This is part two of my response to Hugh’s post about the golden age of library blogging*.
In this post, I want to address the idea that we might be misremembering, and that perhaps there was no golden age of blogging at all.
This post is largely a response to this statement from Hugh:
When librarians ask Is blogging still a thing?, or Is there life left in the Australian biblioblogosphere?, I think these questions are partially based on a misremembering or perhaps a miscategorisation.
And also this one:
Whenever this golden age occurred, it obviously predates my own online engagement with library matters. But what it is [sic] that was happening, and where did it go?
I can’t answer ‘where did it go?’ (although I can hazard a guess at some of the factors that contributed to a downturn in blogging, and I might do that in a later post), but I can situate it temporally (ish) and I can point you to some info on what was actually happening.
When exactly was this golden age?
So let’s start with the when. In a tweet last night, Kathryn said:
— Ninjakat (@libsmatter) June 20, 2015
I’d suggest a slightly broader time frame: 2005/2006 to about 2011, although things were tapering off by 2010. There was still some good stuff happening towards the end and some desire to try to pick things up again, I think.
Ah, the good old days
In his post, Hugh suggested that
[w]e remember the things that were remarkable, and good, and forget the things that were boring, uncomfortable or bad.
Yeah, that happens. I do, however, remember the boring, uncomfortable and bad bits of library blogging in its heyday. I wrote some of it. I read some of it.
But I don’t think this is a case of glorifying a past that wasn’t all that glorious.
As Kathryn said in her tweet last night, there were more blogs and more posts, with an overall higher frequency of posts. Posts were longer (especially later in the golden age), had depth, and reflected on the big questions of the day. Library 2.0 woo! But also, people were tinkering and reporting on their tinkering. We were in the middle of a paradigm shift and people were blogging through that. On the flipside, I think the volume and extent of posting pushed us forward with that paradigm shift. We saw what other people were doing and it inspired us to try new stuff too. People like Kathryn were out on the bleeding edge, taking risks, and the rest of us were benefiting from their reflections. And importantly, their reflections *in the moment*, not a year later when a journal article finally got published. There was also more commenting on blogs themselves – I think this is what Kathryn meant by location.
Some of the blog content was shit. There was a lot of live blogging of conferences (which I kinda liked). But there was also stuff there that we could make practical use of and stuff that asked big questions about issues we were facing.
So with all this blog content out there, we had all this stuff to engage with. We had Google Reader**, we subscribed to 100s of feeds, and we blogged more often.
In short, blogs played a much bigger role in our online lives and our online engagement, as both authors and commenters.
But I could still be beating something up out of nothing, right?
My first reaction to Hugh’s post was, ‘I’m so NOT misremembering! Hugh is WRONG and I am RIGHT!’
And then I stopped and asked myself if I was really sure of that, or if I was just being defensive.
I thought I’d better do some research.
I started by visiting the archives of some of the ‘big’ blogs (the Really, Really Cool Kids) I read with regularity in the past. A quick look at the archives of bloggers like Meredith Farkas, Sarah-Houghton, Karen Coombs, and Lorcan Dempsey is testament to the volume and depth of posts. (I could pull out a stack of Australian examples, too, but short on time. Feel free to add some in the comments.)
I also revisited Walt Crawford’s Cites & Insights, because I remembered that he often pointed directly to blog content. (And can I just say that I was like ridiculously excited when someone pointed out to me that I got a mention in an issue of Cites & Insights.) There is some really great coverage of blog content in many issues that’s testament to the depth of discussion on blogs in the golden days. But even more useful is his work on the liblog (his term for biblioblogosphere) landscape for Cites & Insights. Walt was rocking blog metrics well before there was any decent work on how to evaluate the success of blogs. I remember trying to work out how to evaluate the success of a blog for youth I had implemented at my organisation way back in 2007 or 2008 and being quite confronted by the lack of literature around how to evaluate blogs or the lack of other studies from which I could adapt method. I ended up using pieces of the method that Walt derived to evaluate blogs from particular types of libraries. (Walt did these amazingly detailed studies on blogs in public and academic libraries.) Walt was all over this stuff and he did meticulous, detailed work on quantifying and exploring the landscape of the biblioblogosphere. To get a feel for what was happening back in those giddy golden days, take a look at the September/October 2010 issue of Cites & Insights [PDF], which looks at the biblioblogosphere landscape from 2007 to 2009. I was delighted to wake up this morning and see this from Walt:
— Walt Crawford (@waltcrawford) June 20, 2015
I didn’t know Cites & Insights was still going and I’ll be a regular reader from now on.
And a little bit more evidence: Meredith Farkas conducted a state of the biblioblogosphere survey in 2007. There are several posts about the results. I’d suggest starting with the blog demographics post. The response rate varied across the questions but there were between 700 and 790ish responses to each question. That’s a lot of bloggers. Interestingly, many of those bloggers were also publishing or talking elsewhere, not just on their blogs. You should also check out the attitudes and behaviours post, where you can see more about behaviours like subscribing to blogs and the other social media tools that were being used at the time. Around the same time, she also ran a survey asking people to name their top three library related blogs. Check out the list of nominated blogs. It’s enormous.
And lastly, as Kathryn tweeted last night, Michael Stephens even wrote a PhD thesis on this stuff.
(There are also conference papers and articles around about this stuff too, if you’re interested to read more.)
Challenging some assumptions
When a small group of people are all blogging these things at the same time and linking to each other, it can feel bigger than it is. Of course, there is a place for this sort of thing now – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
It wasn’t actually a small group. Yes, there were the Cool Kids and the Really, Really Cool Kids, but there were also people like me, on the periphery, sharing our ideas and benefiting from the ideas of others.
And we had Facebook and Twitter back then (more on this tomorrow!). We didn’t have Instagram, but we did have Flickr, and many people used it in a really big way. Twitter became big in the golden age of blogging. There was a real community of librarians on Twitter well before it got mainstream traction. I think the blogging actually fuelled it. But my point is, we were tweeting the shiz out of everything. Some of us were Facebooking too, but others were conscientious objectors (I hate FB by the way, so I’m not doing anything much there now, and it is definitely not a spaced in which I would connect on professional topics).
There *was* a ‘golden age of blogging’
But I’m uncomfortable with the term ‘golden age’. It was what it was.
I’m not suggesting we need to go back and do what we were doing then. My initial post about whether there was life left in the biblioblogosphere really was meant to be a question and a discussion prompt. I do miss aspects of the golden age. I miss the critical commentary most.
But blogging isn’t a panacea. Like Hugh says, this is a bigger problem. I just thought blogging might be one way to address a lack of critical discourse. I don’t know if it is. I’m not advocating for a return to the good old days, but rather, I’m reflecting on what I think is a problem (less informal professional discourse than there was in the past) and what I think caused it (less blogging). More blogging mightn’t be the answer.
But I think we need to think about what the answer might be.
* When I talk about that time when there was a lot more blogging going on (the golden age), I’m talking about 2005/2006 to about 2011, although things were tapering off by then.
* * I’ve often wondered about the extent to which the demise of Google Reader impacted on library related blogging, blog reading and commenting. I think a lack of good Reader replacements in the early post Reader days might have contributed to the decline in library blogging.