information disintermediation & overload, academic law libraries, alternative legal theories, library creativity


It's a Blogs World (MALL Newsletter, July/August 2002)

The Internet is a growing, organic body of content that can evolve as quickly as a new site is added to the Web. One of the current hot trends in web creativity is the phenomenon of the blog, which in its more common incarnation seems to function like a public diary. How can these stream-of-consciousness meanderings have any relevance to the practice of law librarianship?  In reality, these compendiums of seemingly random data can provide much useful information. Let’s take a look at the basics of blogs and their application to our profession.


Terminology and Origins


Blog is a shortened form of the phrase “web log.” Blogging is the verb for maintaining a web log. A blogger is a person who creates and maintains a web log, and is also the name of a popular blog creation tool (http://www.blogger.com).


A blog is presented in reverse chronological order, updated regularly, and usually generated by special blogging software (see below). The content could be anything along a wide spectrum, from online personal diaries to the posting of interesting web resources with no commentary. In my opinion, the blogs most useful for librarians lie in the middle of this spectrum – pointing to information on other websites and blogs while providing comments and opinions about this information. (See also http://www.llrx.com/columns/notes46.htm)


Blogs have been around since the early days of the World Wide Web, but were not noticed by the mainstream media until 1999. Since then, the popularity of blogs has grown steadily. There are many good accounts of blog history on the web, including http://www.llrx.com/features/lawblog.htm and http://www.salon.com/tech/col/rose/1999/05/28/weblogs/index.html.


Library and Law Blogs


Librarians were in the first wave of Internet adapters, and naturally they have taking to blogging, too. A sample of some general Library Blogs include The Shifted Librarian (www.theshiftedlibrarian.com), Virtual Acquisition Shelf & News Desk (http://resourceshelf.freepint.com/), Library Stuff (www.librarystuff.net), LibraryPlanet.com (www.libraryplanet.com), and librarian.net (www.librarian.net.


Lawyers like to talk, write, and listen to other lawyers talk, even on the Internet, so there are many specialized Law Blogs. Ernie the Attorney (http://radio.weblogs.com/0104634/) has the best list of legal blogs. Some others you may wish to explore are How Appealing (http://appellateblog.blogspot.com/), Bag and Baggage (http://bgbg.blogspot.com/), and the LitiGator (http://radio.weblogs.com/0110436/).


Combine law and libraries and you get Law Library Blogs. Many of us are already familiar with LLRXBuzz (www.llrx.com/buzz/buzz120.htm), which does bear the characteristics of a blog. I invite you to take a look at Leah’s Law Library Weblog (http://radio.weblogs.com/0109773/) and my own Exploded Library (www.explodedlibrary.info) for further examples of law library blogs. The Virtual Chase Alert (www.virtualchase.com) is perhaps the most useful resource, but it’s not strictly a web log, although it does offer an RSS feed (see below).


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Blog


As with most developments on the web, there are plusses and minuses to the practice of blogging.


Good things about blogging:

  • Blogging software makes it very easy to maintain a blog.
  • Blogging blurs the distinctions between reader, author, and commentator.
  • Informality – most blogs have no pretensions about being polished work and there is a general understanding that blog information is not to be taken at face value.
  • News feeds offered by some blogs can help with the information overload problem.
  • Blogs can be very current and are a good way of keeping one’s finger on the pulse of developments affecting the profession.
  • Blogging can be fun and opens a door into the blog community.


Bad things about blogging:

  • Blogging is too easy – anybody can maintain a blog.
  • The informal nature of blogs makes it possible for the blogger to add inane or inaccurate comments, or even do more sinister actions like alter /distort another person’s words.
  • There is a lot of redundancy in blogs – many point to and feed off each other – although this is not always a bad thing.
  • Combined with listservs, group emails, automated searches, clipping services, print and electronic journals, and everything else, blogs simply add to the information overload that all law librarians (also known as human filters) must deal with daily.
  • The power of blogging can be abused. Blogs have been to create Google Bombs, a deliberate way of associating one item (usually unfavorably) with another unlike item. See also: http://www.microcontentnews.com/articles/googlebombs.htm


The Exploded Library: My personal experience with blogging.


I had heard about blogging in abstract terms since 1999, but I only started reading blogs while taking a creative writing class at the Loft last spring. While I was researching the background of a particular character, I discovered LiveJournal, a site that allows people to create their own anonymous online diaries. Some LiveJournals are painfully personal and detailed, others contain creative writing, some are mutterings about jobs or co-workers, some seek advice about relationships, or rant about pet hates or unresponsive companies.


In LiveJournal it is possible to indicate your interests and find other people with similar interests. Then those people can get together and form a LiveJournal community. One such group that immediately caught my eye was the Library Lover’s community. Within this community I found links to other library blogs outside of LiveJournal.


I will momentarily digress and mention that there are many different tools and software for blogging. LiveJournal, Blogger (www.blogger.com), Movable Type (www.movabletype.org), and Radio Userland (radio.userland.com) are some of the better-known programs. There is something about LiveJournal that lends itself to more personal, diary-style journals, rather than work-oriented opinions about discoveries on the web. This isn’t to say that a LiveJournal couldn’t be work-related.


Everybody has different learning styles, and I learn best by doing. So I decided that the best way I could learn how blogs really work was to make my own work-related blog. This was how the Exploded Library (www.explodedlibrary.info) came into being.


I chose Radio Userland for one main reason: it offers two applications of the new RSS news feed technology (http://gils.utah.gov/rss/). First, it offers a news aggregator of other people’s RSS news feeds. If a blog has the  icon (or says that it offers RSS/XML), you can add it to Radio Userland’s news aggregator. This means that I can monitor 20 RSS blogs easily in the one place, rather than having to view 20 separate web sites. Then if a post or story catches my eye, it’s very simple to post it to my own blog and add comments to it. This technology makes it so easier to maintain a blog. Genie Tyburski of the Virtual Chase compares it to receiving a digested version of a listserv. Second, Radio Userland automatically makes an RSS version of your own blog, which makes it more convenient for other people to read or monitor it. If readership is important, it certainly helps to offer an RSS feed of your web log. Radio Userland is the not only way of doing this – it just makes it very easy and seamless. The downside is that at $40, Radio Userland costs more than most of the other blogging software.


It is very easy to setup your own plain vanilla blog on Radio Userland. It is more of challenge to create a highly customized blog, such as the Shifted Librarian (www.theshiftedlibrarian.com). For me, customizing the Exploded Library will be an ongoing project. But it is a worthy one, because it’s a part of my job to stay up-to-date with the technology and the information offered by blogging.


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© Copyright 2002 Morgan.
Last update: 12-Aug-02; 1:25:41 PM.