Blogging groups and ethics

The latest Cites & Insights (v10i11) is out and in it Walt Crawford explores some of the recent developments in the blogging landscape in a section called The Zeitgeist: Blogging Groups and Ethics. It's a very good overview and analysis of what's going on both in the science and librarian blogospheres.

It's well worth checking out. Some highlights:

Blogging Groups and Ethics

Do you blame Roy Tennant when the Annoyed Librarian writes posts that undermine librarianship and libraries?

I'm guessing you don't. Whoever the Library Journal incarnation of the Annoyed Librarian might or might not be, I'm certain Roy isn't part of it. But his blog is part of the same group--the group of paid blogs on the LJ website. Does that result in guilt by association?

The ScienceBlogs Flap

A three-day wonder? Not so much. I didn't pick up on it until mid-July, and the consequences of that briefly present ad/blog continue through this writing, at least indirectly. A few items:

  • Some SB bloggers left or threatened to leave, making their reasons very clear. It appears that more than a quarter of the Sciblings departed within a day or two, including some of the highest profiles. Many have now joined new science blog groups, one of them--Scientopia--formed as a collective of science bloggers, many if not most of them bloggers who left SB. You'll find a good set of early links on departures and changes at and an interesting piece of inside-baseball humor at
  • Dorothea Salo founded a new blog, The Book of Trogool, on SB during the brief period I was there--and wrote "Small fry, blogging networks, and reputation" on July 8, 2010 at that blog. At the time, she and her cobloggers hadn't made a decision--but eventually they did. She has much to say about blogging within librarianship--and it's sobering, if not directly related to this flap:
    [L]ibrarianship 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.

    Should Liblogs Have Groups?

    Would a liblog group make sense? How would it work? What advantages would better-known and lesser-known liblogs see in a group? How would it be administered? What would make it worthwhile--for bloggers and for readers?

    I don't have answers. Maybe there aren't any. Apparently lots of readers had the ScienceBlogs "last 24 hours" page as a home page of sorts, going there to see what's new in science blogging. When I want to see what's new in liblogs, I bring up Google Reader (I much preferred Bloglines, but that's gone away), usually finding 40 to 80 posts over the last 24 hours--from a range of some 500 blogs. Would I switch to a group page? Would you?

    Awards and Lists

    Some of us who appear on these lists believe that the lists primarily exist so that we'll link back to them, thus bringing lots more people to these sites touting for-profit colleges. I've never provided that link love but many have, and quite a few who aren't on the lists seem to think the lists are meaningful and link to the posts.

    Is this an ethical issue? I'm not sure. I've seen enough dead and nearly-dead blogs on some lists to suspect they're not the result of painstaking current evaluation and research (and, frankly, I'm unwilling to buy that some of those on the April 2009 list could be part of The top 50 liblogs, if such a beast existed). I regard it as a form of linkspamming; others clearly do not.


    I like the idea of "Library Blog Huzzahs." I'm generally unhappy with "The Top X Blogs" lists on for-profit educational affiliate blogs. I don't believe there's any way to avoid rankings and grades: that's the way the world works, and I've done my part. But my liblog studies specifically point out blogs that stand out in one particular metric; there isn't, and shouldn't be, any sense of "these are the best blogs" or "these are the most important blogs." Indeed, one metric that I've carefully avoided listing blogs for is Google Page Rank (I say how many liblogs have high values, but not which blogs those are), and that avoidance will continue.

    Blogging Ethics and Considerations

    Should you think about ethical considerations for your blog? Probably, at least once in a while. Should you state those considerations? Couldn't hurt--as long as you're telling the truth. Should you pledge to follow somebody else's set of ethics--and display a badge or ribbon or something to indicate that pledge? That's a different issue entirely, one that comes up from time to time and always makes me uneasy.


    Did I mention mommyblogs? Meredith Farkas wrote "This is not my blogosphere" on November 22, 2009 at Information Wants To Be Free discussing these blogs and the extent to which they're being corrupted by compensated reviews, that is, bloggers being paid (by a company) to try out a product and write about it. When she read a post with a disclaimer about being a "compensated" review ("paid" is such a harsh word), she was stunned to find that comments weren't from people horrified by the practice--they were people wanting their own freebies and compensation.

    Is Blogging Journalism?

    Just to make questions of formal blog guidelines more complicated, consider that question. Is it? Some bloggers claim it is--and if it is, shouldn't they be expected to follow at least as rigorous ethical codes as professional journalists?

    Eric Schnell asks "Do conference bloggers and tweeters need to follow media rules?" in a June 4, 2009 post at The Medium is the Message. He notes a report from ScienceInsider that Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is amending its policy for meetings to require that scientists who are bloggers follow the same rules as reporters--which, among other things, requires that they get a presenter's OK beforehand if they plan to blog or twitter about a presentation. Schnell quotes a scientist-blogger, Andrew Maynard, on his own considerations and thoughts on the issue. Maynard doesn't believe that bloggers and Twitterers are generally acting as journalists--but does suggest reasonable guidelines for when it is and isn't OK to tweet or blog. It's a complicated issue, particularly given conference presentations that discuss unpublished research results: Is it inappropriate for a blogger to write about such results, but legitimate for the researcher or their institution to issue premature press releases?

And much, much more. Go on over and read the whole thing -- it's a very worthwhile snapshot of the current environment.

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Thanks for the mention. This was one of those essays where I wasn't sure whether to publish...and, as is usually the case, those are the essays that turn out to be most interesting to others.

You're welcome. It's a range of topics that have been on my mind a lot lately. In some ways I wish there was a liblog community, or at least a decent aggregator. There are a lot of blogs out there and sometimes I think I'm only reading the same ones over and over.

Thanks! That's a great suggestion, one that I hadn't thought about at all. This week's a bit on the crazy side, but I'm sure I'll be able to find the time fairly soon.