Building a Home for Library News with
by Doug Goans and Teri M. Vogel
As organizations of information professionals, libraries are busy acquiring,
evaluating, selecting, and disseminating information. For dissemination, a
library may use newsletters, press releases, or its Web site to let patrons
know what is new and available.
In recent years, one Web phenomenon that has drawn a lot of media attention
is blogging. Even if someone has never heard the word "blog" (short for "Web
log"), chances are he or she would recognize one by its content and features.
A blog is essentially a "What's New" page on the Web, an online journal or
diary. Web pages for "news," traditionally built using static HTML, usually
adopt the blog moniker when newer technologies such as XML or Web databases
are invoked to manage the submission, delivery, and searching or browsing of
the content. In addition, the layout of blog pages has a familiar feel across
the Internet. Content on the page is presented in bursts of text arranged in
reverse chronological order, including the date it was posted. There is also
some means for a site visitor to access an archive of previous postings, usually
Many libraries have "What's New" sections on their Web sites to publicize
new resources, services, or events. We've had one since 2000, when I was hired
as Pullen Library's Web development librarian at Georgia State University.
Georgia State is an urban campus serving approximately 25,000 students who
rely heavily on remote access to information and use the Web to access library
resources and services. At Pullen, we also have a formal liaison librarian
program where librarians are responsible for collection development, specialized
reference and instruction, and outreach for one or more assigned academic departments.
The liaisons have space on the Web site where they use FrontPage to build content
for their patrons, such as class guides, subject guides, or newsletters.
In 2001 and 2002, I began moving portions of our static HTML content into
a Web database and serving pages dynamically to site visitors. Examples of
database-driven content include the e-journal lists, our subscription database
list, and our personnel directory. Based on the success of these projects,
I began contemplating ways to automate our HTML news pages. Specifically, I
wanted to automate the submission and presentation of news content for the
library home page. My plan was to store content in a MySQL database, a robust
open source database suitable for Web projects, and manage the content using
In the fall of 2002, I met with Teri Vogel, one of our science liaison librarians,
to discuss a project she was considering. She wanted to find a way to deliver
news to Georgia State University science faculty and students that would be
easier and faster to produce than a traditional newsletter. She thought that
a blog might be the answer and wanted to know if library Web support would
be available or if she should move ahead with this independently.
I shared with Teri my intentions to automate the Web site news, which had
a few components of a blog system already being planned. We saw the potential
advantages of a centrally supported system and decided to combine our two initiatives,
and so our collaborative blogging project was born in November 2002.
House Hunting, Amenities
One of the first things we did when we started this project was to look at
other blogs, particularly library blogs. We wanted to see 1) how libraries
and librarians are using blogs and 2) what features we wanted to incorporate.
Despite the mainstream media coverage in places like Newsweek, The
Washington Post, The New York Times, and articles in the library
literature that advocate and promote the use of blogging in libraries, few
libraries are actually doing so. While some organizations like Macromedia
are encouraging their employees to set up their own blogs, the vast majority
of blogs in existence are individual endeavors rather than organizational-level
efforts. While some blogs are clearly managed by libraries to publicize their
news and events, most blogs are personal sites, owned by librarians whose
employers do not actively promote or link to them. Some personal blogs contain
links to employers, but we rarely find clear integration between a library's
Web presence and the blogs of its employees. For our project, we envisioned
an official organizational blog to publicize librarywide news and events,
with a hierarchy of integrated topical "sub-blogs" managed by smaller groups
We already knew the typical features that we needed to include and could
expand upon. We wanted each entry to be tagged with a time stamp, a subject
category, and some indication of ownership so the reader not only knew when
an entry was posted but also who posted it. We also wanted patrons to be able
to access an archive of previous entries several ways: keyword searching, date
browsing, and subject browsing. These are other features we wanted:
Priority Announcements and Alerts: Tagging an entry to remain
at the top of the page indefinitelygood for posting alerts about
service outages or emergencies
Group Blogging: We wanted the blogs to be cooperative efforts
between groups of librarians wherever possible, to ensure shared responsibility
for content management.
Posting Manipulation: The ability
to pre-and post-date content and suppress postings
Cross-Blog Requests: A mechanism allowing an individual to
request an entry be published to the library home page, as well as the ability
link, or include content posted by any other blogger in our system to use
in their blog
Rent, Buy, or Build?
