Archive for March, 2008

A really big look at liblogs: Good idea or waste of time?

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Here’s an honest question, where I’m actually looking for advice–although, admittedly, factors beyond email and comment responses could influence my decision.

The question:

Would a really big look at liblogs, including lots of year-to-year change data, be a good idea, a waste of time, or a positively bad idea?

Definition: “Liblogs” = what Steven Cohen calls “libr* blogs”–that is, blogs by “library people” as opposed to official library blogs, but not limited to blogs by MLS-holding librarians (as if there was any way to know!).

Now, if you already have an answer without reading further, great: send me email or comment below. If you actually want a little clarification…read on below the fold.

Really big look: The population for the new study would consist of:

  • All the blogs in my 2005 “60 interesting blogs” survey that are still active. (See this essay or this issue.)
  • All of the 213 blogs in my 2006 study of “the great middle” that are still active. (See this issue–since the essay is essentially the entire issue, it’s a better bet than the HTML version.)
  • A bunch of others–including those mentioned in Meredith Farkas’ “favorite blogs” study, those in LISWiki’s blog list that weren’t included in 2005-2006, those in the LISZen source list, those in Dave Pattern’s “library blog cloud” source list, and those I just discovered on my own–that meet the base criteria.

Base criteria for those that weren’t in one of the other studies:

  • In English
  • Not clearly defined as an official library blog
  • Somehow at least vaguely related to libraries or library people
  • Reachable
  • Established before January 2008
  • At least one post between August 31, 2007 and March 1, 2008
  • “Visible”: The sum of Bloglines subscriptions and Technorati “authority” in the first two weeks of March 2008 is at least nine.

If I do the full study, there would be one more criterion, for blogs that weren’t in earlier studies: “Semi-active”–having at least one post in two of the three months March, April, and May 2008.

That population–not including the final criterion–is now 542 blogs, including 48 added from Farkas’ “Favorites” report, 81 added from LISZen, 37 added from LISWiki, 9 added from the cloud, and 29 others (items were added in that order–if something was added from LISZen, it wouldn’t also be added from LISWiki).

Lots of year-to-year change data: If I do this, I’d have the following:

  • March-May 2007 data for all blogs for which it’s available, noting that data would be limited to what’s reasonably available. (E.g.: If the archives for a blog hide most of each post, I’ll include post count and comment count, but not length of posts–I’m not going to take a sample and extrapolate, and I’m sure not going to retrieve each post individually!)
  • March-May 2008 data for all blogs.
  • Comparisons between 2007 and 2005 for 43 blogs that were in the 2005 report and not the 2006 report.
  • Comparisons between 2006 and 2007 for surviving blogs that were in the 2006 report.
  • Comparisons between 2007 and 2008 for all blogs available in both periods.

If I do this, I’d establish norms and quintiles based on real populations: Thus, overall length and length per post would only include blogs with easily-retrievable full-text archives; comments overall and comments per post would exclude blogs that clearly don’t allow comments (or that have comment counts hidden in archives).

An honest question, this. Last weekend, I did enough experimenting to conclude that it may be feasible to do this megastudy this summer/fall–and I’m planning to do the 2007 metrics for 2005 and 2006 inclusions (they’re about 1/3 done already) for my TxLA appearance. A lot of work for five minutes out of a 50-minute presentation, but it should be interesting.

So the question is: Do I do the other 2007 metrics and do I plan for the big project?

If I don’t, I’ll turn the current project into one or more blog posts or C&I articles.

If I do, I’ll produce a book. It might even have one-sentence summaries of what I believe to be each blog’s focus and strengths–but only when I have something nice to say and am capable of reading the blog. I wouldn’t include a full sample post for each blog; I might include a paragraph. I would have a little writeup on each one.

So: What’s your opinion? (I’m not asking “Would you buy the book?” Different question.)
Note: If someone offers me another part-time gig, this whole discussion might be moot.

Why do you blog?

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Another cheat title, I’m afraid–and again, the primary purpose is to point to a post elsewhere, commend it to you as worth reading, and maybe argue with a little of it.

This time, the post is at a blog that seems to have more than one name: The pagetitle, which is also what Bloglines tells me it’s called, and the banner title, too long to reproduce here, a shorter version of which is what Google Reader tells me it’s called. I do know the blog is by Rochelle Mazar–and, for those of you who remember a certain contretemps a couple of years ago, this is clearly not a blogger who always agrees with me (not by a long shot!).

I’m not using the post title itself because that would indirectly feed more publicity to the post Mazar is discussionng. I’d encountered the post previously (a sure-fire list of questions to make you a better blogger), skimmed it, said “geez, another list posited on the basis that all blogs are essentially marketing blogs,” and let it be. (I’ve said elsewhere that I get touchy if people call me a “para” or “sub” anything. I’ll get more than touchy if you talk about my need to “promote the Walt Crawford brand.”)

