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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 7


Online is fine, Part II

Last month's column talked about the ins, outs, and advantages of writing for online journals and other Internet publications. Now, let's move on to discussing some of the various ways to self publish online.

Automated tools and graphical editors have lowered the barrier of entry to the point where any self motivated librarian can self publish on the Internet. Want a blog? Go to Blogger.com or Livejournal.com, register for an account, and have your own within a couple of hours. Want a website? Contact your ISP, Geocities.com, or one of thousands of low cost hosts; use automated site builder tools, or invest in a copy of Microsoft FrontPage. More advanced? Use your own favourite tools and services!

If you're not yet familiar with weblogs, or blogs, these are websites showing brief, reverse chronological postings or musings from the site's author. Content can range from a personal diary, to commentary on new stories, to full length articles and discussions. Weblog software and hosting services allow you to use graphical editors to format and publish your posts to your personal blog without needing to know HTML. (For examples of library-related weblogs, see librarian.net or LISNews.) Interested parties can subscribe to your blog to automatically receive your newest postings as you publish them. (For an easy way to get started subscribing to several representative library blogs so that you can see what the fuss is about, visit Bloglines for librarians in three (and a half) easy steps.)

Blogs and other forms of online self publication can range from the utterly personal to the impersonally professional; those that land closer to the professional end of the spectrum are those most likely to interact fruitfully with your other publishing activities and help build your library writing career.

Online advantages

As discussed last month, publishing in online professional journals can let your work appear in a more timely fashion. You can also, of course, publish anything on your own website or blog the instant you finish writing it – and can start collecting comments and criticism the instant you finish posting it. If you have opinions on a current news story or professional discussion, posting them online allows you to contribute your thoughts while the issue is hot. If you have ideas you want to work out before committing to more formal publication, posting online can help you organize your ideas while simultaneously collecting feedback from others.

Self publishing online can extend your online reputation beyond the presence you establish in the online professional media. If you create a resource of use to other information professionals, or if you build up a reputation as someone with thoughtful comments and insights about professional issues, you will start attracting a regular audience to your personal online presence. Your online writing will be searchable and accessible; you can easily add a link to your resume, to your e-mail signature file, to directories of library-related resources.

Online pitfalls

Those who self publish online do bypass the traditional function of editors and review panels as gatekeepers, and in most cases need to consider ways to duplicate that function by creating their own circle of trusted critics. Be even more careful than when submitting your work to journals to take the time to read your writing over, or have someone else read it over, and determine that it says what you actually want to say – before you put it up on the Internet for the world to see.

The temptation to throw your work online without thinking it through leads some to speak quite dismissively of the potential of these self-publishing venues. Michael Gorman, for one, writes: "Unfortunately, if there are writers of genius, or talent, or even basic competence out there blogging, I have yet to find them. In the early heady days of the Internet, we were promised that, in the future, everyone could be published. Alas, that promise is being fulfilled, which should remind us all to be wary of what we wish for" (Our Own Selves: More Meditations for Librarians, Chicago: ALA, 2005: p. 208).

Most commentators are not quite as provocatively dismissive, but the ease of online publishing does underscore the effort needed to make our online activities useful. Post when you have something to say, rather than for the sake of posting. Blog posts in particular are not necessarily intended to be polished and precise; their very roughness underscores the immediacy and enthusiasm of bloggers' commentary. On a professional blog, though, they are expected to be relevant, coherent, and readable.

Online experimentation

Librarian and technology trainer Michael Stephens explains how his blog, Tame the Web, helps him work out ideas that may later appear more formally in print: "I believe I have a definite voice in my blog that is well-suited to the medium, but would not translate to the literature well at all. A few blog entries have seeded articles for sure. I try concepts and thoughts on for size in my blog, and I'm pleased if an idea for an article appears there." Library Stuff's Steven M. Cohen concurs: "Some of the content that I put on my weblog can be seen as a testing ground for more 'formal' writing. Having readers comment on my posts also helps in forming theories that can go into future columns. In fact, I count on those comments, which is something that is lacking in the professional literature, at least in 'real-time'."

Blogs offer a built in mechanism for organizing and preserving your thoughts on a subject; their commenting function and e-mail links allow easy input from your colleagues. Newer ideas include using a personal wiki to brainstorm and organize your ideas; think about what format better matches the way you think and inherently self-organize. (Wikis are basically open editing systems that allow any user – or any authorized user – to edit and create any of an interrelated collection of web pages. Check out SeedWiki or Jotspot.) If you are collaborating on a writing project with another librarian, either blogs or wikis can be an interesting way of collecting your contributions, organizing your thoughts, editing your work, and commenting on each other's ideas.

When blogs make it even to Time Magazine, we need to pay attention. Adding our voices as librarians to the larger blogger and other online communities is one way to remain relevant online participants as we work on transforming our profession in the Internet age.

If you do decide to publish a library or information related blog or web site as a counterpart to other professional writing, keep these simple guidelines in mind: keep it useful, keep it topical, and keep it professional. Look at what else is out there, and think about where you might fill a niche. Think about your overall research and writing interests and how these can intersect with your online activities. Before establishing your own site or blog, think about how often you can commit to updating it and whether you have the self motivation to continue writing after the initial creative rush.

Once you have committed to creating your own self publishing venue, don't forget the most important rule – enjoy exploring the various connections and professional advantages it offers!

For further reference

Block, M. (2002), "Web contributions and tenure decisions", Ex Libris, No. 159, November 14.

Levine, J. (2002), "Blogging and the shifted librarian", Info Career Trends, July.

Mortensen, T and Walker, J. (2002 ), "Blogging thoughts: personal publication as an online research tool", in Mortensen, A. (Ed.) Researching ICTs in Context, InterMedia Report, Oslo, pp. 249-279.

Tonkin, E. (2005), "Making the case for a wiki" Ariadne, No. 42, January.