Belgium is a founding member of the European Union whose most important institutions are based in Belgium’s capital Brussels. wikipedia The administrative structure of Belgium features a federal state with several regions: “the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north, with 58% of the population, and the French-speaking southern region of Wallonia, inhabited by 32%. The Brussels-Capital Region, although officially bilingual, is a mostly French-speaking enclave within the Flemish and near the Walloon Region, and has 10% of the population. A small German-speaking community exists in eastern Wallonia.” wikipedia
As our guest author today we welcome Laurent Meese from the Scientific Library of the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences in Brussels. His blog “Bibliothecaris in Blog” is accessible via http://bibman.blogspot.com/.
The Belgian biblioblogosphere
by Laurent Meese
I worked as a librarian in a public library before I was assigned as librarian of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (Brussels) in 1996. Head of the Documentation Service since 2006.
The first Belgian biblioblogs
Belgium is a federal state, consisting of three cultural communities and three physical regions, and four linguistic regions. I will try to include blogs of the three communities in this resume but as Dutch is my main language my emphasis will be on Flemish library blogs.
In the beginning there was nothing. Pinpointing the first Belgian biblioblogs is not that difficult. When we take a look at the blog archives it is ‘librarian.be‘ by Patrick Vanhoucke, coordinator of the Bruno network at the Public Library of Brussels, with blog archives going back to 2001. However in the first 6 years of this blog only one post in a year was published (each time January the first). This blog started showing regular activity in September 2006 with almost daily-posted entries. Most posts focus on libraries, politics and religions, classical music, film and technology.
In October 2005 I started my own personal blog ‘Bibliothecaris in Blog‘ (Dutch for: ‘librarian in blog’). The title for my blog was ambiguous and archaic by purpose. My first ambition was to write how a librarian was struggling to survive in the new world, dominated by google and internet. Are librarians able to jump on the web 2.0 train, without losing the dignity and traditional skills of their profession? How to unite best of both worlds: control and predictability versus facilitation in the new web 2.0 workspace. Due to a lack of time I diminished my high ambitions and started a more lighthearted web log. Personal topics tagged ‘nostalgic librarian’ or ‘librarian on the run’ are combined with more institutional and work related topics about digitisation projects, cultural heritage and museum. Reality learns that literature and books are dominating my cloud tag. It’s not easy to maintain the right balance between personal interests and work related topics. Critical views about the inertia of the Belgian library sector are not done, not even in an ironical way.
Another early adopter in the Belgian biblioblogosphere was Fabrizio Tinti at the Université Catholique de Louvain with his stylish blog ‘Pintini‘, dealing with the technological side of librarianship. Blog pioneer Jens De Groot launched ‘The Campusbibliotheek Biomedische Wetenschappen‘ in June 2006, an institutional blog providing information about closing days, service, e-journals and databases. In the French speaking part of Belgium ‘les yeux ouverts: carnets d’un bibliothécaire de campagne‘ saw birth in May 2006. This is a blog by Nescio, with charming personal entries about bibdating, books and music.
2007, the Year of Breakthrough
In 2007 the Belgian blogosphere got a serious boost. There was information 2007, a conference organized by the VVBAD (Flemish Society for Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres) at the University of Ghent about web and library 2.0 and in the slipstream a great number of public libraries started to explore the possibilities of blogging: Blog Bibliotheek Kortrijk, Biblog Lommel and ‘Blog bibliotheek Malle‘. In Wallonie these public library blogs are regrouped in Centre de Ressources des Espaces Publics Numériques de Wallonie. Those blogs bring a great variety of topics about the cultural activities, service and collections in their public libraries. Another new blog is ‘The Flemish librarian‘, a blog from Karolien Selhorst. She works in a Dutch library in Vlissingen (the Netherlands). This blog is certainly worth reading, although the frequency of posting is rather low. Bibliotheker.org is dealing with ICT, technology, media and library related topics. Very professional and sec, written by Johan Mijs.
There are no boundaries in the blogosphere so we see the Flemish librarians join up the colleagues in the Netherlands, on the social network bibliotheek 2.0. The same phenomena happen in the French speaking part of Belgium, with the network of Bibliothèque and Bibliopedia, uniting all the French-speaking library blogs.
Finally, one of my favourite Belgian blogs is ‘Commissaresse‘, and it is written by a non-librarian (I rest my case). This blog has an original concept. Eva Simon – who is actually a teacher at the Library school of Ghent – is playing on her blog a detective who is looking for clues of library 2.0 implementation in Flanders. Highly recommended. She also put together a blogroll, i.e. a list of library blogs. This list is up to date mainly consisted by blogs from the Netherlands. It proves that Belgium has still a long way to go with capturing the web 2.0 participation and discussion spirit. It’s difficult to give a valuation of the degree of utilisation already. But it’s clear that blogs with a personal and original touch will capture on the long run more readers.
A virtual world of possibilities
The advantages for library staff to keep blogging are undeniable despite the arguments of ‘the annoyed librarian’ in her sarcastic A Librarian’s Anti-2.0 Manifesto. Blogging is a flexible, easy way to communicate with library users and colleagues about the integration of innovative library 2.0 features. For the public libraries it seems necessary to integrate their data in popular social network applications such as Facebook, My Space or Flickr. Scientific and research libraries on the other hand should focus on RSS, wikis and open content repositories.
The federal Belgian research libraries have already realized a common catalogue via Belgium.be, containing over 3 000 000 titles. The next step should be to make this catalogue interactive, allowing users to tag and make reviews, suggestions etc. The ultimate ambition: constructing a central catalogue with a fully accessible library’s collection, a virtual place where one can not only search for books and articles, but also interact with a social community, the librarians, and share knowledge – and why not – wisdom. Librarians in blog have the mission to keep the flame of this innovative revolution burning. Laurent Meese (Brussels, 29/02/08)