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Starting Your Public Library Blog to Increase Engagement with Your Community

By Rachel Balko, Felicia Chan, Heidi Henkenhaf, and Erin Watkins

LIBR559M, Summer Term 2, 2011

Instructor: Dean Giustini

What Is a Blog?

The word "blog" is a combination of the two terms "web" and "log," and is primarily used to describe an online publishing system that presents written entries in reverse chronological order. In general, blog topics can range from personal diary entries to world news, and they can be used to facilitate the dissemination of information about organizations and special events. By exploiting the blog format as a social media tool, it can be integrated into an organization's overall marketing and engagement strategy, where it becomes an extension of the organization's virtual/online presence, acting as a portal for community engagement, dialogue, participation, and collaboration. A helpful video that explains what blogs are is Common Craft's Blogs in Plain English on YouTube (LeFever, 2007). An extended explanation of what blogs are can be found here on Wikipedia (n.d.).

An official library blog would be an example of an organizational blog. Organizational blogs represent the organization as a whole, even if just one person maintains it. It is important to make it clear to the librarians who maintain your organizational blog that the topics and tone need to represent the library as an institution. If individuals wish to blog about library topics from their own personal point of view, that should be done in a personal blog that is kept entirely separate from the organizational blog.

Why Should My Public Library Have a Blog?

  • Leveraging the power of social media, blogs are a powerful marketing and communications tool that can deliver information to users in a timely and accessible manner. Weekly program updates, seeking patrons' opinions, and providing book reviews are all examples of library blogs in action.
  • As an information organization, a library should deliver information that is current and updated. Blogs enable libraries to instantly publish content, allowing them to stay relevant in the fast-moving online environment.
  • Blogs provide a dynamic online presence for the library, promoting its services beyond a static website and increasing its visibility to non-users.
  • Through comment functions or embedded discussion boards, blogs can facilitate a dialogue between the library and its users, which allows people to feel that they have a voice at their library.
  • Different blogs can be created for different user groups, which allows more targeted marketing of services instead of a "one size fits all" approach.
  • Blogs are cost-effective, with little need for technical know-how, which allows staff to maintain the library's dynamic online presence without the need to enter the mainframe of the library website.

Basic Best Practices for Starting Your Public Library Blog

  • Determine the purpose of your blog before you begin it.
  • Is the primary purpose of the blog to supply information (one-way communication) or invite a dialogue (two-way communication)? The following are just a few possible reasons for creating a library blog, provided by Bonnie Shucha (n.d., slide 25), Head of Reference at the University of Wisconsin Law Library:
  • library & topical news
  • announce new services
  • recent acquisitions list
  • book/movie/website recommendations
  • book discussions
  • local events calendar
  • recommended research sources
  • Will this be a general blog for the entire library community, or a specialized blog for one department or a specific audience (e.g., Children's Services, Teen Services, Reader's Advisory, Senior Services, Homework Help)? Ann Arbor District Library has more than a dozen blogs on various topics, but don't get too ambitious in your first foray into blogging. A general library blog, and perhaps an additional blog for a specific audience such as teens, is adequate for many libraries.
  • Determine who on your staff will be responsible for creating and maintaining the blog.
  • Who will write the blog?
  • Does anyone in the library administration need to approve the blog content before posting, or is the writing staff autonomous?
  • Who will moderate/approve user comments? (This is recommended to avoid profane or otherwise inappropriate comments appearing on the library's website.)
  • How often will the blog be updated? Daily, weekly, whenever someone feels like it? (Warning: That last option is not the best.)
  • Have something interesting to say, or don't bother. Easier said than done, yes, but here are some tips for making your library blog more engaging from Nathan T. Wright and Hillary Brown (n.d.) of Lava Row, a social media consulting, strategy, and education firm in Des Moines:
  • "Hook" the reader with an interesting title and relevant and timely content.
  • Encourage participation by using a candid, conversational tone. Consider ending your posts with a call for comments.
  • Be human. Write about things you genuinely have an opinion about.
  • Make your blog about others. Feature guest posts or offer reviews from library visitors.
  • Use images, graphics, and subheads to "give readers' eyes a rest."
  • Add multimedia content. Even a simple blog interface such as Wordpress easily allows you to upload photos and video.

Finding Your Voice

Any piece of writing – even one appearing solely online – needs a voice. Writer and consultant Jeff Goins believes that a blog's voice can be like Pavarotti and "resonate with power that is full of sophistication. Or, like Dave Grohl, it can scream and shout with disenfranchised angst" (n.d., para. 2). At either extreme, or somewhere in between, your blog must be relevant to your audience, and part of what will make your blog relevant is its voice – your voice.

To find your library's voice, Goins suggests brainstorming a list of personality attributes (aim for 10 to 20) that you'd like your blog to have. Your next challenge is to pare this list down to three or five key aspects that best represent your library blog's voice. Perhaps you settle on "professional, friendly, and entertaining." Whatever attributes you choose for your blog, make certain they reflect your library's mission, vision, strategic plan, and brand presence.

When writing your blog posts, consult your list of attributes and use it like a checklist to ensure consistency of voice. A consistent voice will encourage loyalty from your readers. A unique writing voice will give focus to your blog and will help to strengthen your brand. Furthermore, it will create a lasting impression with your readers, and allow you to cultivate an enthusiastic audience over the long term.