I probably dismissed the other post so quickly that I didn’t even notice the recommendation that bloggers poll readers to find out how they should be blogging/what they should be blogging about. Excuse me? Let me think about the libloggers who I believe have the broadest reach. Let me think about the libloggers whose work I value most (it’s a classic Venn diagram–two overlapping circles). Let me think about the circle of libloggers who really would revise their blogging style or coverage based on reader polls.

Hmm. If such a circle exists, I don’t believe there’s any overlap with the other two circles–or at least I hope there isn’t.

Yes, I asked for reader feedback on coverage within Cites & Insights once or twice, a few years back. I even paid attention to the results–for a little while, until I realized that it made no sense for this particular ejournal. Even if it did, an ejournal is a very different animal than a blog.

I have three blogs (oddly enough). Only one is a personal blog–this one. Blogs aren’t one medium; they’re a particular style of lightweight epublishing tool that can be used for quite a few media, whose only commonality is that written items normally appear in reverse-chronological order. The other two blogs are, in a sense, marketing blogs–one to let people (who don’t want to read W.a.r.) know when new issues of C&I are out, the other to keep PLN users informed about new items and remind them periodically to check on PLN.

This isn’t a marketing blog, at least not most of the time. When it is (to get me a new job, to get people to buy C&I books), it seems to be fairly defective. But that’s not the primary goal. Nor is it, I think, for most libloggers.

Where do I disagree with Mazar (in this case)? Primarily this point:

4. Do I need to blog under an assumed name? This is especially important for anyone under the age of 25. You never know when you’re going to change careers and have something you wrote online when you were 15 come back to haunt you. Unless you really trust that you know what you’re doing, the answer to this question is probably yes.

I agree that it’s important to know that what you write may come back to haunt you. I wonder whether blogging under a pseudonym is a reasonable response–unless you’re determined to make sure there’s never any link between the pseudonym and you.

That’s not easy. I’ve seen any number of cases where someone starts out under a pseudonym and then wants to brag about something, or writes something that’s so local and so specific that colleagues and coworkers can readily identify them, or just lets slip something clearly identifiable. (Worst case: the blog is identifiable through domain ownership or other means…)
If you want to blog under a pseudonym, I think you have to assume you’ll drop the blog after a while. You’ll find that the limits of pseodnymity hamper your thinking and your writing, or you really will want to say something from your heart. Not that there’s anything wrong with dropping a blog, of course… until you start another one, signing it, and somewhere down the road make a reference to the old blog that lets the blogger out of the bag.

Doesn’t always happen, to be sure. I don’t believe anyone will ever know with certainty who the team or person responsible (or irresponsible?) for the Annoyed Librarian actually is. But that’s a fairly rare case.

Anyway, niggles aside, Mazar’s response is a good one.

Is librarianship a profession?

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Yes, I know, this post is two days early: On any normal day, I’m the last one who would be trying to answer that question, for a variety of reasons (most of which I’ve mentioned).

But that’s the title of Dorothea Salo’s post (which in turn links to some related posts), and I think it’s an interesting, challenging read.

Which is just about all I’m inclined to say about that.

Oh, except for one correction clarification note: Dorothea sez:

Speaking of Walt, who’s a systems analyst by training and trade,

Well..I was never trained as a systems analyst (or as a programmer, for that matter), unless you consider the extent to which the Rhetoric program at UC Berkeley (technically, Speech most of the time I was there) included the study of logic.

By training, if anything, I’m a writer and editor–although, there again, it’s mostly self-taught (thus letting a bunch of teachers off the hook). And it looks as though that’s my trade at this point, by design or happenstance. Since I started doing that (that is, writing for publication and editing other people’s writing) years before I started doing library systems work, you could say that I’m a writer and editor who had a really worthwhile day job as a library systems analyst for a few decades.

I’ll probably always be an analyst (and synthesist, which I regard as more significant if only because it’s more unusual and less teachable); it’s in my nature.

That’s a sidebar, to be sure. Do I agree with everything in Salo’s essay? Of course not. Does she raise a lot of important points and state them well? Of course.

(Would I take an honorary doctorate? Certainly, especially if it included an interesting trip/speaking combination. I’ve spoken at four library schools in the past and enjoyed it each time. But, well, I’m not going to hold my breath.)

The use of crossed-out text in blogs doesn’t always mean you edited it post-publishing. It’s also a cute way to indicate you’re not quite sure what term you want to use, and are ducking the issue by using more than one. But you knew that already, right?

