Blogging workshop with Mike Ellis & Brian Kelly

So – I'm fresh back at work from the Museums and the Web 2008 conference, and it's time to start downloading some of the thoughts I had heaps of time to cogitate during 14-hour flights and 9-hour stop-overs. First up - the blogging workshop from Day 1, adeptedly run by Mike Ellis and Brian Kelly.

Obviously,the National Library is already blogging - here, at Create Readers, and we also host the NZ Poet Laureate blog. We've already been through the process of identifying audiences, recruiting writers, formulating guidelines, picking a platform, thinking about comment moderation and evaluation, and getting sign off from above. We've been live for about 7 months and have found an audience - we even get some feedback from them.

So what I was looking for in the session were some ideas about how to make the blogs sustainable, or how to push this way of communicating forward - see for example Duke University Libraries' extraordinary Library Answer Person. While this didn't really end up being a big part of the workshop, here are some observations from the session:

1. There are vastly different levels of experience out there

Some people in the session were seasoned online communicators. And yet one of the questions was 'Is it okay to link to other people's websites from your blog?'.

2. Some people are still looking at blogs as something they "have to do".

One of the activities we did was talk in small groups about what kind of blog each of our institutions could possibly start.

I mooted family history for the National Library - it's an area I think we could do great things in, if we had a team of staff to run it (currently, we don't). Family historians make up 40% of our walk-in visitation. After 'national library' and 'alexander turnbull library', 'family history' is the biggest search query bringing people to our site. Pages on the site relating to family history consistently appear near the top of visitation stats. We have expert staff in this area. Our digital collections are rich resources for family historians, but we need to get this message out. Blogging seems to me to offer a good way of building up two-way communication with this user group.

The guy next to me said that his manager had told him they needed a blog. He wasn't sure who their audience might be, what they would write about, or who would write it. His organisation provides professional development support to museum professionals. I asked if they could blog in this area - suggest resources and research, invite questions that they could answer. And he said that they already have an active email list-serv that fulfils that purpose and has a strong community. At which point I had to think - if what you got ain't broke...

3. People are struggling with their institutions

One person in the workshop noted that posts on their blog have to go through their intrepretation department before being published. A number muttered darkly about 'the marketing department', which seeks to control the institutional voice. Copyright - even, I think, in some cases getting permission to reproduce images from people's own collections - seems to be a problem.

4. People aren't sure how to make blogging sustainable

Of the people who were running blogs I don't think anyone said that blogging was part of their job, as opposed to something they do on top of what they're really employed to do.

It's not just the time to write posts. It's all the other things you need to do to really engage and to succeed: researching areas you're interested in, read other blogs and comment on posts, analyse site stats to inform your blogging, look for ways to market your blog, respond to comments, monitor web buzz. Sadly, no one had an answer to this question.

Mine would be that our institutions should introduce 'online ambassador' type roles: people who are blogging and commenting, answering questions, making introductions (oh, you're interested in vintage motorcycles? have you seen our Flickr set?), running classes in real life on RSS and bookmarking ..... Or maybe I'm just a geek and think this would be a fun job ...

5. Everyone wants their curators to be blogging ...

... but no one's sure how to make it happen. A point covered well in this post on The Butterfly Net.

More about the workshop

Mike and Brian's powerpoint slides are up on Slideshare. Check out 'Issues' if, like me, your questions are more to do with sustainability than getting started.

'Why have a blog?' slides

'Issues' slides

'Case study - Electronic Museum' slides

Resources from the workshop here

By Courtney Johnston

Courtney did almost every job in the web team, and is now out in the world and in charge of everything.

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