One Year In

You may not be aware of this, but you’ve been reading an experiment. It might not have felt like an experiment, but it was. A year ago this week I started writing this blog as an experiment. A year in I’m trying to figure out just what I think I’ve been doing.

I’d been reading a number of library blogs for a couple of years, and had considered one of my own, but I wasn’t sure what I would write about or whether I could sustain it. Though I work in a library, and read and think about libraries, I never wrote much about libraries or librarianship until I started this blog, so I wasn’t sure I’d have much to say. Writing itself wasn’t a problem, because I write every day and find writing itself to be therapeutic, but writing just about libraries seemed like it might be tough. My goal was to write a solid, readable library blog that discussed issues in academic librarianship and higher education more generally. Up to a point, I think I’ve succeeded. Even if I haven’t, this somewhat atypical library blog seems to have about 300 regular readers and a bit more occasional readers after a year. That probably doesn’t sound like much, but it pleased me, and I thank you all for reading.

Before I began, I asked some other bloggers for advice. One told me he thought there might be a niche for a library blogger who wrote about the sort of issues I write about. Another blogger who chooses to remain anonymous said to go for quality over quantity of posts, not to be afraid of the long post, and to choose a blog title early in the alphabet so it shows up near the top of alphabetical blogrolls. I think I’ve succeeded well with the last two suggestions at least. I definitely didn’t want a newsy blog, or a tech tips blog, or anything like that. Too many people doing that well already, and way too many people doing it badly. I’ve tried to write the blog as I might an opinion column, not too heavy, but not too light. Also, I deliberately avoided some of the tips that supposedly go to make popular bloggers. I don’t link out much to other bloggers; I don’t write about others to provoke them to write about me; though I’m not averse to the occasional scrap, I don’t feel like the blog is very polemical; my goal has never been to get a high Technorati ranking; and despite my title, I wasn’t trying to become the voice of academic librarianship, or anything like that.

Instead, I’ve tried to present the opinions of one lone librarian rather than represent the opinions of others, and I’ve tried to present those opinions in as thoughtful a manner as possible. Though I write these as essays, that is, as short exploratory pieces that may not be fully formed, still I’ve tried to avoid writing poorly reasoned pieces I’m not willing to defend.

I’ve also tried to present a somewhat non-librarian point of view. This isn’t terribly difficult for me, because I’m sort of a librarian by default. If the market for Shakespeare scholars had been strong a dozen years ago, I would probably be happily teaching Shakespeare at some liberal arts college now. Instead, I stumbled into library school because it seemed like a better choice of career than adjunct rhetoric instructor. My motto at the time was “easy to get in, easy to get through, easy to get a job,” and I was right. Even now, I’d probably be just as happy teaching rhetoric full time, but I make a lot more money and have a lot more job security as a librarian, plus I don’t have to grade so many essays. So while I like being a librarian, and I think I’m pretty good at it, I don’t always think of myself as a librarian. I think of myself as a person who loves and uses academic libraries, who identifies with the scholarly and humanistic mission of liberal education, who enjoys teaching and reading, and who also happens to work as a librarian. I see the library not as an end in itself but as one part of a much larger educational mission, and I’ve tried to comment on library issues from that perspective.

In one way I’ve definitely failed. This was supposed to be a purely professional blog. Though I’ve written a couple of personal pieces for fun, like my wedding anniversary post, the goal was to focus on library issues, not on my personal life and certainly not on my library. I’ve done pretty well about not blogging the Princeton University Library. Occasionally I’ve mentioned or praised colleagues, but in general I see no benefit to blogging about my workplace, as opposed to my work. My library has good points and bad points like every library, and I could certainly tell some entertaining stories, but this blog isn’t the place for that. (See me at an ALA happy hour if you want to hear the good stuff!) However, what I didn’t count on, because I’d never done this much sustained public writing, was just how much of my personality would be on display on the blog, and I’m not sure how happy I am about that. In general, I’m a private and even reserved person with those who don’t know me. After looking back at the 100 or so posts I’ve written over the past year, it becomes clear what I think about, what my prejudices and assumptions are, what I care immensely about, and what I dismiss as folly in academic librarianship. Even that has exposed me more than I thought it would. On the other hand, I’ve grown more comfortable putting part of myself into the posts. Still, I won’t be sharing vacation photos or music recommendations with you, so you can rest easy.

To make a long post short (too late!), I thank all of you who have been reading the blog, and I very much appreciate those of you who send kind words. No more navel-gazing for now. Tomorrow I’m hoping to write about a couple of ALA programs I went to, including the one where we were told in earnest tones that the Internet is a very important part of modern communication. Stay tuned!

9 thoughts on “One Year In

  1. “In previous liblog studies, I used the word “essay” loosely to refer to longer-than-average posts. Bivens-Tatum really does write essays, in a personal voice that’s also carefully thought out. It’s surprising that “Academic Librarian” hadn’t already been taken as a blog name by July 2007, but Bivens-Tatum has made the most of it, with essays on fairly serious (and sometimes not-so-serious) topics.”
    I just wrote that a couple of hours ago–in something that may not appear for several months (if ever). I intend it to be complimentary. Keep up the good work.
    Oh, and as a failed rhetoric grad student, I can hear what you’re saying about a livelihood–and, come to think of it, I wonder whether Berkeley’s Rhetoric Department ever actually hired rhetoric people to teach. (When I was there, the profs came from English, Linguistics, Anthropology and Psychology.) Fortunately, I discovered systems analysis and programming as a five-decade digression…

  2. That’s an amusing coincidence. Thanks for the kind words, Walt. Though it wasn’t deliberate, I think one goal is to prove that not everyone has a short attention span.

  3. I certainly appreciate the longer form, and also your voice, choice of topics, and perspective(s) brought to the blog.

  4. Congratulations on the anniversary. I, too, thought that my blog would be more Lorcan Dempsey than Michael Stephens, and look what I ended up with.
    It’s interesting that despite your experience writing and teaching writing, you were surprised that you couldn’t write steadily for a year without expressing some of your personality and sensibility in your work.
    In any case, I always enjoy your blog, and hope you continue the experiment.

  5. The surprise was that so much would come out when writing about libraries while avoiding writing about myself or my own library. So much for the purely professional.

  6. Happy anniversary!
    I too initially intended my blog to be 100% professional but slowly drifted to the mix of content I have today. Just yesterday a colleague complimented me on the voice and style of my blog, saying that he found it very friendly and engaging. I was very grateful for the praise (and blogging can be lonely, as you know) because it’s not something I try to do, it’s just what comes naturally.
    I think it’s natural and perhaps even inevitable for our personalities to infiltrate our blogging. I’m sure a good portion of all those abandoned blogs out there are cases where the authors tried to segregate their blogging too strictly from their own true interests and authentic voice. It’s not surprising that they would simply lose interest in what they were doing.

  7. Of the seemingly infinite number of library blogs I subscribe to (including all the usual suspects), Wayne yours is the ONLY one where I read each and every post in its entirety. That says it all. May this be the first of many years for you and all of your readers.

  8. Thanks, Kinjeetay. That is a nice compliment, especially considering the lengths of the post. I think I definitely have a self-selected group of readers.

  9. I don’t think I’ve commented before, but I started reading your blog sometime last fall–saw a reference to it in yet another blog and thought it looked interesting.
    I have to say that I haven’t been disappointed! I look forward to your posts.

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