Three quick random notes

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

1. I’m 62. I don’t consider myself a “senior citizen.” I doubt that I’ll consider myself a “senior citizen” at 65, or 66 for that matter. Nor do I plan to go away and hide when I become a “senior citizen.” But I promise not to go take a librarian job away from some young person scolding people for not retiring when they should.

2. I’m not a professional librarian–both because I lack the degree and because I don’t work as a professional librarian. (I haven’t worked in a library since 1979, and even then I was in a systems office functioning as a programmer/analyst.) On the other hand, call me a “paralibrarian” or “paraprofessional” or “support staff” or “sublibrarian” and I might get snarky about it… Oh, and suggest that awards for service to the library field should be limited to those with the proper degree (which, I suppose, means I should turn mine in–not M&S, which I’ll probably never have, but some others), and I might sneer a little.

3. On the other hand, I’m a little astonished to find non-librarians scolding libraries for failing to run out and buy books that don’t have ISBNs, that apparently haven’t been reviewed in print media, that aren’t available through distributors, and that have titles that more than a hundred other books have. Oh, and that were free downloads before they became print books, and are still free downloads… Maybe I underestimate the omniscience that good librarians should have, and maybe I underestimate the extent to which libraries are funded for and expected to handle universal digital preservation.

I think I’ll leave the links out of this post. I’ll probably get in enough trouble as is…

Too random even for me

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Some of you (OK, 500+ of you who get posts via aggregators, maybe) will have seen the post that originally graced this space. It had to do with a third-rate PR firm, a “bestselling” author who writes like a…well, never mind…but who could sink several hundred thousand into self-publishing, and the vagaries of Amazon “#1” ratings.

And, the more I thought about it, the more I thought it was pointless. So I replaced it with this.

Oops: Loosening a personal stricture

Monday, March 24th, 2008

I’ve always treated Cites & Insights as “published”–that is, once an issue appears, it doesn’t change. I don’t correct typos or meaningful mistakes. (When the publication moved to the current domain, I revisited each PDF to change the domain name in the masthead, but made no other corrections.)

I’ll stick with that standard for actual errors–cases where I’ve left out a word or said something incorrect. Naturally, I try to do followups when needed, but it’s good to keep the published record intact. And I don’t plan to go back and fix dumb typos in past issues…

But I just replaced the PDF and two of the HTML essays for the current Cites & Insights, and it’s likely that if a similar situation arises in the first week after a new issue’s published I might do the same.

What changed? Three cases where the string “egan” within a word appeared as “Elgan” instead–one “bElgan” instead of “began,” one “elElgant” instead of “elegant,” and one other (I’ve forgotten the string). In no case could an incorrect meaning have been assumed; it just looked stupid. A reader in Australia alerted me to the problem this morning.

Clever people can probably guess what happened…and I really should know better. Here’s the whole silly story:

In an attempt to minimize typos and other errors introduced in the copyfitting process, and to give the material one last read, I now consistently print out an issue after I’ve gotten it to the desired length, let it sit for at least a day, then read the hardcopy as carefully as possible, marking any changes.

In this case, one section of the Kindle & ebooks essay included notes on a Mike Elgan column–and somehow I’d managed to alternate “Elgan” and “Egan” roughly equally throughout the notes. I wasn’t sure which it was, and did the search to verify that it’s Elgan.

Then (ahem) I did a “replace all”–and, duh, forgot to check the “Match case” box.

Actually, I think I had the section of the text highlighted–but I’d also forgotten that one step backward in Word 2007 (from Word 2000, and this may have changed earlier) is that “replace all” no longer limits itself to a highlighted region, asking before going any further. (I can’t find any way to restore that limitation. Anyone out there know of one?)

So there it is: My extra step to minimize errors worked great…except for introducing a few new ones.

It’s good to be perfct. It’s also unsusual.

Cites & Insights 8:4 available

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Cites & Insights 8:4, April 2008, is now available for downloading.

The 28-page issue is PDF as usual (or not as usual–I’m now using Word 2007 and Microsoft’s free PDF-output download), but HTML separates are available from the C&I homepage

The issue includes:

By the way, if you know anyone who’s been getting issue alerts via email, let them know they need to sign up for C&I Updates or Walt at Random; Topica no longer accepts my posts (and entirely lacks help/contact info).

Academic library blogs: Illustrations

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Let’s wrap this up. (I’m delighted to see three sales of Academic Library Blogs: 231 Examples since I started these posts–but they’re really not sales pitches. I think it’s all the way up to twenty copies now. Woohoo!)

In the case of illustrations, the blogs in the survey have a fairly freakish pattern: To wit, of 3,662 illustrations used in all 231 blogs over the 92-day study period, more than half (1,975) were in one blog, leaving 1,687 or roughly seven per blog for all the others. The truly meaningless average (mean) is 15.9 illustrations per blog, but the median is all of one illustration.


