17 No. 6 — Nov/Dec 2003
Why and How to Use Blogs to Promote Your Library's
by Darlene Fichter
Librarians have had to learn how to do a lot with just a little in order
to promote awareness of their programs and services. They have seized the opportunities
to market libraries in the real world via traditional media: newspapers, corporate
newsletters, radio, and TV. Many libraries produce brochures, pathfinders,
and their own newsletters. So it is no surprise to see librarians stepping
up to the plate and spreading the word online with blogs. Savvy librarians
have identified blogs as another means to market libraries and their services.
Exactly What Is a Blog, Anyway?
If "blog" is a term that's new to you, don't be concerned. You've probably
encountered lots of blogs while using the Web for work or recreation. In fact,
blogs existed long before the term was coined. NCSA's What's New1 page
from back in June 1993 is credited as being one of the earliest blogs. In the
library sphere, Jenny Levine's Librarians' Site du Jour2 is considered
the original library blog.
Blog, short for Weblog, is a Web site that contains brief entries arranged
in reverse chronological order. Blogs are diverse, ranging from personal diaries
to news sites that monitor developments on anything from Outer Mongolia to
copyright law. Evan Williams, the creator of Blogger, describes them this way: "the
blog concept is about three things: Frequency, Brevity and Personality."3
In order to get a feel for the world of blogging, it helps to get a handle
on the lingo. "Blogging" is the act of creating a blog. A "blogger" is a person
who maintains a blog. Bloggers create entries, which they "post" or publish
to their blog. "Bloggrolling" is the act of moving from one blog to another.
A blog can be created by just one author or done collaboratively by a community
of authors. Blogs can be updated from several times per day to just a few times
per week or month. Some blogs encourage interactivity between the writer and
audience by allowing readers to post comments and questions about entries.
Today, blogs range from the simple "what's new" type of listing to sophisticated
Web sites with dozens of bells and whistlessite search capabilities;
topical categories; daily, weekly, and monthly archives; built-in mailing list
management functions; and RSS headline syndication. The blog content ranges
from the interesting and insightful to the mundane and useless.
Why Have These Weblogs Been Spreading Like Wildfire?
Blogs have exploded on the Web because they have made it much easier to publish
content online. Creating Web pages with HTML editors was a barrier for many
people who were short on time to acquire new skills and to troubleshoot browser
issues. Blogging software makes it as easy to publish content online as it
is to write a note to post on your fridge. It's really that easy! You don't
have to know anything about HTML or how to link from one page to another, let
alone upload files with FTP programs to a Web server. Signing up for a blog
account is easy, tooin less than 3 minutes, you can have a blog and area
to publish your first entry.
Many librarians started off excitedly creating their first Web sites, only
to become disillusioned because of the effort it took to update and maintain
content with an often-cumbersome, multi-step process. Blogging software can
eliminate most of this drudgery. The power of the blog lies not only in the
ease of publishing new content, but also in its ability to automatically archive
old posts and refresh the content of the main page.
One very significant factor in the growth of blogs is the blogging community.
The ease with which you can link to other sites and blog entries has spawned
a frenzy of linking from blog to blog. Almost everyone likes to know that his
or her work is read and recognized by others. Bloggers can receive almost-instant
feedback as visitors and other bloggers comment on posts and explore mutual
Blogs in the Library Sphere
Librarians have taken to blogs like ducks to water. Take a few minutes to
visit some of the blogs at Peter Scott's list of Library Weblogs (http://www.libdex.com/weblogs.html).
Here are just a few examples of library blogs to spark your interest:
The St. Joseph County Public Library Book Blog focuses on
upcoming releases in publishing and entertainment. http://homepage.mac.com/nrdtsjcpl/
Roselle Public Library's Blogger Book Club is an online book
discussion group for kids to share their thoughts about books. http://bloggerbookclub.blogspot.com
LISNews.com focuses on news for information professionals
and is a collaborative Weblog. http://www.lisnews.com
Library News is a Weblog featuring library-related news, events,
and resources for Georgia State University.
