Digital Scholarship @ The Libraries

Inspiring innovative digital scholarship at the OSU Libraries and beyond

Category: Scholarly blogging

Multi-author blogs: Getting the most out of a tricky (but powerful) format

The OSU Libraries WordPress Users Group recently met to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart: multi-author blogs. As you may have gathered from my last post on the topic, I’m a big fan of the group blog format. It allows for a broader perspective on a topic and a range of voices, and good multi-author blogs are truly more than the sum of their parts. You may  have also noticed that I don’t recommend that everyone venture blithely into the group blogging realm, because it comes with a set of built-in challenges that some folks will be happier dealing with than others. Based on the Users Group discussion, here is some advice to help you get the most of of your multi-author blog.

What can a group blog do for you?

The major benefits to working with the group blog format are interest, connections, and efficiency. Having multiple authors can make your blog more interesting by incorporating different perspectives and writing styles, and allowing you to cover a broader range of topics. It may give you an opportunity to connect with people you don’t otherwise have many opportunities to work with – inside of your organization and elsewhere. Finally, if writing time is limited for you, or you find you are more adept at the editing side of things than the authoring one, facilitating other people’s posts may allow you to more efficiently create a great blog.

What won’t it do?

Having multiple authors isn’t a sneaky way to ‘outsource’ your blog, and it won’t necessarily cut down on the total time you need to spend on it. If you have an opportunity to contribute to someone else’s group blog, congratulations! Most of us, if we want to work in that space, need to make it happen ourselves, and will therefore find ourselves in an editorial role. Being an editor means that you will need to articulate a vision for your blog, set it up, do a bit of writing yourself, and then recruit content. And then recruit some more content. And then follow up with the folks you recruited so that they actually turn something in. Depending on your own work habits and the level of investment on the part of your authors, it can be just as time-consuming as writing content yourself.

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Guest Post: Upping Your Blog Game

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of posts dedicated to helping Libraries’ faculty and staff use blogs as an effective publishing tool. The first, a post by Beth Snapp on the IT blog,  Carousels, Drop-Down Menus, and Forms: Little Known Features of OSUL Blogs, is about the mechanics of working with WordPress. The second, Beyond the Nuts and Bolts: Blogs as Publishing, presents strategies for developing and maintaining an effective blog. In this installment, blogger extraordinaire Caitlin McGurk shares tips for writing in the blog environment.




Caitlin McGurk here, Associate Curator for Outreach & Engagement at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICLM). I was honored when Melanie asked me to be a guest blogger for Digital Scholarship @ The Libraries to share some helpful tips on how to create a successful library blog. Thanks, Melanie! And thank you, for reading.

First, some background-
I have been working for BICLM for about 4 years, and at the very start of my time here I noticed what seemed like a big problem with a simple solution. As all Special Collections libraries find, the very essence of our “specialness” unfortunately puts us in a position of limited visibility and access by the nature of our restrictions on material use. In an era where libraries–and archives in particular–must deal with the gradual decline of use and necessity to students due to the digital world, it’s more important than ever that we find a way to speak our users’ language and show them our ability to remain relevant and engaging. At BICLM, I immediately addressed this issue by launching a blog, a Facebook page, and twitter feed – all of which have grown to have mass impact and success. Within the first 3 years, we had over 119,516 “unique” blog visitors (which does not count individuals who have continued to visit the blog multiple times), with an average of 35,789 visits per month. For one particularly successful blog post, we have had over 28,788 views! Clearly, we were onto something.  Since then, we have launched Instagram, Tumblr, and Vine feeds as well.

But beyond simple statistics, we were finding that these social media and blog interactions were not only raising awareness of our library, but helping to build and support the collection and research use. On multiple occasions, we have had someone find a blog post of ours about a cartoonist relative of theirs, or a general interest of theirs, and it has led to them making a donation. We’ve also had researchers from around the globe tell us that they came here to look at something they found out about through our social media or blog posts, which is incredibly rewarding. But perhaps the biggest reward that we’ve seen from our digital outreach is the intellectual discussion that it stimulates, the sharing of ideas and new discoveries among seasoned scholars and newly minted comics fans. It has become our way of remaining engaged with the community, despite having to keep the collection behind closed doors.

