Next stop in our journey around the world is the world’s second largest country: Canada. Our guest author Genevieve Gore is web services librarian in the McGill Library in Montréal. Usually she’s blogging at InfoPill.
About me: Previously Web Services Librarian at McGill University (Montreal, Canada), Genevieve Gore taken on a position as Coordinator of eScholarship@McGill, McGill’s open access, institutional repository.
History of library blogs in Canada
Pinpointing the first Canadian library blog is a bit of an ordeal. The main problem is definitional: if a blog is defined as containing journal-like entries organised in reverse chronological order, haven’t libraries been “blogging” since the late 1990s with their “What’s New” pages? McGill University Library, for example, has been posting news on its website since 1997. However, pages such as these, although blog-like, lack certain elements which we tend to consider exemplary of blogs today: They lack participatory features, they are not personal or do not contain commentary/opinions, and they are often part of conventional websites which are just as difficult to update as any other web page.
However, setting this issue aside, in the May 2001 issue of Online, Darlene Fichter listed “Library News Daily,” by Peter Scott of the University of Saskatchewan, as a recommended blog. “Library News Daily” can be traced as far back as October 2000. Susan Herzog even dedicated her BlogBib CARL 2002 bibliography “to Peter Scott who opened up the wild, wonderful world of blogging to me @ Internet Librarian 2001.” The name was formally changed to “Peter Scott’s Library Blog” in February 2003.
Amanda Etches-Johnson is another early adopter in the Canadian biblioblogosphere. Her first library blog, www.bibliolatry.net, can be traced, thanks to the Internet Archive, back to June 2002. In September 2003 she started www.blogwithoutalibrary.net, which remains an important Canadian blog to this day. She also put together a blogroll, i.e. a list of library blogs, which she later moved to a “Blogging Libraries Wiki” where anyone can add content or edit entries, thus releasing her from the formidable task of keeping track of library weblogs on her own.
Survey of library bloggers
Readership: The question mark
On the other side of the issue remains the question: how many people read library blogs? That one is much more difficult to ascertain. In fact, I was unable to find any information on this. However, it seems that Canadians who use the internet are certainly reading blogs in general: the estimates range from 36 to 58%, depending on who you believe.
Some exemplary blogs
Canadian libraries have institutionally adopted blogs even if many library blogs still remain library-less. Some universities, for example, have librarians officially blogging on their institutional websites, e.g. Dean Giustini’s UBC Academic Search – Google Scholar Blog at the University of British Columbia (hosted on the University’s teaching and learning website), Art Rhyno’s LibraryCog (which began in the Fall of 2003 and is currently on hiatus) to name but a couple. The more conversational or opinion-oriented blogs still seem to be addressed to other librarians rather than non-librarians or the public-at-large. Some interesting blogs directed at other librarians include Blog on the Side (Darlene Fichter), and Librarian Activist (created by Danielle Dennie in 2003).
Talking to the public
“What’s New” blogs are largely directed at the public. McMaster University provides an example of such a blog: It is organised in a similar fashion to conventional “What’s New” pages, and doesn’t include commenting functionality. This is fairly common practice. Examples of public library blogs include Pelham Public Library’s Fahrenheit 451: Banned Books and Waterloo Public Library’s WPLBOOKCLUB.
What have I done?
A colleague and I used a blog called InfoPill for communications related to an RSS workshop we’ve taught several times in the past. Given our use of feed readers and the availability of an RSS feed, we found it was a nice way to lower the amount of email exchanged between the two of us while also making our posts publicly accessible. I suspect the number of library blogs operating under the radar in this vein is significant, not to mention the number of blogs used for internal communications.
As blogs are embraced increasingly at the institutional level, librarians and other institutional bloggers, I predict, will be careful to avoid discrediting their workplace while at the same time incorporating somewhat more opinion into their posts. This caution could have a censorial effect in one way, but could also potentially increase the quality of blogs as well as open up a more colourful dialogue with library clients. Personal blogging will continue to flourish on the side. It’s still not entirely clear how personal blogs will affect career development.
Where do we go from here
If library blogs are to successfully define themselves as web 2.0 or library 2.0, then I believe they will have to be less risk-aversive and more open to public comments at the institutional level. It remains to be seen whether the public is truly interested in library blogs. The University of Alberta might be onto something though: their post on “Library Services Available Through Facebook” actually did garner some attention if the comments are at all indicative.
The more innovative libraries are, and the more we put ourselves out on the line so to speak, the more we will hear from our “clients” as they become increasingly inclined to engage in a dialogue, challenging us to defend new services or practices. It certainly promises to be stimulating for those libraries willing to take the risk.