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Providing Reference Services using Blogs


Lea Edgar, Jessica Foshaug, Seanna Martin, Dana Ouellette


Librarians have always attempted to reach out to patrons through both personal contact and the dissemination of materials, but the proliferation of the internet, and social media technology in particular, is radically altering the way libraries provide reference services to their users. There are a variety of tools available that can be used to provide virtual reference: we have chosen to focus on blogs.

Jeffrey Veen On Blogger

Blogs (web + log = blog) are websites in which individuals or groups make regular entries. The content often centers around a particular subject, news, or functions as an online diary; entries can contain hyperlinks, videos, photos, text, and other media (Wikipedia).[1] Blogs are often interactive: users can leave comments on entries, which facilitates discussion. Blog entries usually appear in reverse-chronological order, and can also be organized using tags (i.e. a folksonomy) and/or categories, which allow visitors to access the entries via a number of different paths.[2] Blogs can be set up at no cost and blogging is immediate. According to Andrew Sullivan "blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive. It is, in many ways, writing out loud."[3]

The characteristics of the blog make it ideal for use in virtual reference services: blogs "harness the 2.0 hallmarks of dynamic collaboration, networking, and cooperative content creation."[2]

Types of Reference Services Provided

Below are some of the common ways that libraries use blogs for reference services. The blog format presents a perfect platform for many of the traditional services while also allowing for more interactivity and connectivity:

Reader’s Advisory

Like traditional reader’s advisory, these blogs aid users in selecting books which may be of interest to them. Library blogs typically follow the indirect reader’s advisory model in that they do not involve direct engagement with a librarian, but make it possible for the reader to select from a list or display of books. The Bensenville Community Public Library’s blog is an example of reader’s advisory. This blog has suggested reading lists which are categorized by genre such as “historical fiction”, “romance” or “paranormal” and includes detailed synopses and video previews.

Ready Reference

Microblogs, which allow users to push out content, images and links, but on a much smaller scale than traditional blogs[4], are used by some libraries to answer reference questions. Microblogs, such as Twitter, allow library users to send in short questions and receive quick, direct answers. The Nebraska Library Commission is one example of a library which uses their twitter account for ready reference. The question and answer below are typical of this format:

Q: where can I find a legal description of my home if I live in Lincoln, NE?

A: search Lancaster County Assessor's page:[5]

Information Literacy Instruction

A number of academic universities have attempted to use blogs as a forum for assisting students with their research skills and questions. These blogs typically provide tips on searching techniques or tutorials on the use of library technologies or programs. Empire State College Library includes tutorials complete with step by step instructions and screen shots for processes such as database use and academic citation rules. Some academic librarians have also created class specific blogs to address the particular needs of those learners [6][7] Emerald Group Publishing. Web. 27 July. 2011. These blogs can be used to share useful information literacy skills or search tips. A blog post on tips for critically evaluating articles, or on how to improve your searching by using boolean operators can teach important lessons to your blogs followers.

These blogs are especially valuable for distance learners who do not have the option of attending information literacy sessions in person.

News Bulletin

This a feature typically included in a number of blogs and works to alert users about new or existing services which may be of relevance to them. Brighton and Hove Librarieshas used their blog to highlight and link to all the online reference services which they provide and The Sheridan Libraries has publicized new materials such as their E-book subject guide. The blog as new bulletin is another way to market the library and interesting and useful services which users may not know about.

Other Uses of Blogs for Reference Librarians

Blogs offer many affordances for reference librarians outside of virtual reference. For example many libraries have adopted internal staff blogs for storing information meant for staff but no one else should have access to, such as meeting minutes, reference desk schedules, or important information about upcoming assignments or new resources. [8] In addition, blogs can also be used as marketing tools for promoting new resources, services, and/or programs.

Blogs and Marketing Challenges

Blogs provide an ideal platform for the marketing of library services, but at the same time they are not always visible or widely accessed by users. Many librarians recognize the value of blogs as a marketing tool but are not able to effectively market the blog itself.[9] As a result their sites receive little traffic and do not become the interactive forums which they may have envisioned. However marketing strategies do exist which librarians can implement in hopes of increasing blog traffic and interactivity. Ultimately librarians should adopt a business model and view their blog as a product; they should approach blogging not as a way of pushing library services but as a means of relationship building.[10]

Examples of Effective Library Blogs

The following blogs were chosen for using the blog medium to specifically address the reference tasks described in section 1.3. That is: reader's advisory, ready reference, information literacy instruction and news dissemination. Care was taken to try to choose blogs that both allowed comments and replied to those comments.