Below, I’ll share some basic tips for leveraging the success of your blog:

  1. Be consistent: While it isn’t at all necessary to update your blog every day (or every week), I would highly recommend that new content be added at least once a month. We’ve all had the experience of looking up information on the web, and discovering that the site had not been updated since the previous year – and I know that for me, that is always an immediate warning sign that the organization I’m looking into is either defunct or not willing to invest the time in engaging with remote audiences online. With this monthly schedule in mind, remember that not every post has to be an exhaustive one – even an image or two with a brief summary of why you’re sharing them is enough to suffice.
  2. Find your voice: When writing for a blog, always keep in mind that your readers are not the scholarly audience that you may be used to, nor would you want it to be limited to them. I like to use what I call an “informed-casual voice” when writing online, which exudes a certain familiarity and lightheartedness while also asserting my expertise in the field, in a way that is not alienating to the reader. This may take some practice, and I believe that there is no better audience to rehearse it on than willing student employees, who have grown up on internet reading and can view it from their peers’ perspective.  Have fun with what you’re posting – and remember that if you don’t sound excited and interested in it, your readers certainly won’t be either.
  3. Always use images: We are living in a very visual culture, especially as more and more of our communication, writing, and reading takes place through screens. There is nothing better and simpler to use to grab someone’s attention than an interesting image. We can instantly know whether or not a blog post will be of interest to us if there is an image representing something that strikes our fancy, or at least intrigues us to want to know more. Beyond that, it’s also a mark of professionalism and effort. If you are posting about an item in the collection, or an event, don’t be afraid to have someone in the picture as well – statistics have shown that internet posts with images garner nearly 90% more engagement (ie. likes, views, favorites) than those without, and even more so if there is a person in the photo. But most importantly, try to take the best photo you can – nothing says unprofessional like a blurry image.
  4. Stick to the (fun)facts: While it’s easy to get wordy when we’re excited about a post we’re making online, remember that many readers will be engaging with your posts while they have a few spare minutes at work, on breaks, or viewing from their phone. Meaning, get to the point as quickly as you can, use concise and lively language to pull the reader in, and don’t weigh the post down with academic jargon or long-winded details. While some posts (such as conference/event schedule listings) will by nature need to be longer, try not to write anything that takes longer than 5-10 minutes to absorb at the very most. The best part about blogging is that you’re in control of your own publishing platform, so if you have more to say, save it for another post! When deciding on a title, also remember to not be too wordy, and to think of it as “clickbait”, a headline whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to particular content.

Hope you found these tools helpful for making the best posts that you can – happy blogging!

-Caitlin McGurk
Associate Curator for Outreach & Engagement
The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Beyond the Nuts and Bolts: Blogs as Publishing

Editing icon by Luis Prado on the Noun ProjectThis (very long) post is based on a Libraries’ workshop on blogging, held on 5/27/15, which was the second in a two-part series. View the original slides for this workshop here. Part one of the series was taught by Beth Snapp, and was titled  “Carousels, Drop-Down Menus, and Forms: Little Known Features of OSUL Blogs.” 

Why should librarians blog?

If you are reading this, the odds are you don’t think blogging in libraries is a complete waste of time. Nevertheless, I’d like to open with a brief discussion of what I see as the most compelling reasons for us to put our time and energy into blog-based publishing. I think of this list, collectively, as The Visible Library. (It’s a play on the phrase “The Invisible Library,” which is used to refer to those books that only exist in fiction.) All of these are ways in which blogging can provide greater visiblity to libraries and the work of librarianship:

  • News and updates: Since they are easy to use and allow for chronological, serial posting, blogs are a good platform for announcements about services, collections, facilities, and upcoming events.
  • Broaden the reach of our events: Speaking of events, we have too many of them that are completely invisible and inaccessible to anyone who wasn’t able – because of time or geography – to attend in person. Blogs can be used to distribute write-ups of events, to share research or interesting work done during the planning phase, or to continue the discussion afterwards.
  • Educate users and peers: This one’s pretty self-explanatory.
  • Tailored discovery: In our broad discussions about the principles of library discovery last fall, one of the ideas that consistently rose to the top was the need to provide tailored discovery environments for different groups. That’s a really tricky thing to do in traditional discovery environments (like the catalog), but a fairly easy thing to do in a blog environment. A blog can serve as an entry point into the library for a specific user group, where resources, services, and events of possible interest to that group are aggregated and described in accessible terms.
  • Make the work of librarianship more visible: I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for this one. The work of librarianship is fascinating, and largely invisible to folks outside of it. It includes intensive research and innovative teaching, interesting (if geeky) technical processes, and the development of cutting-edge services. One of the best ways we can advocate for ourselves and advance professional practice is to show people – users and peers – what we do.

