There never was a golden age of library blogging

20 June 2015

For the last several years, many Australian librarians have participated in the annual ‘Blog Every Day in June’ - with the inevitable Twitter hashtag. The idea seems to be to reinforce a daily blogging habit in the middle of the Australian winter when many of us just want to curl up under a doona at the end of each day. I’ve never participated, but because there are so many more blog posts being shared in my twitter feed I usually end up reading a few. For at least the last three years, a theme has recurred - “Is blogging still a thing?”.

In some ways this is a question that answers itself. June is the only time of year I usually see blog posts from Australian library bloggers.1 Clearly daily blogging about librarianship isn’t a thing. The question I’ve wondered about since the last #blogjune, however, is whether it ever was. Whenever this golden age occurred, it obviously predates my own online engagement with library matters. But what it is that was happening, and where did it go?

Humans are wired to remember the ‘good old days’. We remember the things that were remarkable, and good, and forget the things that were boring, uncomfortable or bad. I think this may be what has happened with the library blogosphere. Daily blogs are often tedious. Half-formed thoughts, irrelevant workshop reports, personal anecdotes and pet photos are the usual fare. When a small group of people are all blogging these things at the same time and linking to each other, it can feel bigger than it is. Of course, there is a place for this sort of thing now - Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Daily blogging simply got swallowed by Zuckerberg and friends. The fact that ‘Blog Every Day of June’ comes with its own hashtag should be a pointer to why it never became Blog Every Day of the Year.

When librarians ask Is blogging still a thing?, or Is there life left in the Australian biblioblogosphere?, I think these questions are partially based on a misremembering or perhaps a miscategorisation. Kate Davis reveals this when she talks about blogging as ‘engaging’. The descriptions given by Kate and Kathryn Greenhill of what blogging is or was almost perfectly describe what has been happening on Twitter for several years. Kate says she hesitates to tell students to get on Twitter because there’s no content, yet Twitter is where the connections and the nodes are. Now that I think about it, I always tell new graduates and students to get onto Twitter if they want to engage with library professionals and join professional conversations. I rarely tell them to start a blog. Part of the reason I removed the ability to comment directly on my blog is because I feel that blog comments sections are culs-de-sac. The conversation is already happening on Twitter. If your comment is too big for Twitter, it belongs on your blog, not mine.

The real question being asked here is where is the meaty content worth reading and commenting upon? I share the concern that there is less of this than there should be, but I perhaps the situation is not as dire as we might imagine. Here’s some possible answers:

It’s on Medium and Tumblr

I think posting content to Medium and Tumblr is dangerous because I don’t see either of them lasting another five years, but if you can’t be bothered maintaining and hosting your own blog, and don't mind the possibility your work will disappear, both are relatively sensible options. Medium utilises a sophisticated commenting system, and interfaces perfectly with Twitter. Tumblr has an enormous community and makes it easy to share content.

It’s in born-digital journals that are friendlier to new authors

Born-digital journals like First Monday have plenty of accessible articles of interest to, and sometimes written by, librarians. Journals like In the Library with the Lead Pipe are very friendly places for first-time authors and work to make their articles fun and easy to read.

It’s on personal blogs, but posts are longer and less frequent than in the past.

I’m very much of the Brett Bonfield School of blogging. Brett’s desire to see long, considered and infrequent blog posts rather than short, shallow, daily posts is part of what drove him to found In the Library with the Lead Pipe - initially conceived of as a group blog. I’d prefer to post to this blog more often than I do, but I’m more or less comfortable with the fact that I post on average perhaps half a dozen times a year. My posts tend to be the result of weeks or sometimes months of thinking and writing. Usually I draft twice as many words as a publish.

This sort of longer content that Brett wants is the ‘meat’ that Kate and Kathryn are asking for. It takes time, passion and commitment to write blog posts like this. Two or three such posts equates to the effort one might put in to a conference paper or journal article. On Twitter Kate commented2 that as an untenured academic she needs to ration her cognitive budget carefully - and that’s entirely reasonable. That pushes academics like Kate towards publishing journal articles rather than blogging. But for library ‘practitioners’, as the academics call us, there’s little incentive to spend this time on long form analysis beyond a feeling that you should contribute to the profession.

It’s not about blogs

So, what’s the point of all this? Is there an answer? Kate Davis has floated the idea of a group blog concentrating on Australian Librarianship. If that is of interest to you, I encourage you to read her post and contact Kate. This is something that could be interesting and of great value to the profession. I believe, however, that it’s going to take more than that.

The problem here is bigger than blogs. The 2014 ALIA Biennial was the worst conference I have ever attended. There was very little on the conference agenda that was new or even interesting. I am not alone in this view. Something in Australian librarianship is missing. In a profession centred on information, networks, and learning, this is bizarre. We’re in the middle of a networked learning revolution based on rapid and sustained developments in information technology! If any profession should have exciting things to talk about, it’s ours. Maybe the problem here is that we’re not making connections with the wider world of cultural institutions.

If Australian librarians feel there is a lack of professional discussion centred on access to substantial and well-researched local writing, when are we going to do something about the fact our own professional Association publishes its journals behind a paywall? If we think writing well considered and critical articles about current issues in librarianship is crucial to the development of the profession, why don’t we allow staff to do it in paid time, or at least consider a librarian’s publications (whether ‘formal’ or otherwise) when we are recruiting?

I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say

The answer to more compelling content is simple, but hard. It merely requires librarians to assign some of their cognitive surplus to writing and editing their thoughts, and sharing them openly. The world we live and work within has never been more distracting. Carving out time for this is hard. But it’s worth it. As Flannery O’Connor is reputed to have once said, I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say. If Librarianship wants to call itself a profession, it needs to be, like libraries, a place where readers come to write, and writers come to read. Join Kim Tairi and ditch Facebook. Join Sam Searle and ditch your Imposter Syndrome. Then, using whatever your preferred open and shareable publication method is, join Brett Bonfield and ensure your colleagues don’t think ‘too short, didn’t bother’. If we don’t write, and share, and discuss - how on earth will we know what we think?


I also seem to post a lot more in June and July, which may indicate an influence from #blogjune


I'm heavily paraphrasing here