  • Q1: Most illustrations: From 11 to 1,975 illustrations per blog.
    Average: 71.2 illustrations
    Median: 23.5 illustrations.
  • Q2: More illustrations: From four to 11 illustrations.
    Average: 6.6 illustrations
    Median: 6.0 illustrations.
  • Q3: Average number of illustrations: From zero to four.
    Average: 1.7 illustrations
    Median: 1.0.
  • Q4 and Q5: No illustrations.

And, since this is particularly uninteresting data, let’s finish off the set (well, also because I have a more substantive post coming up later this afternoon, if all goes well): Illustrations per post.

Overall, the average (an average of averages) is 0.39 illustrations per post, with a median of 0.10.

First three quintiles:

  • Q1: Most illustrations per post: 0.79 to 8.23
    Average: 1.36 illustrations per post.
    Median: 1.01.
  • Q2: More illustrations per post: 0.24 to 0.78
    Average: 0.48 illustrations per post.
    Median: 0.45.
  • Q3: Average number of illustrations per post: zero to 0.24
    Average: 0.11
    Median: 0.10

And that’s it.

Academic library blogs: Comments per post

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Here’s the equivalent public library blogs post, for whatever commentary I provided then.

Even more so than total comments per blog, the blogs in Academic Library Blogs: 231 Examples lack extreme cases of high interactivity on a per-post basis: The highest is 2.2 comments per post. The overall average (an average of averages) is all of 0.12 comments per post–basically one comment for every eight posts. The median, of course, is zero.

Raw quintiles Q1 and Q2 (since Q3-Q5 are entirely zero):

  • Q1: Most comments per post: 0.17 to 2.20 comments per post
    Average: 0.51 comments per post.
    Median: 0.33 comments per post.
  • Q2: More comments per post: Zero to 0.17 comments per post
    Average: 0.08 comments per post
    Median: 0.07 comments per post.

And using the 86 blogs with at least one comment as the universe:

  • Q1: Most comments per post: 0.50 to 2.20 comments per post
    Average: 0.91 comments per post
    Median: 0.67 comments per post.
  • Q2: More comments per post: 0.25 to 0.45 comments per post
    Average: 0.33 comments per post
    Median: 0.31 comments per post
  • Q3: Average number of comments per post (18 blogs): 0.14 to 0.25 comments per post.
    Average: 0.19 comments per post
    Median: 0.18 comments per post
  • Q4: Fewer comments per post: 0.08 to 0.14 comments per post.
    Average: 0.12 comments per post
    Median: 0.13 comments per post.
  • Q5: Fewest comments per post: 0.01 to 0.07 comments per post
    Average and median: 0.03 comments per post.

Two more (illustrations) and I’m done…

Academic library blogs: Comments on posts

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

How many comments appeared on each academic library blog in Academic Library Blogs: 231 Examples during the 92-day study period (March 1-May 31, 2007)?

Once again, I’ll refer you to the equivalent public library blog post for commentary–noting that, once again, lots of the blogs don’t allow comments, quite often for entirely sensible reasons (e.g., some blogs are just posts of library schedules or new acquisition, using the blog form as an easy way to publish information with no attempt at community involvement).

That said… Where there are a handful of public library blogs that had lots of comments (three with more than 100), there are only two academic blogs with more than 40 comments during the period, and those two were in the sixties (61 and 66 respectively). Overall, there were a total of 575 comments (just less than a third as many as for public library blogs). That’s an average (mean) of 2.5 comments per blog. On the other hand, the median number of comments per blog is precisely the same as for public library blogs: Zero. While 118 of the 252 public library blogs had no comments, 145 of the 231 academic library blogs–nearly 63%–lacked comments entirely.

Here are the quintiles:

  • Q1: Most comments: From three to 66 comments per blog.
    Average (mean): 11.2 comments per blog
    Median: Seven comments per blog.
  • Q2: More comments: From zero to three comments per blog.
    Average: 1.3 comments per blog.
    Median: One comment.
  • Q3 through Q5: No comments.

What happens if we restrict the quintiles to the 86 blogs that had at least one comment?

  • Q1: Most comments: From nine to 66 comments per blog.
    Average: 21.2 comments.
    Median: 13 comments.
  • Q2: More comments: From four to 9 comments per blog.
    Average: 6.4 comments.
    Median: 7 comments.
  • Q3: Average number of comments: From two to four comments.
    Average: 3.2 comments.
    Median: three comments.
  • Q4: Fewer comments: From one to two comments.
    Average:1.8 comments
    Median: Two comments.
  • Q5: Fewest comments: One comment per blog.