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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Newspaper columns

I have been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1987. For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.

For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.

There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.

I maintain an email list of folks who have indicated that they would like to receive my columns. But since 1996, my institution, Douglas County Libraries, has hosted them as well. Current columns can be found (at this point in our library website's development) here. [Note: I've updated this link to our new website, as of June 10, 2008.]

When I found blogspot, I was so impressed with the ease of posting -- and frankly, how much better the postings looked than our library's presentation of my columns -- that I set up another blog just for newspaper columns. It's here. Most of the people who looked at the two presentations side by side distinctly preferred blogspot's appearance and usability.

So I suggested to several members of my staff that it might not be necessary to put my columns on the library website anymore. That would save time for the folks who posted it. Moreover, while I have been the director for a long time now (18 years!), some day I won't be, and who knows how the next director will feel about hosting his or her predecessor's opinions.

My staff demurred, however. They recast it in a couple of interesting ways.

* a collection development issue. My columns constitute a digital archive, a collection of "born digital" objects. That collection is relevant to the history of the Douglas County Libraries. It is a part of our institutional memory.

* including my columns in the website integrates their content with other library searches. That's a patron convenience, when, for instance, they heard about a library program through my column, and are trying to find it using some of the keywords I used.

* our own upcoming website redesign (out for staff testing next month, and public rollout sometime in May) will in fact be far more blog-like. That means that I can post it myself (freeing up that staff labor), and continue the maintenance of the digital archive.

* incorporating my ongoing columns on the library website allows for some Web 2.0-type citizen comments. Then, when I write about library issues, people can comment on them in a way that might provoke more community discussion.

Those are all good arguments, I think.

So I think I've decided to hang onto the library website, at least until I see how the new software works. I don't know if I'll continue with the blogspot version; there's no point in maintaining two sites with the same information. Interestingly, when I experimented with it -- quickly adding my 2008 pieces -- blogspot's algorithm for "spam blogging" flagged the new blog, and has prevented me from posting to it. I've asked them to reconsider, just today, and we'll see how long it takes them to sort that out.

Lessons learned:

* libraries should be thinking about the creation of digital repositories, and their local columns or press releases might be easy sources for that.

* blogging as a format for library websites seems to be gaining some traction.

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