portion of the two studies, in the May 2009 Cites & Insights, the results still didn’t reach all that many people. I track issue downloads and HTML pageviews every few months, maintaining a spreadsheet for long-term readership (at least since 2002). I know that, other than certain Hot Topics, issue and article readership starts out at a few hundred over the first week or two and grows over time; after four or five months, there’s usually some sense of whether an article or issue is hot or cold. Most full issues have at least 800 downloads after the first three months; most essays (adding HTML pageviews and PDF downloads for the issue) reach 1,100 or so at that point. But not these–so far, there are fewer than 397 issue downloads and the two essays show gross totals of 804 (academic) and 769 (public) respectively, lower than any other articles except the Bibs & Blather in the same issue (and the articles uploaded yesterday).
  • OK, so 804 is a whole lot better than the 45 books sold, and 769 is a whole lot better than 85 books sold–in terms of reach, that is. But the latter figures, and the general lack of any inbound links suggests that nobody much cares about this stuff.
  • Admittedly, I find official library blogs a whole lot less interesting than liblogs (blogs by library-related people), maybe because I’m not in a library. And I really didn’t have any grand hypotheses regarding changes in library blogs.

Curiosity…

I had the spreadsheets with the URLs. I knew that a simpler study–just looking at one month’s posts, not tracking post length, not looking for a wider array of blogs–wouldn’t take that much time.

Yes, I’ve posted about that already.

The issue’s out. I’ve satisfied my curiosity. There weren’t any grand hypotheses going into the lateral study, so perhaps it’s not surprising that there are no grand conclusions coming out of it. The spreadsheets, such as they are, are available for others to work with. I’m done. Really.

I would say “at least now I know,” but the extent to which library blogs reappear under new URLs makes me wonder just what I know. I’m fairly sure of the following:

  • Some library blogs that were in good shape in 2007 are still in good shape in 2009.
  • Depending on your definition of “in good shape” as regards post frequency, “some” means somewhere between 37% and 51% of public library blogs studied and somewhere between 42% and 60% of academic library blogs.
  • Very few library blogs get lots of comments; most get none at all. That was true in 2007; it’s true in 2009. It shouldn’t surprise anybody.
  • Nobody has solid metrics for what constitutes a “successful” library blog–much less external metrics. (I don’t know how many subscribers or pageviews a blog has, unless it’s one of mine–and even a library probably doesn’t know how many of those subscribers and pageviews come from the library’s own community.)

…and more curiosity

But what about the really big project, The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008?

It covers a lot more ground: 607 blogs. It offers a lot more detail, since it already includes a lateral look (comparing March-May 2007 with March-May 2008). To me, at least, it’s inherently more interesting, as it’s dealing with a universe of gray publishing on library issues (and other stuff) by some of the best and most interesting writers in the field. The book is, I believe, far more intelligently designed.

So far, the book’s sold a little better than Academic Library Blogs: 231 Examples–but not much. It hasn’t been out as long, and I haven’t given up yet, but…

On the other hand, the “freebie” version–Cites & Insights 9:7, June 2009, the longest issue of C&I produced to date–has pretty decent readership for a young issue, particularly given that it’s only available in PDF form (the graphs just didn’t translate to Word-provided HTML very well). I don’t doubt that, over the next year or two, it will reach a four-figure audience.

On the gripping hand, updating that project would be a lot more work. So far, I haven’t quite scoped out how I could do an update in a reasonable amount of time (“reasonable” given that I’ll assume little if any direct revenue resulting from the work).

But it’s a hard one to give up, especially given the amount of public discussion–on blogs, on FriendFeed, probably elsewhere–about changes in blogging (liblogging and otherwise) this year. Unfortunately, to inform that discussion, I can’t just do a quick’n’dirty update; I’d need to measure post length as well as frequency and comments, and would probably need to use a full quarter for comparison, not just a month.

The curiosity is there. The energy? I’m not sure. Right now, I’m just posting this…and, of course, encouraging you to go read the results of those mini-updates.

For the techies among you: This is also my first test of posting to this iteration of Walt at Random from Word2007’s “blog post” feature.

2 Responses to “Library blogs and the curiosity penalty”

  1. Rick Mason Says:

    “Admittedly, I find official library blogs a whole lot less interesting than liblogs (blogs by library-related people), maybe because I’m not in a library.”
    I feel the same way. For me it relates to the personality that comes through the writing. “Official” blogs don’t usually have as distinctive a voice – they tend to be announcements and such. “Liblogs” more often leave you feeling as if you know the creator, at least to some extent (which I find makes it slightly awkward to meet them in person for the first time).

  2. Walt Crawford Says:

    Rick: I think that’s a lot of it. Oddly, I’m the reverse when it comes to meeting people I’ve been acquainted with online–I find it easier to converse with them. Which, for a shy guy like me, is saying something.


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