The ethics of blogging for public librarians

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Contents

Introduction

See also Blogs | Blogging and the law | Ethics and the health librarian | Liability and the health librarian | Information technology topics | Web 2.0

The ethics of blogging for public librarians is an entry for those librarians in the process of designing and using blogs in their professional work. The focus is on professional blogging (and thus not personal blogging) and carving out a niche for work-related marketing, promotion and other writing. Simply put, blogs are online spaces that provide ideal online avenues for real-time publishing, discussion and debate with library patrons and colleagues. While there are blogging librarians who write opinion pieces about professional or library-related issues, these blogs are distinct from those attached to or representative of information organizations. When blogging on behalf of information organizations such as a public or special library, librarians should take into account any ethical issues and ensure that they are creating a professional and suitable online presence at all times.

Simple blog-ethics in three stages

  • Stage I - Setting up your blog
Librarians need to know about the main parts of a blog and the affordances associated with them. While creating a blog is easy, take time to consider the name you'll attach to the blog; this will form part of your digital identity. The blog's name is as important as the platform, theme, purposes and goals. A close consideration of these matters will help you to create some focus and purpose in your blogging efforts.
  • Stage II - Posting entries
A blog's entries, or posts, are content published for its consumers (in this case, library users, librarians, or the public at large) to read. Entries are usually written pieces, but may comprise media such as images, videos, audio clips, or any combination thereof. Library blog themes may focus on providing information about the library's collections, programs and events, and services. For example, a typical post from the New York Public Library's Tumblr blog will commemorate an event that happened the day of the blog post and then tie the event to a related item in the library's collection.
The ‘rhythm’ of good blogging requires constant updates. Set up a regular schedule for publishing blog posts so that readers can know what and when they can expect a library update (Blair & Cranston, 2006)[1]. A frequently updated blog will retain readership; posting infrequently indicates a low commitment not only to one’s blog but to one’s audience, as well.
  • Stage III - Responding to comments on your blog
Comments are readers’ viewpoints and responses to blog postings. Stuart (2009)[2] says that “comments are one of the most important features of blogs, allowing visitors to share opinions. While a large number of page visits may be the result of high search engine ranking of an organization's site, the number of comments shows engagement with the audience and can be more important”. To ensure comments from patrons continue and to create a welcoming tone on a blog, respond to comments, when possible, to demonstrate to readers that their feedback is valued. This reciprocation shows that you/your library is interested in and engaged with its patrons and their views/ideas.

Code of ethics

Schneider [3] has written about ethical guidelines for bloggers covering issues such as:

  • Be true to yourself and your readers: Blog about topics you feel passionate about (Stephens)[4]. The blogosphere is a personable and an informal writing space. Writing that is based on honesty and passion will translate through to readers.
  • Enjoy the writing process: Use your personality to create an online presence; readers sense genuine passion. As Blair & Cranston (2006)[5] explain, “ It provides an opportunity to speak more directly to them, and it does so in a manner that is more comfortable and convenient for all involved” (p. 10).
  • Don’t hide your bias: Use the “about” page to expose a little bit about your identity (Schneider, 2005)[6]. Do not be afraid to share your beliefs, but be clear about how your bias is influencing your opinion. Khun (2007)[7] stresses the importance of disclosing your identity and any biases you may have but also “emphasizing the human.” Readers will engage with a blogger who has a distinct personality, as opposed to being a nameless representative of an organization.
  • Proper conduct: Blog “in legal and appropriate ways” (UT Southwestern Library Social Media Policy, 2009). [8] Writing a blogpost does not exclude you from being a responsible, considerate citizen and library employee (Stephens, 2004) [9]. Do not violate your library’s “privacy, confidentiality, and legal guidelines for external speech” (UT Southwestern Library Social Media Policy, 2009) [10]. Blair & Cranston (2006)[11] note that it is important to mesh new blogging practices with existing web publishing guidelines to present a unified tone and look and to comply with larger library policy.

Bloggers should never engage in personal attacks or allow comments on their blogs that attack, slander or defame another person. This is also true of other social media sites including Facebook and Twitter. Debate and discussion is one of the main purposes of using social media but be cautious. While someone's ideas can and should be criticized, the overall purpose of using social media is to share information and have a discussion of ideas in a civil way, not to confront those who hold views different from your own.