Once we decided that the blog model would be the perfect fit for our library's
automated news endeavors, the next step was to determine how best to go about
it, and to do this we needed to ask ourselves several important questions:
What resources (personnel,
expertise, time, technology) could we realistically devote to this project?
How much control did we want
to have over the appearance and functionality of the blogs?
How were we going to implement the blog solution technically,
and how would it fit within the library's ongoing and future Web initiatives?
From our research we discovered three blogging options:
1. Blog off-site using an external
2. Use third-party blogging software
to manage the blog on our server.
3. Create our own blog entirely in-house.
In terms of costs, advantages, and trade-offs, these solutions are analogous
to renting an apartment, purchasing a house, or building a home. We evaluated
and assessed the options, software, and services available against what we
wanted for our library. (See chart on next page.)
The divisions between the "rent" and "buy" options are becoming less distinct
as time goes on. Blogging software companies are now offering hosting as well.
Basic hosting in some cases is free, and "premium" accounts are being offered
with more advanced features for a fee (Movable Type). Some software companies
are also the front ends for a separate hosting service (Blogger).
Let's Build It!
If my position as a Web developer did not exist, or if the library did not
have unfettered Web server access, we might have opted to use third-party blogging
software, which would have allowed us some degree of interface control while
reducing costs associated with personnel and technology support. However, after
weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the options and assessing our
resources, we decided to build our own blog in-house. With absolute control
over the features and functionality, we could incorporate the blog project
into routine Web database development endeavors, we could use the MySQL database
already running on our site to store the content, and we could have a hierarchy
of multiple blogs under a single administrative system.
We decided to build two blogs simultaneously, one main blog for Library News
in general and the sub-blog for Science News. By building them together, we
could make sure the system was going to work as intended, and we could assess
the challenges and issues that liaison librarians and future library bloggers
might face. There were four of us on the development team: Teri and the other
science liaison librarian to provide input on the interface and features, plus
our Web programmer and me who would focus on the database and programming work.
In December 2002, the liaisons created a prototype design for the blog interface,
and I worked with the programmer to design Web templates in Active Server Pages
(.asp) based on the prototype. The programmer and I then developed the interface
with online forms to work with the MySQL database that powers the blog. We
spent the rest of December building the initial system on a test server and
moved it to the live server in January 2003.
The blog system went public quickly and without much fanfare so we could
get the service running but still have time to improve it and address any problems.
We used this time to review the system from all points of view (blogger, patron,
and administrator) and to suggest and implement changes and enhancements to
the interfaces, database, and programming. We were also able to take all of
the preexisting HTML news postings from 2000 forward and import them into the
database. Importing our older content allowed us to retain our collection of "What's
New" information for the past few years and to populate our new blog system
with archived content.
Between January and July 2003, we continued to actively use the system with
occasional refinements. Staff carried out two major updates to the system during
this time. First, we made the code more efficient and optimized it to accommodate
the addition of future sub-blogs. Second, we validated the blog system against
XHTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). We were building a blog system in-house
so it made sense to at least build to the standards widely used on the Web
for most blog services.
Having an Open House
We built our blog system with Windows IIS, MySQL, and Active Server Pages.
The blogger uses an online Web form to manage content in the database. When
a user visits the blog, the page queries the database, retrieves the content,
and shows it to the user. There are two basic interfaces of our blog. The user
sees a Web page with typical blog features (left), and the blogger sees the
administration interface with forms to enter, update, and maintain his or her
blog content (facing page).
Doing Home Improvement
Aside from the enhancements during the first part of 2003, we began to use
the blog on a regular basis. We were immediately pleased with how easily we
could publish content on the site in real time. The exchange of content between
the main blog and the sub-blog also worked well. Overall, we were satisfied
and got into the routine of actually using the system. Eventually we regrouped
to consider future renovations to the system that we had not directly addressed
during the development and testing phases:
Creating more sub-blogs for
interested departments and liaison
librarians: We might want to provide a core set of topic categories for
each sub-blog with the ability to
add custom topic categories.
Implementing e-mail subscriptions: We would like to offer a
service to send a weekly e-mail with the latest blog postings to individuals
up for the service.
Marketing the service: The librarywide blog can be accessed
from the prominent News and Events link on our library home page. We can
the blog URLs in e-mails, print materials, and as hyperlinks from other
Web pages. Along with librarywide marketing efforts, the
librarians who are blogging will
also need to market aggressively
to their patrons.