... h20boro lib blog is Waterboro Public Library's Weblog
of literary and library news and resources. http://www.waterborolibrary.org/blog.htm
Engineering Library Blog features news and events in one column
of the library home page. http://library.usask.ca/engin
Stark County Law Library Blawg serves the legal community
of Stark County, Ohio. http://temp.starklawlibrary.org/blog
Urbana Free Library has one called Construction News featuring
photos and updates on the building underway. http://urbanafreelibrary.org/bldgblog.html
Jenny Levine's Shifted Librarian looks at how to make libraries
more portable to serve users better. http://www.theshiftedlibrarian.com
Peter Scott's Library Blog offers links and news about library
resources and libraries around the world. http://blog.xrefer.com
Starting a Library Blog
One of the best things about blogs is that many blogging programs are either
free or inexpensive to use. A great way to learn about blogs is to dive in
and set up a free account at a service like Blogger, Onclave, or LiveJournal
and take a test drive. By trying out two or three blogging tools, you'll get
a feel for what features you like and don't like. There's nothing like posting
some sample entries to help you realize how frustrating a short title entry
box can be or how useful a built-in WYSIWYG editor is.
Once you've gotten your feet wet, it's time to think about what type of blog
you want to set up. Your first job is to carefully consider your marketing
strategy. You need to be sure that a blog is the right tool for the job. Who
are you trying to reach, and what are the key messages you want to send? What
is the purpose of your blog?
Consider whether your target audience is online in sufficient numbers to
make a blog worthwhile. What are the characteristics of your audience? What
are your typical readers like? Will they appreciate short, newsy updates that
could lead to more in-depth content? In other words, is a blog the right form
of online publishing? Think about how librarian and lawyer blogs have flourished.
What do we know about these audiences? Are they wired? Do they like (need)
to be in-the-know about new developments, tools, and resources?
Next, you need to decide on the content and scope of your blog. What are
the key messages that you want to convey? Are you trying to promote awareness
of services and new resources to draw people into the library, or perhaps to
encourage the use of virtual services? Or are you trying to serve avid readers
better by providing targeted book news and information? Are you looking for
a way to be more interactive with certain groups in your community, such as
children and youth, who might participate online but not face-to-face?
After you have decided on the target audience, key messages, and purpose
of the blog, identify project constraints and toolkit requirements. Narrow
down the field of dozens of blogging tools to a few by answering three questions:
1. Will your library want to install blogging software locally on a
desktop or Web server?
2. What type of security is necessary? Is the blog available to anyone
or is password protection needed? Are there guidelines that mandate that the
content must stay within the corporate firewall?
3. What features are you looking for in a blogging toolkit?
Depending on your situation, using a remote blogging service might be the
ideal solution. If your Web developers are overburdened, a remote hosted blogging
service that allows you to set up a blog site by filling out a registration
form may be just the thing. If you plan to install blogging software locally,
you'll need to select software that runs on your library's Web server or desktop
computers (Windows, UNIX/ Linux, Macintosh) and use a supported programming
language like PHP, Perl, Java, ColdFusion, etc.
What if you prefer a blogging program that requires local installation, but
that's just not feasible? Don't despair. A number of hosting companies specialize
in installing and setting up blogging software and hosting them for you. (http://www.lights.com/
The table below lists some examples of blogging toolkits. Keep in mind this
is not an exhaustive list. Check out more tools at the Weblog Compendium site
Blogging software developers have been quick to add new features and functions
to help bloggers. As a result there are dozens of features to choose from.
Here are a few popular ones to think about:
Archives: Can the blog automatically create daily, monthly, or yearly
archives? What schedule works best for your blog? If you have lots of entries
each day, you'll probably want daily. If content is sparse, then monthly or
yearly archives would work better.
Categories: Do you need categories? Will blog readers want to browse
by broad topical areas such as health, sports, or cooking?
Search: Will site visitors want to search the archives of old posts?
Community Tools: Do you want content to be posted by many people?
Do you want to let readers leave comments and create a personal profile?
Subscription Lists: Will your readers want to come to your site each
day to read your posts, or would they prefer to receive a daily digest delivered
to their mailboxes?
Headline Syndication: Will you want other Web sites to be able to
show your headlines? Or will you want to reach individuals who use RSS newsreaders
to monitor news? RSS files are a truly wonderful way to syndicate your content
and spread the word about the content at your site. For example, a public library's
headlines could be shown on a city's Web site or on those of dozens of associations
and organizations. A corporate library's RSS feed could show up in a companywide
news-and-events area as well as on departmental or task-based pages. To find
out more about RSS feeds, check out the list of RSS Resources.
Design: See how easy it is to customize the design so you can make
it match your library site or add a new "skin."
