American Collections blog

25 April 2014

Why We Blog

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Some advice from the 1980s: if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.  With this in mind, the long Easter weekend gave us some time for reflection, as well as a brief denial of service on Typepad. We're also coming to the end of our annual appraisal cycle, known in the Library as the Performance Management Record (PMR).  One of the things on my annual to list is 'promote collections through web and social media; engage with users'.  With this in mind, this post is about two questions: (1) why do we blog, and (2) are we any good at it?

There are some pretty blunt tools to measure the second question. For one thing, our blog is usually listed in the 'top ten' chart on www.bl.uk/blogs. Typepad and Google provide us statistics with how many visits we have, and how long people spend reading posts. We know how many retweets or mentions on Facebook we get, and colleagues in the library's Audiences division send us even more detailed measurements once in a while, along with coloured charts so we can see how far we lag behind the phenomenal Medieval Manuscripts blog. On the social media side of things, we know what Klout thinks of @_americas (and enjoy the conversations and tips on Twitter), and we keep an eye on how many clicks or conversations our Facebook postings encourage.

All these metrics go some way to answering the second question, but its possible that they are measuring the wrong thing, or at least not the only thing. In truth, there are a series of reasons why we spend some of our time posting to this blog, even in the 2010s, when it possibly seems to be a little early 2000s.*

1. For every book its reader. S. R. Ranganathan's third law of library science probably had open access stacks in mind. Most of our titles are safely in our basements at St Pancras or low-oxygen storage in Boston Spa, so perhaps the blog is one way of giving some of our American items some online air. Looking back through the archives, these types of posts form the bulk of the blog.  These may work more as curiosity or entertainment as much as book and researcher matching service, but we know that it's worked from time to time.

2. To be open about what we do. We're probably not very systematic about this, but we hope the blog gives some idea of what the section gets up to, and what it's like being a curator (or Eccles writer-in-residence) at the library. 

3. Showing off. This is perhaps the British way of saying put our best foot forward, but sometimes it's fun to mention who's been to visit, or to celebrate some of the items held by the Library.

4. Engaging with users. (Feel free to comment on the language of this heading in the comments field below.) This could mean the comments field, but in truth, we don't have many comments on the blog (with some exceptions, notably the Canadian $4 bill). That said, we do have a lot of conversations at conferences and in the library as as result of these posts.

5. To learn about the collections. The truth is, of course, that we know at best quite a lot about a sliver of the collections, and more plausibily probably not even that much.  But by spending a little time with an item, reading around it, finding out who is working on them, we get to know a little more.

6. As a record of what we get up to. We forget; and we have PMR forms to fill in.

7. As a guide to our holdings. We have particular pages on the blog about our past exhibitions and bibliographies, such as the the beat bibliography. We also post longer bibliographic guides from time to time, such as Early American women writers, and draw attention to types of material, such as digitised newspapers and other electronic resources.

Most of these can be seen as subsets of the item on my PMR. But perhaps not the most important reason, the one identified by Ferrris Bueller at the start of his day off. While we appreciate all our readers, and want to make our holdings as well and as appropriately used and understood as possible, perhaps the greatest boon of spending half an hour or so once a week is a chance just to look around and think about why we do why we do. Most of time, we're pretty thankful that we do.

 [MJS]

* The full New Yorker article is available via Factiva in the Business and IP Centre, Social Sciences reading room 1 and the new Newsroom: Rebecca Mead, 'Digital Culture: You've Got Blog', New Yorker, 13 Nov 2000: 'A year and a half ago, there were only fifty or so weblogs; now the number has increased to thousands, with blogs like Megnut getting around a thousand visits a day.'

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