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Why do academics blog? (Link)

Why do academics blog? It’s not for public outreach, research shows (The Guardian Higher Education Network)

The link above is to an article on a fascinating, small-scale study on academic blogging. The authors, Pat Thomson and Inger Mewburn, analyzed 100 academic blogs to get a feel for the landscape and to determine the bloggers’ motivations. The entire article is worth a read, as it touches on a variety of issues around academic blogging – including ways in which it is (mis)perceived by institutions of higher education. The best part, though, is the authors’ description of the academic blog-o-sphere in two distinct ways: as a common room for academics and as a variation of open access publishing. An excerpt:

After conducting this small study we have come to think about academic blogging in two ways. Firstly, many bloggers are talking together in a kind of giant, global virtual common room. Over at one table there is a lively, even angry, conversation about working conditions in academia in different parts of the world. In a different corner another group are discussing their latest research projects and finding common themes.

Another table houses a group of senior and early career academics discussing how to land a book contract and write a good CV. There is also a meeting going on about public policy, and this involves a number of public and third sector people, as well as academics, who work in the area.

In our sample of blogs, this common room was, by and large, a friendly and safe space. There was a generosity of spirit that marked many of the blogs we read: information and assistance were freely provided and the usual barriers of disciplines, seniority and higher education ranking effects did not seem to apply, at least in obvious ways.

Secondly, we have come to see blogging as a variation of open access publishing. Academics can get to print early, share ideas which are still being cooked and stake a claim in part of a conversation without waiting to appear in print. On blogs we can offer commentary on the work of others in a more relaxed – or opinionated – way than we might do in conventional journals, where we will be subjected to the normalising gaze of peer reviewers.

How to write a post for this blog

In the not-quite-a-year that this blog has been live, 20 people have written for it. Many have contributed one post; a few are regular contributors. Because the scope of the blog is so broad, I am thrilled to have had voices from IT, Research and Education, and Special Collections and Area Studies, in addition to Collections, Technical Services, and Scholarly Communications (my wheelhouse). One of my goals for this blog is to have it serve as a showcase for the huge variety of digital scholarship-related work that is done in the Libraries, and, while we’ve only scratched the surface, it already gives a flavor of that through sheer variety. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first large group blog we have had here at the Libraries. It’s also the first time many of the contributors have had to directly confront ‘digital scholarship’ as a topic, so it’s not surprising that my invitations to my colleagues to write for it are often met with questions like, “Wait…what do you want me to write about?” I also get lots of questions about appropriate post length and voice. Since those questions come up so frequently, I thought it would be worthwhile to write a post…about how to write a post. I think I will structure it as a series of questions:

Q: What should I write about?

A: Read the definition of digital scholarship in the post I linked to above, and think of anything you do that relates. It’s a pretty broad definition, so odds are you can find something. I would also encourage you to think about what you want to get out of writing for the blog. Do you want an excuse to learn more about a particular topic? Is there something interesting happening in your area that you want your colleagues to know about? Do you want to show off your (or the Libraries’) expertise in a given area? Being aware of why you’re writing will not only help motivate you to get it done, it will help focus your writing.

Q: How much should I write?

A: How much do you want to write? How much do you have to say about your topic? I know that’s a total non-answer, but I’m not going to turn away your post because it’s too short or too long. There are posts that consist of a link and a few sentences of context, and that’s fine. There are some that are much longer, and that’s great, too. One caution with long posts, though – blogs work best in easily-digestible chunks, so if you have a lot to say, it might be best to break it up into two or more posts. I would also caution you against biting off more than you can chew. If the topic you want to write about is going to require a month of research and writing, you might want to consider scaling it down. Not that I’m opposed to having well-researched content on the blog, but odds are you will just keep putting it off indefinitely because it’s too big a task and really – is it worth it if you’re just going to end up with a blog post? Most of the time it’s best to pick something you can bang out in an hour or two.

Q: What sort of writing style should I use?

A: There is no prescribed style for the blog. Some people write very formally; others compare their work to their children’s favorite movie. My preference is for a more conversational style, but whatever you’re comfortable with is ok.

I think that covers it. Have an idea for a post? Let me know!

U.OSU and the Publishing Program

Introducing U.OSU.EDU

Last week brought some great news on the publishing front – the university-wide roll-out of U.OSU.EDU, Ohio State’s professional website platform. Created by the new Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE), and Arts & Sciences Technology Services, U.OSU allows any OSU student, staffer, or faculty  member to create a website to showcase their work, or their studies, or their experience here at Ohio State. According to the U.OSU blog,

U.OSU provides web space to support professional and educational activities at The Ohio State University. Students, faculty and staff use U.OSU.EDU to share independent work, host course assignments, enhance project visibility, communicate within groups, and represent organizations.

