Blogs Can Create Community
There are many benefits to using blogs to run a portion or the entirety of a library website. Among the claims made by proponents of using blogs are a related set:
These three claims are often summarized by the phrase "blogs create community." Libraries have put this idea in motion, and are enjoying the benefits. Read on for some examples of how blogging has created community.
On Tame the Web (http://www.tametheweb.com/ttwblog/), Michael Stephens points out a great example of a human voice shining through on a library website. On the St. Joseph County Public Library's "SJCPL Lifeline" (http://lishost.org/~sjcpl/) a staff member writes a post titled "Must Love Cusack"
If you, too, can't get enough of Cusack you might consider checking out one of his films from our collection. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
She then goes on to list her favorite movies starring John Cusack, the titles acting as links into the library catalog. Her style of writing is the type of informal prose which blogging seems to encourage. It is a welcome antidote to the stiff words of, say, a library bookmark put up on the web. Reading her post is like getting a recommendation from a friend, and making our libraries feel like peoples' friends is a seriously good thing. Could this have been accomplished without the use of blogging software? Certainly. But the ease of use for staff encourages them to write, and influences the way they do it. Putting content on the web isn't a formal, arduous process when using blogs. The fact that it is as easy as sending an email frees the author to be creative.
-Totally open. Patrons' comments appear when they make them. Anonymous comments allowed.
-Approval required. Patrons can comment without registration, but comments don't appear until library staff approve them.
-Registration required. Patrons must have a username and password. This presents an initial hurdle for patrons, but then they are free to comment once logged in.
My place of work, the Thomas Ford Memorial Library, constructed the website for a local history project (http://www.westernspringshistory.org) using WordPress, an Open Source blogging tool, in part because we wanted readers of the site to contribute to the project. Using the comments function on each house record (which actually are all blog posts), people in Western Springs and elsewhere have asked questions, reminisced about houses, provided information about previous owners, volunteered to answer questions, and more. Their contributions will continue to enrich the project. Here are a few examples:
-We purchased this home in 2001 and did some major repair and restoration to this home. The home was turned into a duplex in 1950 and we helped restore it to a single family home.
-Our family purchased this home in 1993 and began a major renovation. We tried, unsuccessfully, to find an original picture of the house dating back to 1873. The renovation was truly a labor of love. The house has recently been sold and will close on July 7, 2005. Another family will and move in and enjoy the wonderful neighborhood, which is filled with children once again! I wish there could be an updated picture on the website! I have one!!
The success of opening up comments on the Western Springs History indicate that doing so could be very appropriate on a library site. Allowing, reading, and responding to comments on a library website, not only involves the community, but it also adds to a library's transparency. Take for example the recent redesign of the Ann Arbor District Library's (http://aadl.org/) website. Based on a content management system that can produce blogs, they've allowed for (registration required) comments, and have had vigorous responses.
Imagine a library gathering their community virtually and creating a library based web community. If done extremely well, a library could construct a self-policing community akin to something like Metafilter (http://www.metafilter.com), one of the web's most popular sites. Readers' Advisory pages could turn into slightly asynchronous book discussions. Feedback could be given about library programs, and questions could be asked of Reference staff. To engage their communities and remain relevant to the people they serve, libraries should consider using weblog software to create community.
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This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License