Monday, November 10, 2008

NYLA: Meet the Bloggers

The second New York Library Association session (other than my own) that I attended on November 7 was a superb panel on blogging. As you might imagine, it piqued my interest . . . .

I missed the first few minutes of Ken Fujiuchi’s great presentation. Fujiuchi, who works at Buffalo State College, is responsible for maintaining his employers’ blog and that of a professional association to which he belongs, and as a result his personal blog has suffered; teaching others how to use Blogger, the Google-owned free blogging service (which powers this blog), has also dulled his appetite for traditional blogging. However, he does use Twitter to microblog via his cell phone, and showed the audience how he had Twittered another NYLA session by devoting one post to each PowerPoint slide that the audience viewed. (Several people in the audience were doing the same thing during the Meet the Bloggers session!)

Fujiuchi then discussed a variety of social networking tools that could be used in a library context:
  • Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters per post, is an excellent way to disseminate news or provide real-time updates on an event, enables users to “follow” others’ posts without the degree of familiarity and amity associated with “friending” someone on Facebook, and makes it possible to use social networking tools without devoting a lot of time to it. Twitter works best once an individual identifies one other user, starts following the users’ posts, and then starts following the posts of the other users’ friends. Twitter is being used by Congress and the White House, and
  • FriendFeed, which allows users to follow discussions taking place on a variety of social networking services
  • TwitterFeed, which enables people to feed their blog posts to Twitter via RSS.
  • Flock, which allows people to search Twitter, Facebook, etc., at the same time.
Some of these tools really are fascinating, and I really appreciate Fujiuchi’s succinct and helpful introduction to them. I also want to see what other librarians and archivists make of them, and I can see myself using these tools under certain circumstances. However, I don’t think I’m going to be a heavy user of most of them. Although I understand that Twitter has real value -- not only as a means of providing real-time information about unfolding events but also as a way of capturing the patterns and textures of people’s lives -- I kept thinking that I really don’t want to be so connected to other people. I don’t carry my cell phone with me most of the time or log into Facebook every day, and I don’t want to contend with tweets (individual Twitter posts) all the time; I already feel a bit besieged by the constant flow of information that demands my attention, and the thought of enlarging the stream doesn’t thrill me.

Moreover, I worry about the broader social impact of these tools. For highly verbal people who are as comfortable reading and writing lengthy synthetic and analytical pieces as they are dashing off quick notes and pithy observations (i.e., librarians and other knowledge workers), these tools will become yet another means of sustaining relationships and sharing factual tidbits. However, I do worry about their impact upon the grade schoolers who are growing up with them. These kids will experience of reading and learning quite differently than their predecessors, and by the time they hit high school they’ll likely have less experience at following a sustained narrative or argument and less of the patience needed to do so.

The next presenter, Jill Hurst-Wahl of Hurst Associates Ltd., discussed how her blog, which began in 2004 as a means of publicizing her consulting work, enables her to bring together her many professional interests and roles: librarian, entrepreneur, business owner, generalist, and technology lover (but not a bleeding-edge enthusiast).

Hurst-Wahl’s consulting originally centered on competitive intelligence (a career option that Patti McCall discussed during the “What Else Can You Do With a Library Degree?” session earlier that day). As she branched out into project planning, workshops, and other aspects of digitization, she needed to expand her marketing efforts. She wanted to talk to possible clients and convey her expertise without having to do it face-to-face, and blogging was an excellent means of doing so.

Hurst-Wahl’s first blog, Digitization 101, was launched in 2004. She committed to blogging daily (30-60 minutes) and to filling a clearly defined niche. Hurst-Wahl uses her blog to disseminate information that she finds interesting and useful, and seeks creative ways to talk about digitization (e.g., one post began with a discussion of how the uniform size of the tiles in her newly remodeled kitchen underscores the need for standards). She refers people who have digitization questions to her blog, uses the blog to ask questions of her readers, and makes it a point to promote her blog to others.

Hurst-Wahl has also established a clear set of rules for her blog: she will not use it as a soapbox, a place to talk about her personal life, or as a vehicle for venting negative feelings. She has occasionally broken these rules, but not without good reason or careful evaluation.

Digitization 101 has enabled potential clients, vendors, and associates to become familiar with Hurst-Wahl’s expertise and track record, and its prominence has ensured that Hurst-Wahl is among the first to receive honest information about various products and services. However, the blog has also resulted in loss of anonymity: she’s been recognized in public places. She sometimes receives unsolicited materials – which is sometimes good, and sometimes bad.

Since starting Digitization 101, Hurst-Wahl’s online presence has expanded to include blogging for the Special Libraries Association, a second professional blog (eNetworking 101), and heavy use of Twitter, FriendFeed, and other social networking tools.

Hurst-Wahl concluded with a series of great recommendations for audience members interested in starting their own blogs:
  • Read blogs, talk to bloggers, and experiment
  • Start your professional blog
  • Focus on a niche
  • Make a commitment to posting timely, original and/or rich content -- and honor your commitment
  • Push the envelope
  • Include images, photos, and video in your blog
  • Market, market, market your blog
  • Use other social media
Hurst-Wahl’s presentation (which is available online) made me devote a lot of thought to this blog and what I hope to accomplish with it, but I’m going to reserve the bulk of my comments for a separate post; this one is approaching a Russian novel in length. Suffice it to say that several of my colleagues told me in advance that getting to see and meet Jill Hurst-Wahl would be a treat, and they were right.

The last panelist, David Rothman of Community General Hospital in Syracuse, highlighted how his blog,, has opened professional doors: thanks to his blogging, he has received invitations to write for professional journals, become the co-author of a forthcoming book, was asked to be the plenary speaker at the Medical Libraries Association, and was invited to teach an American Medical Association workshop.

Blogging motivates Rothman to keep learning and trying new things, gives him a sense of community and contact with like-minded others, and enables him to “think aloud” and track his progress on various projects.

Rothman seconded Hurst-Wahl’s emphasis upon the importance of focus: as long as you focus on a discrete topic and identify your audience, people will come. He also concurred that it’s best to keep one’s professional blog focused on professional matters; it’s okay to “be human” and discuss personal circumstances that affect one’s ability to blog, but it’s generally best to reserve personal posts for a separate personal blog.

He also emphasized the need to keep employers apprised of one’s activities: he received approval from his employer’s Chief Information Officer, Director of Corporate Communications, and Vice President of Medical Affairs before starting his blog, and he’s taken care to inform their successors of his activities. His blog also incorporates a disclaimer stating that his views aren’t necessarily those of his employer. Keeping administrators in the loop has actually been a very positive thing: the hospital’s CIO has also started blogging (using a template that Rothman created) and was delighted to learn that local reporters were reading his blog.

Rothman ended his presentation (also available online) by offering his own first-rate suggestions for prospective bloggers, many of which harmonize nicely with those put forth by Hurst-Wahl:
  • Clarify to yourself and your readers the focus of your blog, and deviate only rarely
  • Try to save your readers time, money, or hassle
  • Remember that content is everything
  • Choose your blog’s name and/or domain carefully
  • Make sure you post regularly -- at least once a week
Rothman's presentation also gave me a lot to think about re: this blog. Again, I’m going to outline them in a separate post. It’s getting late, my hands are tired, and your eyes could probably use a rest, too.

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