Public Libraries

The New York Public Library offers a variety of blogs, many of which are directly used for reference services. Some good examples are:

Some additional examples of public library blogs used for reference are:

Academic Libraries

Choosing a Blogging Site

Features to Consider[11]

  • Custom design templates
  • Integrated link management
  • Search feature
  • Clean permalink structure
  • Categories
  • Multiple author support
  • Tagging
  • Widgets
  • Statistics tracking
  • Mobile optimized
  • Search engine optimized

Recommended Blogging Sites

The following sites include the features listed above to varying extents. Reference Librarians must decide which features are necessary for their blogging needs, and choose the best product accordingly.

  • WordPress An open source service blog platform popular for being highly customizable.
  • Blogger A free and easy to use blog publishing service.
  • TypePad A simple interface that includes multiple author support, photo albums and mobile blogging.
  • LiveJournal One of the first blogging platforms. Features voice posts and a mobile app.

Recommended Microblogging Sites

  • Tumblr An easy to use tool that allows for text, image, video, and audio posting.
  • Twitter Arguably the most popular microblogging tool allowing 140 character posts and tagging.
  • Posterous Specifically designed for mobile blogging, this tools also integrates well with other tools such as Flickr and Twitter.

Further Reading

  • Fields, Erin. "A Unique Twitter use for Reference Services." Library Hi Tech News 6/7 (2010): 14-5. Emerald Group Publishing. Web. 26 July. 2009.
  • Harinarayana, N.S. and N. Vasantha Raju. "Web 2.0 Features in University Websites." The Electronic Library 28.1 (2010): 69-88. Emerald Group Publishing. Web. July 26. 2011.
  • Hricko, Mary. "Using Microblogging Tools for Library Services." Journal of Library Administration 50 (2010): 684–692. Print.
  • Reference and User Services Association (RUSA). “Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services.” Mar 2010. Web. 26 July 2011.
  • Tufts, Emily, “Overview of Blogs in Library.” MetaBLOG: A Blog About Library Blogs. April 8 2008. July 29 2011 (
  • Schrecker, Diane. "Using Blogs in Academic Libraries: Versatile Information Platforms." New Library World 109.3/4 (2008): 117-29. Emerald Group Publishing. Web. July 26. 2011.
  • Wyatt, Neal. "A Selection of Core Resources for Reader's Advisory Service." Reference & User Services Quarterly 50.1 (2010): 6-12. EBSCO. Web. 26 July 2011.


  1. “Blog.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 27 July 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cassell, Kay, and Uma Hiremath. Reference and Information Services in the 21st Century : An Introduction. 2nd ed. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2009. Print.
  3. Sullivan, Andrew. “Why I Blog.” The Atlantic Nov 2008. Web. 27 July 2011.
  4. “Microblogging.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 27 July 2011
  5. @NLC_Reference. Web log post. 17 June. 2011. Web. 29 July. 2011
  6. Coulter, Priscilla and Lani Draper. “Blogging It into Them”. Journal of Library Administration 45.1-2 (1999): 101-115. Taylor & Francis. Web. 27 July. 2011
  7. Chan, Christopher and Dianne Cmor. “Blogging Toward Information Literacy: Engaging Students and Facilitating Peer Learning”. Reference Services Review 37.4 (2009): 395-407.
  8. One such example is the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who began using wikis and blogs to share internal staff information. Costello, Kristen, and Darcy Del Bosque. "For Better or Worse: Using Wikis and Blogs for Staff Communication in an Academic Library." Journal of Web Librarianship 4.2/3 (2010): 143-160. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text. EBSCO. Web. 27 July 2011.
  9. *Draper, Loni and Marthea Turnage. "Blogmania." Internet Reference Services Quarterly 131.1 (2008): 15-55. Taylor & Francis. Web. 26 July. 2009.
  10. Stover, Jill S. “Making Marketing Work for Your Library Blog”. Internet Reference Services Quarterly 11.4 (2007): 155-167. Taylor & Francis. 28 July. 2011.
  11. Sapp, Laura and Keith Cogdill. “Blogging in Support of Health Information Outreach.” Medical Reference Services Quarterly 29 (2010): 240–248. Print.