Who's Doing It Well

Christchurch Kids Blog: Christchurch City Libraries

Christchurch Kids Blog (n.d.), as its name suggests, is a blog targeted at 8- to 12-year-olds in New Zealand, specifically those in the Christchurch/Canterbury area, and is managed by the children's librarians of the Christchurch City Libraries. Updates are frequent and age-appropriate. Featuring authors, books, and trivia related to New Zealand, the blog is marketed to parents as "a safe and trusted space for children to spend time online" (n.d., para. 1). Its stated aims include "to get children writing and commenting, sharing their thoughts on books, movies and music" and "to encourage use of the full range of library resources – for fun and for learning" (n.d., para. 4).

Children are encouraged to ask questions and leave their comments, and can also play a more active role by contributing book reviews, for which guidance and suggestions are provided. With help from teachers and using a login created for their class, children are able to make blog posts and share with other children what they have been reading. Because it leverages peer-to-peer recommendations, the blog receives a lot of comments from children, creating an active online community consisting of children, parents, teachers, librarians, and authors.

Eleventh Stack: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Eleventh Stack is a very active blog, averaging four to five posts per week. Many of the posts include author, book, or film recommendations, often with a theme (e.g., space, New York City, bad movies), and recommended titles are linked to the library's online catalogue so interested patrons can easily find them. Several librarians contribute to the blog, and entries are tagged with the blogger's name, so if you enjoy the style of Irene, the reference librarian, you can easily find all her posts. Tabs at the top of every page lead you to the bloggers' bios (About Us), Comment Guidelines (10 easy-to-understand rules for contributing), and FAQs. The blog makes good use of widgets (e.g., a tag cloud, an RSS feed, monthly archives) and visual elements (e.g., a flickr feed) without overwhelming the user. And patrons are responding, leaving more comments than you'll see on the average library blog. Many comments include additional recommendations for the themed lists, creating a true exchange of information and opinion. Overall, this is an excellent library blog.

The Top Shelf: North Vancouver City Library

The Top Shelf (n.d.) was started by SLAIS alumna Heidi Schiller, now the Fiction Librarian at North Vancouver City Library (NVCL), to engage the community and deliver reader's advisory in on an online, participatory format. NVCL is a popular materials lending library and this blog is an extension of the library's mission to deliver service emphasizing popular materials, life-long learning, literacy, and cultural diversity. The Top Shelf features Community Reader Profiles (including one of Darrell Mussatto, the mayor of North Vancouver), themed lists of book recommendations (e.g., Books for Dads, Summer Reading), and North Shore community event book tie-ins, and makes use of interesting entry titles like "Watch this … read that … ." This blog includes useful widgets such as an RSS feed, email subscription, search by categories, a tag cloud, and twitter and Facebook links.

Schiller's first blog post went up in June of 2011 and the community has responded positively to its content. The blog encourages readers to leave comments on the postings. This blog is in its early days, but appears to be an excellent way for Schiller to extend NVCL's mandate by targeting her community online.

Word Out 2011: Teen Summer Reading: Toronto Public Library

The Toronto Public Library’s (TPL) Word Out 2011: Teen Summer Reading program blog is a good example of how this social media tool can be used to create community engagement. By adopting an incentive and awards approach such as those used by corporations, TPL is encouraging user participation. TPL awards library fine forgiveness coupons for registration and participation in the form of feedback and content contributions such as material reviews. There is also the incentive of a draw for a Sony e-book reader and two Random House e-books for participants at the end of the summer reading program. The blog makes good use of technical features such as a twitter feed, monthly archives, a list of categories (e.g., Fiction of the Week, Reviews and Recommends), and an RSS feed.

References

Ann Arbor District Library. (n.d.). Blogs. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://www.aadl.org/services/blogs

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. (n.d.). Eleventh stack. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from https://eleventhstack.wordpress.com/

Christchurch City Libraries. (n.d.). Christchurch kids blog. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from http://christchurchkids.wordpress.com/

Fichter, D. (2003). Why and how to use blogs to promote your library's services. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from http://www.infotoday.com/mls/nov03/fichter.shtml

Goins, J. (n.d.). Finding your blog's unique voice [Web log post]. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://www.problogger.net/archives/2011/05/22/finding-your-blog%E2%80%99s-unique-voice/

LeFever, L. (2007, Nov 29). Blogs in plain English [Video file]. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN2I1pWXjXI

North Vancouver City Library. (n.d.). The top shelf: North Vancouver City Library's readers' blog. Retrieved July 27, 2011, from http://nvcltopshelf.wordpress.com/

Shatkun, M. (2010, Feb 9). Starting a library blog [Web log post]. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from http://www.sociallibraries.com/sp10/node/1450

Shucha, B. (n.d.). Blogging in libraries: Finding, reading & creating blogs [Slide presentation]. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/23953/Blogging-in-Libraries-Finding-Reading-and-Creating-Library-Blogs

Toronto Public Library. (2011). Word out 2011: Teen summer reading. Retrieved July 28, 2011, from http://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/word_out_2011/

White, M. (n.d.) What is a blog? A business introduction. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from http://www.betterbusinessblogging.com/what-is-a-blog/

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Blog. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog

Wright, N.T., & Brown, H. (n.d.). Library 2.0: Jump start your library with blogging & twitter [Slide presentation]. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from http://www.slideshare.net/nathantwright/library-20-jump-start-your-library-with-blogging-and-twitter