The new platform is hosted by EduBlogs, and is built on WordPress software. Although it is based on a blogging platform, the creators are billing it – and teaching people how to use it – as a more general website platform, from which blogging functionality can be removed or de-emphasized if desired.  Right now it has a very limited selection of themes and plugins, but the ODEE team is tweaking and adding new functionality all the time, so you can expect the offerings to expand in the future. It is not, however, meant to be highly customizable; rather, it is meant to support the website needs of most of the OSU community in a standard way. A user can create up to five sites, but they are all tied to his or her name.#, and will not be maintained indefinitely after he or she graduates, or moves to a different institution, so it really is a tool meant to support the needs of current OSU students, faculty, and staff.

I’m a big fan of academic blogging and of similar programs elsewhere (like the University of Mary Washington’s UMW Blogs), so I’m thrilled this platform is now available to the OSU community. I also want to extend my appreciation to the folks at ODEE and ASC Tech, because a program like this at a place the size of OSU is not a trivial undertaking. Good work, folks!

So where does the Libraries come in?

As an organization engaged in scholarly publishing, obviously the Libraries would have a keen interest in the new platform. After playing around with it (and congratulating the creators on a job well done), our first order of business is to figure out how it complements our programs and services. I think there is a lot of potential ground to cover here, and I will try to get some other folks to weigh in on different aspects of it in later posts. For now, I’d like to start by looking at how U.OSU.EDU interacts with the Libraries’ Publishing Program, and how the two might support each other.

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The Academic Blog Project (link)

Calling All Academic Bloggers!

Attention faculty, staff, and students – if you blog, or regularly read academic blogs, or want a way to find blogs in your area, make sure to check out this post by Lee Skallerup on College Ready Writing (Inside Higher Ed). Dr. Skallerup has kicked off The Academic Blog Project by issuing a call for academic bloggers to contribute feeds to a mega-directory. The directory currently takes the form of a Google spreadsheet, but it is also being developed into a PressForward site, which will allow for more curation and highlighting of interesting content. It can also be forked to develop separate directories for individual disciplines. Fill out the form to add your blog or one that you read, and keep an eye on the project as it develops.

(There’s also a brief credit to yours truly for identifying an appropriate discipline/subject structure for the project. It’s always good to have a librarian on board!)

From group blogs to open lab notebooks: Types of scholarly blogs

This is the third post in a series about scholarly blogging. The first post looked at the reasons scholars choose to blog, and the second examined some arguments against it. This one delves a little deeper into the subject by looking at some of the different types of scholarly blogs out there. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and the categories I point out here are not mutually exclusive – for example, it’s possible to have a group blog that serves as an open lab notebook. However, it should give a flavor of the huge variety in scholarly blogs.

In a sense, there are as many types of scholarly blogs as there are reasons for blogging. To make it a little more accessible, I have decided to divide them by number of contributors and raw materials vs. polished thoughts. To wind up, I’ll throw in some thoughts on microblogging.

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Arguments against scholarly blogging

This is the second post in a series about scholarly blogging. The first post explored the reasons why scholars choose to share their work via blogs. This one is looking at some common arguments against it. Those arguments can be summed up as: overloadstealing and scooping, nothing to say, and exposure.

Image by GrungeTextures on flickr, CC-BY-NC

Image by GrungeTextures on flickr, CC-BY-NC

Disclaimer: I’m biased. I think that scholarly blogging is a good thing, and that more academics should do it. I’m bringing up some arguments against blogging partly so I can refute them. That said, it’s important to think about the possible downsides of so public an activity. Some of them can be avoided; the ones that can’t…well, at least you were warned.

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Scholarly blogging – why do it?

“Academic blogging holds out the possibility of extending the role of the academic, rather than threatening its diminution. It allows for discoverability, less specialised communication, and a degree of space and freedom to extend beyond the realms of research.” – Mark Carrigan (LSE Impact of Social Sciences)

Image by Travelin' Librarian on flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Image by Travelin’ Librarian on flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Since I started this blog six months ago, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the act of blogging itself, and the role it plays in academia. I’ve found myself reading blogs by scholars across a variety of disciplines and asking questions like, “Why do some faculty members blog, and others don’t? What do they get out of it? How is it seen by their peers? How is it seen by the university? Who is blogging here at OSU?” Since blogging can be a form of digital scholarship, it seemed worth taking the time to read what other folks have said about these issues and share some thoughts here. This post is the kick-off for a new category on the blog – Scholarly blogging – and a series of posts on the topic.

One of the first things you notice when you start reading about scholarly blogging is that it is a polarizing activity. Those who do it frequently see it as vital to their work, while those who don’t often view it as incomprehensible at best, and a frivolous time sink at worst. Given the wide gap between these two points of view, I think it’s worth starting off this series with an exploration of the reasons scholars blog. In brief, those reasons are impact, engagement, freedom, and improvement.

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