Branding: We need to ensure that
a patron visiting one of the blogs knows the intended purpose of
that page, the authority behind the information presented, and that the
site is part of Pullen Library.
We areworking with our public relations specialist to add taglines and
descriptive text to make these points clear to our site visitors. We also want
to ensure that the blog page
design integrates well with other standard library Web site design
elements such as logos, sitewide navigation, colors, and fonts.
Statistics: We need to collect and keep statistics to measure
use of the blogs. We plan to filter out the IP
addresses of our blogging librarians' computers to increase accuracy of
our patron usage.
It's a Co-Op: Rules for
the Library Organization
Another feature that we discussed but have not yet implemented is a user
feedback mechanism, usually called "Comments" in blog-speak. Because these
blogs are part of our library's Web presence, the administration will have
concerns about allowing patrons to "talk back," thereby adding content to the
library Web site anonymously and possibly irresponsibly. Will our library permit
users to post comments to the blogs, and, if so, how responsible will we be
to moderate that feedback? We have seen that blogging raises questions that
involve discussion and consensus building with library administration and individual
During this project, we faced several such questions that our four-member
development team could not answer for the whole library organization. Who is
permitted to blog, other than the liaison librarians? How do we determine the
appropriate creation and management of new individual or group blogs? What
process and procedures will be needed to accommodate departmental or librarian
requests for blogging accounts? How will accounts be organized within the hierarchy
of our blog system?
Home Sweet Home
Faced with several options to implement a blog model, we chose to build one
in-house. We suggest that librarians who are considering blogging balance their
goals with their available resources and personnel. The more technical support
you have in-house or at your disposal, the more advanced system you can implement.
If you are in an organization with minimal technical support, however, you
can still set up a blog system to power the news and communications portion
of your Web site. Options like external blog hosting or third-party software
are reasonable solutions for libraries with more limited resources.
Setting up the technology may be the easy part. Blogs, like most Web text,
will fail to attract repeat visitors if you don't keep the content current.
The amount of time it takes to contribute and maintain content in addition
to marketing the service must also be taken into consideration.
Why should librarians even care about blogs? Blogs are part of a burgeoning
suite of personal communication and information management tools. They are
already making an impact on the communication and social facets of the Web
in general and are becoming part of the online landscape of technologies that,
like e-mail, we take for granted. In short, libraries and librarians need to
become familiar with blogging as more of their users embrace this technology.
The advantages of blogging cannot be overstated. We can post content 24/7/365
from any location with a Web connection. Our content is archived and searchable.
We are tagging our posts with categories to allow browsing. Blogging may already
be familiar technology to many of our students and Web-connected clientele,
which strengthens our ability to quickly inform and communicate library news
to them in a familiar Web space.
As of this writing we have accomplished these goals:
We've doubled the number of
people blogging in our library.
The blog is driving our main News and Events page.
The sub-blog for the Science News is up and running.
We are preparing for a couple of new sub-blogs.
More of our librarians have expressed interest in learning
about our blog and blogging in general.
So far the system is working well to automate our news, which was my goal,
and it is serving as a channel for liaisons to deliver timely and relevant
news to their patrons, which was Teri's goal. We built a new house for our
library news, but we will continue to look at ways to make our blog space (and
our Web site) an inviting home for our patrons to visit often and to invite
their friends to visit too.
Bausch, P., M. Haughey, and M. Hourihan.
We Blog: Publishing Online with Weblogs. Indianapolis: Wiley, 2002.
Blood, Rebecca. "Weblogs: A History and Perspective." Sept. 7, 2000.
Conhaim, Wallys W. "BloggingWhat Is It?" Link-Up, May/June 2002.
Curling, Cindy. "A Closer Look at Weblogs." Oct. 12, 2001. http://www.llrx.com/columns/notes46.htm.
[Editor's Note: At press time, the Pullen Library changed its name
to Georgia State University Library.]
Doug Goans is the Web development librarian at Pullen Library, Georgia State
University in Atlanta. He holds an M.L.I.S. from the University of Missouri in
Columbia. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Teri M. Vogel is a science liaison/reference
librarian at Pullen Library, Georgia State University in Atlanta. She holds an
M.S.L.S. from Clark Atlanta University. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.