Tips for Blogging in Libraryland

As this month marks my blog’s four year anniversary, I thought about the lessons that I’ve learned since I started writing here. For those thinking about adding their voice to the online librarian community, there are certainly no shortage of ways in which to participate. Over the weekend, I jotted down some of those musings that I think will help those starting out or thinking starting a blog. So, without further ado, here we go.

Pick a Name

And for the love of God, pick a better one than mine. While I have grown to truly love the name over time, it really started out as a clever play on words but still doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. A compliment from a friend encouraged me to keep it but, really, take some time in choosing a name. Bonnie Powers was recently writing about her blog name love/hate (her blog’s name is Bring Your Noise) so it got me re-thinking about my own title.

In a quick non-scientific survey of librarian blog titles, a good number of them fall into the "[noun] librarian”, “[adjective] librarian”, or “[adverb] librarian” category. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that (although there are some doozies out there) and there are other library related names (think “biblio”, “libris”, and anything book related), but just take some time to pick out a name. Also, perform some due diligence by doing a quick Google search for any names you want to try out to see if anyone else has used it.

Whatever you decide on, just make sure it is an accurate reflection of you. You will be telling a lot of people the blog title name so you do keep that in mind as well. You may be stuck with it for a very long time.

Pick a Blogging Platform

Do your homework and consider your blogging platform options. Sites like Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Livejournal (do people still even use that anymore?), and Typepad offer an array of options both paid and free. You want to find a blogging platform that meets your needs.

For myself, I use a free WordPress site (obviously) and write my blog posts in Windows Live Writer (a good solid blogging program and less buggy than the WordPress browser interface). It has served me well for these four years and I will continue to use it for the foreseeable future.

If you decide to host your blog on your own website, that does change some of your options here but doing your homework will find you the right fit.

Write What You Know

It’s a devilishly simple sounding sentiment, but it can be deceptive. This isn’t saying that you should be limited in the breadth and depth of the topics you want to talk about, but an acknowledgement that some subjects will take more time and research to arrive at a coherent blog post. For example, I could write a library eBook post nearly off the top of my head based on what I know as well as remembering recent blog posts and articles addressing the article. If I was to attempt to write about AACR2 and RDA, I’d need to do background work so that I had the faintest of clues as to what I was talking about it. Even then, I’d probably have to focus on the most general of topics around it (such as whether to use it or not) rather than the nitty gritty cataloging details that make me reach for the whiskey bottle.

With that in mind, the quotation “you are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts” springs to mind. Anyone can write an opinion piece on anything in libraryland but presenting a logical and factual persuasive argument is a whole other ballgame. It’s the difference between “AACR2 sucks, RDA rules” and “RDA is the future of cataloging for these reasons…” I may not be a cataloger, but it doesn’t mean I can’t learn as much as I can before weighing in on the debate in a meaningful manner. Honestly, you’re a librarian. The research aspect should be second nature.

Even then, no matter what topic you are writing about, do make allowances for corrections or edits. I’ve made mea culpas in the past and I certainly will make them in the future. There is nothing wrong with admitting you were wrong so long as you fix the error. Learn from these mistakes or missteps and move on.

Find Your Voice

As anyone who writes will tell you, it is an ongoing process that takes months, years, or even a lifetime to achieve. For the sake of simplicity, I’d say it is finding the writing style that most suits you. This is about tone, word choice, sentence construction, and cadence. Anyone could dissect my blog and find the words and phrases that I use over and over again as well as how I structure my sentences. Those aspects are a reflection of me as a writer and a thinker.

As I see it, it’s a translation of my personality to the computer screen. When I write like I would talk, think, or feel, the words come freely and naturally. When I try to make the text a bit fancier or with more flourish, I sputter and get bogged down. It reminds me of the studies about the brains of people when they are lying; they have to work harder since they are inventing the story as they go. When you aren’t true to your style, diction, or temperament, it’s going to be a struggle. Write as the person that you are for people can connect to that in terms of authenticity.

Links, Links, Links

This could also be called “show your work” or “cite your sources”. If you make a reference to another website, provide a link to it. If you got an idea or thought from somewhere else, provide a link to it. If you are talking about a particular issue or topic and there is a good explanation for it, provide a link to it.

I will admit that providing a link is a pet peeve of mine. I hate reading blogs that make a reference to an article, website, or another blog post and there isn’t a link provided. If you are going to take the time to write about something, don’t suddenly take some sort of magical internet “higher ground” and refuse to link to the offending/provoking article because you don’t want to encourage people to visit the website. That’s just completely asinine since it sends the mixed message, “I think this is important enough for me to comment on, but I don’t want you to read it and make your own decisions.”

As much as it irks me, I will admit that there are times when I don’t want to provide a link to something that I consider distasteful, unworthy of direct citation, or simply link bait. It puts me in a very bad mood as I balance out my own pet peeve against the loathing I feel for the article in question. Ninety nine percent of the time, I’ll swallow my disgust and link to the offender. For those rare one percent, I try to at least provide a breadcrumb trail for people to follow to get to the article. I might not link to it directly, but I’m not going to completely deny them the chance to read it themselves and make their own decision. Link as much as you can to cite your sources and references, but make provisions for when you can’t bring yourself to do it.

