Small fry, blogging networks, and reputation

So, the PepsiCo blog thing. Right.

Advance disclaimer: this is me talking, not either of my illustrious co-bloggers. We have not yet made a decision about what to do; one co-blogger is across the pond at a conference and the other is vacationing, so that discussion will have to wait a bit. This is just my take.

Book of Trogool is very small fry at ScienceBlogs. Very small. SB was a bit dubious about it at the start, to tell the truth, and if their info-science stable had been better-established I doubt they'd have taken it on. I'm very grateful that they did, because I needed them.

One of the reasons SB's info-sci stable isn't larger is that librarianship is a very difficult profession to blog in. It doesn't like blogs or bloggers, or social media generally, much less trust them or those who engage with each other and the world using them. Because libraries and librarians feel beleaguered, they especially don't like discourse critical of libraries or librarianship in social media coming from one of their own. Library vendors aren't fond of critical discourse in librarian blogs either. For individual librarian bloggers or public social-media figures, this has absolutely meant trouble at work. I'm one example, but very far from the only one—and I earned my problems more than most folks I know in similar straits.

This leaves the beleaguered library blogger who wishes to continue to blog with a few options. One is to be part of a group blog to create strength in numbers; In the Library with the Lead Pipe is a sterling example (and a fabulous blog; if you're interested in libraries from the inside, this is not one to miss). Another is to adopt some of the trappings of the formal library professional literature, such as length, exclusivity, and beta-reading-oops-I-meant-peer-review. ItLwtLP does this as well. A third option is to find a blog home with enough accumulated strength of character and good reputation as to afford some protection—and now you know why I chose ScienceBlogs.

Insofar as letting PepsiCo cadge cachet from SB's stable of bloggers damages SB's reputation (never mind strength of character) it causes me pressing difficulty. I'm not happy about that, because my sense watching events unfold is that SB has seriously damaged its reputation, both by casting its processes into doubt and by losing quite a few talented, brilliant bloggers. Moreover, based on the trajectory of other sellout properties like LiveJournal, unless Adam Bly learns a lot from this experience—and signs point to "not so much with the learning" at this juncture—he will likely err seriously again. And again. Until SB is not only not a shield, but an actual stain on a blogger's escutcheon.

These are petty, selfish concerns, to be sure. They are the tiny concerns of a small-fry blogger. Given that SB is rapidly alienating its big-fish bloggers, however, SB would be advised to heed these concerns, if it wishes to rebuild any sort of a stable.

To be perfectly clear, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with an individual industry scientist or big-pig-publisher employee coming to ScienceBlogs to blog on his or her own initiative. (Me vs. big-pig-publisher employee could be amusing!) I would hope that SB would provide such individuals the exact protections (from their workplaces not least) they have afforded me and other SB bloggers. What's wrong is selling a corporation the chance to trade on the collective cachet accumulated by SB's blogging stable by emitting corporate newspeak under the SB label—and I don't credit for an instant that Dr. Khan or Dr. Mensah or anyone else from PepsiCo will be blogging freely and uninterfered-with. I don't believe all the "advertorial" drapery fixes that basic wrongness.

So I labor under a dilemma. SB has been unique; there are other science-blogging stables, but none of them quite fits Book of Trogool. (Catch me blogging at Nature Networks! Not in this lifetime.) I sincerely doubt any of the group library blogs would take me on; I'm a bit Tabasco for this profession. I can't go back to solo blogging. If SB folds (a possibility, the way things are going), if my co-bloggers are too affronted to continue here, if I decide that I am too affronted to continue here—well, chances are I just hang it up, retreating to the slow, ponderous library literature to get my licks in.

That's not what I want. (Ask my writer's block why. I have named it George...) I hope, instead, that SB can get its managerial act together.

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It is certainly possible to do a group blog with your current co-authors without being hosted by some "collection of blogs". You can just set up a group blog on or or what have you.

What would be the plusses/minuses of that?

I'd also encourage you to consider blogging anonymously, if you think the net effect on your career of blogging is negative. Although I guess maybe people would still be able to tell it was you if they tried, so that's no solution.

I'm still curious as to what reasons blogging seems to have had only a positive impact on my career, as opposed to your experience/impression. Gender issues? Differences in how/what we write (I think I'm at least as blunt and prickly as you, if not more so). It really is causing me harm but I haven't noticed? That I work in "Systems" (programming), as opposed to other departments? That your place of work is more political than mine (or at least my little corner of it).

I certainly do get in hot water by being insufficiently circumspect (to put a nice spin on it) sometimes, but it's usually in person rather than due to the blog. So far as I know. While I know that my blogging (and online communciations in general) has made me enemies, it has also resulted in a (generally good) reputation much wider then I ever would have had without it, occasional job offers, etc. I have no doubt that for me my blogging has been a net positive to my professional reputation.

A group blog in Elsewheresville would be fine with me. I would just have to hope that a co-blog suffices to protect me from further issues at work.