Cite while you write

  • It is common practice in the blogosphere to mention content from another blog. When this occurs, it is important to cite the source using a hyperlink . A formal bibliography is not necessary, but providing the author’s name and the blog title, along with an active link to the blog being mentioned, is considered proper blogging etiquette (Stephens) [12]. Furthermore, it is important for us, as library professionals in the public sphere, to set a strong example of proper citation behaviour (Schneider)[13].

Get your facts right

  • Don't post false or misleading information. It's better to take time and confirm your facts before pushing a blog post. Editing posts after they have been published will lead to the spread of misinformation because, no matter how shortly after publication you may make the edit, it is likely that somebody will read the original post before a change can be made (Schneider)[14]. Take care when posting information about upcoming library events, recent acquisitions, and other library-related issues. Ensure that what is posted presents complete information for library users.

Be fair and play fair

  • Offer balanced views and opinions. Having a passionate voice will enliven your blog, but it is important to include more than one side to the story. Write your opinion and be sure to include links to blogs or websites from an opposing perspective. Just as it would be unethical to develop the history section of a library collection to favour a single perspective, it would be unethical to present one-sided blog postings. As Schneider (2005) [15] points out, librarians are “the standard-bearers for accurate, unbiased information” - a fact which should not be ignored in the online world. Approve of comments that challenge your opinion. The reader’s words may shed light on a unique perspective which could lead to further discussion. Providing a fair approach to sensitive topics may encourage others to engage with your blog.

Admit mistakes

  • Publicly correct any misinformation (Blood)[16]. It is generally frowned upon to delete blog posts after they have been published (Kuhn) [17]. Instead, highlight the mistake, take the time to show how you were wrong, and include the correct information. People generally appreciate when others own up to their mistakes. Correcting yourself is a sign of respect to others. By taking the time to correct your own mistakes you convey to the reader that you respect and appreciate their attention.
  • As Smart notes in Kenney & Stephens[18], “If you make a mistake, own up to it. I’ve misused words on my blog and had to back-pedal and put out further explanations and do damage control. But if you don’t do that sort of thing, you don’t have any sort of integrity” (p. 40).

Examples

Here are some good examples of public library blogs:

References

  1. Blair J, Cranston C. Preparing for the birth of our library BLOG. Comp Libr. 2006;26(2):10-54.
  2. Stuart D. Social media metrics. Online, 2009;33(6):22-24.
  3. Schneider K. The ethical blogger. Libr J. 2005.
  4. Stephens M. The library blogger’s personal protocols. Tame the web: libraries and technology. http://www.tametheweb.com/ttwblog/archives/000568.html
  5. Blair J, Cranston C. Preparing for the birth of our library blog. Comp Libr. 2006;26(2):10-54.
  6. Schneider K. The ethical blogger. Libr J. 2005.
  7. Kuhn M. Interactivity and prioritizing the human: a code of blogging ethics. J Mass Media Ethics, 2007;22(1):18-36. http://students.jmc.ksu.edu/classes/mc720/pdfs/bloggerethics.pdf
  8. UT Southwestern Library Social Media Policy (2009) http://units.sla.org/chapter/ctx/UTSouthwesternLibrarySocialMediaPolicy_LLT_Final.pdf
  9. Stephens M. The library blogger's personal protocols. 2004. http://tametheweb.com/2004/11/14/the-library-bloggers-personal-protocols/
  10. UT Southwestern Library Social Media Policy (2009) http://units.sla.org/chapter/ctx/UTSouthwesternLibrarySocialMediaPolicy_LLT_Final.pdf
  11. Blair J, Cranston C. Preparing for the birth of our library BLOG. Comp Libr. 2006;26(2):10-54.
  12. Stephens M. The library blogger's personal protocols. http://tametheweb.com/2004/11/14/the-library-bloggers-personal-protocols/
  13. Schneider K. The ethical blogger. Libr J. 2005.
  14. Schneider K. The ethical blogger. Libr J. 2005.
  15. Schneider K. The ethical blogger. Libr J. 2005.
  16. Blood R. Weblog ethics. In The weblog handbook: practical advice on creating and maintaing your blog. Cambridge: Perseus Publishing. http://www.rebeccablood.net/handbook/excerpts/weblog_ethics.html
  17. Kuhn M. Interactivity and prioritizing the human: a code of blogging rthics. J Mass Media Ethics. 2007;22(1):18-36. http://students.jmc.ksu.edu/classes/mc720/pdfs/bloggerethics.pdf
  18. Kenney B, Stephens M. Talkin' blogs. Library Journal. 2005;130(16):38-41.

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