The view beyond our own nose today leads us to the Netherlands. Our guest author Gerard Bierens from Eindhoven is working for Fontys Hogescholen (the Fontys University of Applied Sciences). He describes his job as ‘library (web)developer/trainer/writer’ and he is engaged in projects involving federated search, weblogs, wikis, knowledge management, repositories, screencasting and other web/library 2.0 tools. If you are interested in topics such as libraries, education and technology take a look at Gerard’s weblog at http://weblogzonderhaast.nl/.
The state of the Dutch Library Blogosphere – Gerard Bierens
Usually an article like this would start with how it all started, then explain about the current situation and end with a view into the near future. That was the idea at first, but then I logged into the Dutch ‘Bibliotheek 2.0 Ning‘-community and checked the number of members. Last time I checked was about a week ago, and the number of members was about to reach the magic 100. But today I was totally shocked, just like that it went up to 136 members. Considering the fact that this social network site was setup less than two months ago and has not been mentioned too often on library blogs, this is amazing, and very promising!
So what is it that suddenly attracts all those librarians into this new social network? Well, there is a lot of activity going on; new blog postings, photos and videos are being posted every day, the forum is being used for all kind of library related discussions and maybe most important, librarians get to know each other and make new (professional) friends. But an active community like this of course doesn’t just fall out of the sky.
It did take some time before Dutch librarians became aware of the potential of a new trend in the online world, blogging. But then somewhere around early 2004 there was a small group of devoted pioneers who were willing to spend a lot of their spare time and energy into something new at the time, which was not just blogging, but blogging about libraries.
Among the first on the scene were blogs like Inter-net-viewer, Moqub and my own, Weblog Zonder Haast. Interesting detail: none of these three bloggers are actually librarians, and none of the three really see themselves as library bloggers. All do work for library organizations though and share a common interest in information, education and technology.
It didn’t take too long before others saw the potential of blogging and soon new library blogs were started. Important initiatives at that time came from Rob Coers. He started OBlog, an ambitious public library blog, and he also started doing ‘Weblogs & RSS’ workshops for the public library sector. Rob wrote articles about the blogosphere (and interviewed library bloggers for that) and organized the first Dutch libraryblog-dinner. These occasions offered (potential) library bloggers a chance to meet each other face to face. As a bonus well known library bloggers Michael Stephens, Jenny Levine and Paul Miller were present at the dinner party!
Blog top 10
The first ‘top 10 list’ of Dutch library blogs was posted by Rita Niland in june 2005. Not much later Wouter Gerritsma took it to a new level, he put a first ‘state of the Dutch library blogosphere’ article on his blog WoW!ter and started to keep track of new arrivals in the Dutch biblioblogosphere. Up until today he maintains a still growing list of Dutch library blogs in the sidebar of his blog. WoW!ter is also one of the few library bloggers who blogs in both Dutch and English, a dilemma most bloggers in non-English countries are struggling with.
Collaborative Library Blog
Also in 2005 at the Fontys University of Applied Science the first institutionalized library blog went online. At Fontysmediatheek.nl a group of 40 librarians started using a topic-arranged weblog to support their work as domain-specific informationspecialists. Later also a wiki was added, and both tools are still in use today and fast-growing. The basic idea was that the weblog provides library related and educational news (dynamic content), the wiki holds the library background information (static content). Although it’s probably too early for conclusions, but two years of library blogging has definitely put the Fontys Library on top of the library 2.0 map. Also an unexpected, but pleasant side-effect of the Fontys Library Weblog was that it inspired individual librarians to start personal blogs. For instance, one of those is Blogparty, a highly interactive personal blog about not just libraries, but also about music, and sports.
The network at work
All of the happenings described above are signals that show how the Dutch library blogosphere is developing itself from a random group of individuals into a solid social network of experts. The ‘outside library world’ (the non-bloggers) now also starts noticing the power of library blogs. This became evident when at a big congress in 2006 Jan Klerk got chosen as ‘informationprofessional of the year’. People could vote for candidates by SMS, and Jan’s online presence as a library blogger with a strong opinion was part of his succes. Something similar happened with Edwin Mijnsbergen, a librarian for the Zeeuwse Bibliotheek, a public library in the provence of Zeeland. On a low-profile and no-budget basis Edwin started ZBDigitaal. With great enthusiasm he conquers the web and puts his mark on the Dutch library blogosphere. Not surprisingly it was Edwin who setup the Bibliotheek 2.0 community. His enthusiasm and dedication worked so well that blogging could soon become his dayjob. Which is good, because probably every Dutch librarian has put ZBDigitaal in their list of favorites and even marketing-blogs take great interest in his writings.
The Long Tail
Next to the internet, there is of course still the ‘old media’. In the offline world library bloggers are now being noticed. For instance, in InformatieProfessional, which is considered to be the leading journal for librarians in the Netherlands, more and more articles written by library bloggers appear. Also, at congresses you will find a lot of library bloggers in the audience now. Even better, they are on stage, giving workshops and presentations about social software, web 2.0, library 2.0 and more.
Maybe this is what somehow explains some of the success of the Bibliotheek 2.0 Ning community; being part of a social network of library professionals is fun, but more important, it can be rewarding. The group of library bloggers (who all are present in the Bibliotheek 2.0 community) are living proof of how rewarding it can be to share your knowledge without asking a favor in return. Sooner or later that favor will come, because as we all know, the web has a long tail.