Library Blog Basics

I think we can probably agree that libraries are no longer exclusively geographical locations that our users come to: patrons also visit virtually. Many of their tasks at a library’s website are pragmatic — renewing books, checking their records, searching the online catalog and placing holds — but, increasingly, libraries are beginning to think of their online spaces as destinations for patrons; as communities of web denizens.

Victoria recently discussed social media planning for libraries. Another way librarians can create community in the library’s virtual space is by designing and sustaining blogs.

Last year, my library decided to expand our blog, from a repository of new titles lists and the occasional notice of a change in policy, to a content-rich space for library users to get to know staff, learn more about services, find topical book reviews, read about recent developments, and, yes, also to find the new titles lists they love.

To start the process of revamping our blog space as a virtual living room of ideas, we went through a process that took about a month in total. This was to be an experiment of sorts, something we’d try out and see if it was interesting to our members.

  • A colleague and I brainstormed the logistics of changing style and format for the blog; an example of the kind of decisions we made is deciding how many lines of a post are visible before the reader would need to click through to read the piece; our answer was four.
  • Then we settled on some metrics for measuring engagement — namely, pageviews (how often a post was clicked through to be read in full).
  • I researched blogs that other libraries were hosting, and analyzed how often they posted, recurring topics, and formats for posts (e.g., video, text, image).
  • Colleagues and I discussed the feasibility of posting regularly, considering our existing workloads. In my research, I’d found that most libraries were publishing an average of three or four pieces on their blogs each week, so we set our aim on posting two or three topical articles and a new titles list.
  • After settling on a frequency, we hashed out a list of possible topical categories for posts, based on what I’d seen on other libraries’ blogs: library services, events and programs, reading recommendations, history articles, and personal essays of staff.
  • I created a style guide so that we could develop a consistent tone, while preserving each author’s individual voice. The style guide indicates image guidelines (both size and sourcing), a list of topical categories, desired word count ranges, how to link to web sources and to materials in our catalog, and other technical specs.
  • I set a new posting schedule every six months. Each of sixteen contributors is scheduled to post once every two months, and we’re flexible on this schedule — if any writer is busy with other projects, they are free to skip that post deadline.
  • As we got this project underway, I hosted a peer-to-peer learning session in which I demonstrated all the features of our blog, a step-by-step how-to of posting, and a discussion of topics and categories of articles, followed by Q&A.

Within a few months of beginning this experiment in institutional blogging, we measured results — blog pageviews had increased by over 300%! Anecdotally, we were hearing about some of the pieces at the reference desk. Members began to request books listed in the posts. Although our blog isn’t open for comments, we began to feel this sense of online community bleeding into the IRL world of the library building.

Thus far, blogging has been a successful venture for us, allowing our patrons to share in the life of the library more fully by engaging with staff on a regular basis a few times a week. To be sure, members still visit our website to renew their books and check the library hours. But for those who are interested in content — whether they’re reading about our Chess Coordinator’s personal experience as a child coming to Mechanics’ Institute to watch the chess matches of Boris Spassky, or a readers’ advisory article on resistance-themed fiction, or a collection of the writerly quotes of Truman Capote — there’s also something on our site for these patrons to linger over. Our blog has become a virtual leisure space on the website, and, all things being equal, it’s something we plan to sustain over the long haul.

Does your library have a blog? What tips do you have for developing one?