Anonyblogging—I'd be outed in a flash. I've been doing this too long and too prominently for that. I could try to change my voice, but that turns blogging into exactly the kind of writing chore that feeds my @#$%^&$#@ writer's block.

I've had much the same experience as you: outside my specific workplace, blogging has been a major plus for my career. There's no way I'd be doing keynotes and major plenary sessions if I hadn't gotten my name out there through CavLec. Just no way.

Workplace issues (you'll understand that I don't want to say too much): I think it's some of all of those. Gender is definitely a Thing; I'm a woman not blogging like a lady. Differences in what we write: I took some potshots at MPOW back in the day that I absolutely shouldn't have, and as far as I know, you've never made that mistake.

Systems librarianship tends toward the blunter technology culture, which though it has its pluses and minuses, is generally friendlier to my sort of online expression. It's also firewalled off from the "collegiality culture" of librarianship in general, which gives library techbloggers more leeway than I have.

The main thing that divides us, though, is that I've been called on the carpet and you haven't. ;) It does color one's reactions.

WordPress works great and is a snap to get up and running. Your readers would follow you. Many surely do not even notice the SB context. Many surely read via RSS feed and/or learn of posts via the OATP, Twitter, etc. It would be great to not have all the distracting ads too.

By Jason Baird Jackson (not verified) on 08 Jul 2010 #permalink

My current experience trying to be an ever-better reference librarian in a 'It really should be called a College' Small University Library gives me some clues as to how a librarian blogger might fall afoul of non-blogging librarians....but I am curious about what _kinds_ of problems you have encountered (not the gritty details obviously).

As it is, perhaps the most utterly surprising thing about working where I work is to find out that asking questions and making suggestions about (how?) to do things (better?) is often viewed as being reprehensibly is as if only Reference Librarians know how to say "I don't know, let's figure it out". The next most surprising thing are the number of librarians who think that communicating changes and the reasons for changes (or the reasons for preserving the status quo) is unnecessary.

By Prof.Pedant (not verified) on 08 Jul 2010 #permalink

Jason, I blogged on WordPress for many years; you don't need to sell me on it!

Prof.Pedant (may I call you Prof?): Argh. You're trying to make me say things I really, really don't feel comfortable saying in public. Hit up my GMail if you like, but I suspect you'll be disappointed in my answers. There's a lot about the whole affair I simply don't even know.

A quote borrowed (provenance unclear): "Different is not always better -- but better is ALWAYS different."

So if blogging is good for one's (just the hypothetical 'one', certainly not talking about any particular person or workplace) career in the general wider world among colleagues and such, but potentially bad for one's career at a particular local workplace... one possibility is simply accepting that if it doesn't work out for one at one's current place of employment (do to blogging or something else), one's blogging is going to make it MUCH more likely and easier to move on to a job at some other place, ideally one that suits one better and/or one that welcomes publicly outspoken librarians.

While I have generally avoided taking any public potshots at at my place of work, I have on occasion STILL been told colleagues that they thought a blog post (which didn't mention any place of work and which I didn't really mean to target at any place of work) made them look bad, and they didn't appreciate it. For every once or twice someone has actually told me this, presumably there are many more times they've thought it but haven't. But I've never been 'called on the carpet' by a superior, just told informally by colleagues.

Nevertheless, while I try to react to this feedback by writing more carefully, I don't get too worried about my 'career' because of it -- precisely because I know the _net_ effect of my blogging is WAY positive for my career, and will make it significantly easier to get a job elsewhere in what would otherwise be a difficult market, if required. Not that I'm looking, I'm happy where I am.

A question, Jonathan: do you know who precisely objected to what you blogged? Not who told you, who objected.

Because I don't. Give that a think for a bit.

I think there's also a structural difference in what you do versus what I do. Conscientious Z. Objector at YPOW, unless s/he is in your management chain, can't really do much to hinder your work, aside from the usual committee noise that is the price of working in academic librarianship. You're a techie. You're not going to find a Trojan in your IDE because you ticked somebody off.

I work in scholarly communication. I'm one of four librarians on an immense campus who does (going by job titles; obviously it's a leetle more complicated than that). It doesn't take much to derail what I can accomplish. Simple non-cooperation will do it, never mind whisper campaigns or the like.

So, you know, it's not exactly my career I worry for. I could move on, though I don't want to; I love where I live, and I also love that library-school teaching is becoming part of my job. That wouldn't happen just any old where.

I worry a lot about how what I say off the clock affects what I can get done on the clock. And I also worry that were I to decide to move on, the reputation my less-than-temperate comments have given me among the rank-and-file librarians I would still depend on to get work done would both damage my chances of securing other employment and make success in that employment a significantly dicier proposition.

"[Academic libraries] that welcome publicly outspoken librarians." Name me three. I suspect there's a reason a lot of our best bloggery comes out of places like OCLC. I also suspect that this same worry fuels editorial columnists at publications like Library Journal. (Which is not, I hasten to add, a bad thing!)