Last but not least, to get a blog off the ground you need a talented writer.
You need to find a library staff member who is passionate about words and can
write succinctly. Brevity is important. At the onset of blogging, it's useful
to develop a set of standard editorial conventions to keep the blog consistent
over time. Consider the name of your librarywill you use an acronym or
always spell it out in full? Are headlines entered with title case? Like any
other publication, quality is an essential ingredient for success.
How Blogs Can Help with Marketing
There are dozens of ways that libraries are using blogs already. The most
obvious application is for library news, which you need to be able to update
frequently and easily. Blogging software helps make this job easy enough for
anyone to do it. Here are other ways to use blogs to your advantage:
Promote Library Events: Create a blog that promotes library events
and programs. Reach out beyond the visitors to your regular Web site. Set up
an RSS feed for your blog and alert everyone in your community that they can
include your headlines on their sites or can use an RSS newsreader to see what's
up at the library.
E-commerce sites try to turn each visitor into a repeat customer. Libraries
can try this too. Put an e-mail subscription form on the blog site and encourage
visitors to sign up. This type of permission-based marketing is your chance
to send library news straight to the user's in box on a regular basis. It's
an opportunity to invite visitors to come back to the library or its Web site
over and over again.
Make your blog stand out from the crowd by including some special content
that captures readers' interest. For example, include a "quote of the day" from
a famous literary work, run a trivia quiz each Friday, or share an interesting
fact about your community each week. Some libraries keep lists of "interesting
questions and answers" that could be shared. Don't be afraid to develop a unique
voice for your blog, whether it's that of a friendly helper that explains mysteries
or an authoritative approach that focuses on giving "just the facts."
Support Your Dedicated Users: An obvious hit with most library visitors
is finding out what new books, videos, CDs, or DVDs have been added to the
collection. Think about setting up topics on your blog for each genre: mysteries,
horror, science fiction, romance, and so on. In an academic library, prepare
special alerts about new resources and Web sites for particular departments
Engage Your Community: Post new book reviews and book award lists.
Invite comments and suggestions. Create an online book discussion area by asking
readers to recommend books to others.
Support Your Community: Librarians are always looking for ways to
offer value-added services. Can you offer a special service with the blog and
reach a new audience? A local election news blog that posts announcements about
candidate Web sites, nominations, and meetings might be a natural project for
libraries that are mandated to make local council minutes and agendas available
to the public.
Building New Ties: Are you trying to reach a new area of your community?
What about offering a blog in another language to provide short entries on
upcoming programs and new resources? Perhaps you are trying to reach out to
teachers in order to market library services and to make sure that school visits
work effectively for the library and the schools. What about starting a blog-style
newsletter that's just for teachers? You can focus on special services for
teachers, programs for schools, new research resources, book lists, and seasonal
Web sites of interest. Some blogs allow you to have extended entries and include
Promoting your library's services, resources, and programs online can be
a lot easier with the help of a blog. A great library blog requires three ingredients:
inspiration, motivation, and dedication. Inspiration is that "ah-ha" moment
when your new marketing idea meshes perfectly with a blog as the delivery vehicle.
Motivation is the energy to put good ideas into practice and helps launch the
new blog. Dedication is what comes next. It's the hard work that keeps the
blog updated with pithy, lively posts on a constant
basis. Blogs can be very effective tools for reaching online audiences.
|Blogger and Blogger Pro
||Mac OS X, Win 2k/XP,
personal or nonprofit use
3. The state of the blog by Giles Turnbull, WriteTheWeb2001/02/28
The Blog Realm: RSS, Aggregators, and Reading the Blog Fantastic, by Greg
R. Notess. ONLINE, Vol. 26, No. 6, November/December 2002.
Syndicate Your Headlines Using RSS
RSS Headline Syndication: Frequently Asked Questions for Content Providers
Weblogs CompendiumRSS Resources
Darlene Fichter is Data Library coordinator at the University of Saskatchewan
Library in Canada. Since 1991, she has managed dozens of digital library, Internet,
intranet, and extranet projects. Fichter is particularly interested in human-computer
interaction and emerging technologies. In addition to speaking at library and
IT conferences, Fichter is the Intranet Librarian columnist for ONLINE magazine.
She is also the owner of the Web design and consulting company Northern Lights
Internet Solutions, Ltd. Her
e-mail address is Darlene.Fichter@usask.ca.