Edit When Possible

Before I hit Publish for the majority of my posts, I go through and do an edit. This isn’t a long drawn out process, but one to find the regular errors in spelling (usually words that are spelled correct but not in that context), my sometimes creative grammar problems, and my often “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” sentence construction issues. It also helps with organization of the post, allowing me to re-organize points, alter the cadence, or even eliminate unnecessary sentences and paragraphs. It’s not the finest polish I can offer, but it’s enough to take the easy mistakes out of the posts. The time you invest in your posts will show in the final product that you publish.

Be Brave

“Blog fearlessly” is a short mantra I say to myself before I hit the Publish button on a post that I think will generate some discussion or controversy. It’s a tough moment when you can feel the doubts creeping back and the “don’t rock the boat” urge pushing against the back of your mind. Some of the topics will elicit an emotional response or provoke a critical reaction. Be prepared for pushback, disagreements, and (in very rare cases but it happens) character assassination. My best advice is to roll with it: stand firm on the points you can prove or the opinions that you hold, concede the points you can’t, correct the mistakes you make, and try to foster the best dialogue you can. I’d also say pick your battles, but that’s never been a strong suit for me. If anything, it may help you finely tune your own positions as well as be a learning experience to the variety of viewpoints out there.

Promote, Promote, Promote

So, your blog post is up. Now what? Given the cacophony of the online librarian world, if you want to get your post notice you’ll have to do some publicity for it. Most of my traffic comes from Twitter, search engines, and other blogs that link to various posts. Google Reader tells me that I have over 1,700 subscribers and it shows in the number of syndicated views I get for my posts. In addition, I have a Facebook Author Page that helps me share my posts.

When I post something new, I set up some automatic tweets for the next day at different times (for different time zones) and share it on Google Plus (for whatever that’s worth); my Facebook page will automatically post the new entry. From there, I thank people for Retweeting, answer any comments on the Facebook or Google plus posts, and answer blog comments when I have something to say. When I was just starting out, I also posted to my blog on LISNews in order to increase the number of people who saw my writing.

Some people might balk at self promotion, but I believe it’s the best way to get as many eyes as you can on your blog post. If you’re not going to toot your own horn, who else is going to?

What else?

That’s not so much a topic heading as a question left for you, the reader. What else is there to know or consider when blogging in libraryland? Add a comment if you have a question or share from your experiences.

Why I Write

Adrian: Why do you wanna fight?
Rocky: Because I can’t sing or dance.

Rocky (1976)

For me, writing reminds me of the bleeding techniques of early Western medicine; it was a school of thought regarding the draining of excessive humors from the body in order to reach a better state of health. In applying this principle to my blog, it is a matter of giving voice to ideas, thoughts, opinions, and commentary that would otherwise be rattling around my brain pan, demanding to be let out or returned for use by some other higher brain function.

As much as I grew up being a reluctant reader (I basically stopped at Encyclopedia Brown), I have been a reluctant writer as well until the last couple of months. There was always a willpower barrier that required to be overcome to even start a post, nevermind finishing one. For a long time, a writer’s block would mean that all work would come to a screeching halt until the proper wording, phrasing, or transition had been constructed. Frustration would take hold and the post would live as a draft while the roadblock was dealt with.

From my experience, draft status is somewhat of blog post Purgatory, a limbo in which the fate of an entry is measured by the mettle it would require to finish it. Some drafts never move on to Publish status as thoughts and opinions change on the subject or it is found to be wanting of certain support criteria. Others are able to survive the process and appear as a fully formed and properly birthed internet prose. They do serve as a memory lane for me where I can look at some of the ideas I had before that never made it out of this step.

As time has progressed, I’ve gotten better about the writing process. Fewer posts see time in the draft stage and most will make it out into published status in one sitting (albeit a long sitting, but still). To relate it back to the opening metaphor of this post, I have become better at diagnosing which humors are affecting the body and how best to treat them. My personal epiphany has been to shift my mindset and stop treating writing as a solo act and approach it more as a complete series of steps. As a doctor would listen to the symptoms, perform tests, and make a diagnosis, it is a matter of undertaking the process.

And a process it is, I would heartily agree. My brother, a talented fiction writer of his own right, refers to it as ‘laboring in the wordmine’. Writing the words into the computer would appear to be on the easy end of the entire system. Finding the words, expressing the thoughts, the arrangement of sentences within and how they relate to those that precede and those that follow, the flow of the paragraphs, all in service of an overarching concept or story or point. The construction of everything before your eyes right now is the result of writing, adjusting, re-writing, re-phrasing, and re-positioning. I’d offer a calculation as to the time consumed, but it is nothing compared to the urge to get it to be right in one’s own eye.

A friend of mine asked me how I wrote, what motivated me, and why I wrote. There is no way to answer her simply. I hope that this post offers something of a clue towards her questions, but in closing I can offer her this additional explanation. For me, writing is freedom. I can organize and arrange my words and thoughts in ways that make sense in an overactive thought process. I am more honest, more true to myself here than I am speaking or behaving since I can properly express myself in the perfect vacancy of the computer screen. I feel lucky to have this gift, for it makes me feel in tune with other people and with the world.

For me, writing is life. An expression of myself that is both pure and raw. It is myself on display for all who care to gaze. In public or in private, it is the best measure of who I am and what I believe. It doesn’t get any better than that. And that is why I write.