Blog-based library websites: An interview with David Lisa
I recently sat down with (ok, meebo'd) David Lisa, Director of the West Long Branch (NJ) Public Library, to discuss how he recently converted his traditional library webpage to a blog-based webpage.
Pete: Thanks for joining me this afternoon.
Dave: Always a pleasure!
Pete: For starters, tell me a little about yourself and your library.
Dave: My name is David Lisa and I am the Director of the West Long Branch Public Library. We are a small municipal public library. West Long Branch has about 8700 residents. We have three full-time employees and 7 part-time, 3 pages (PT) and one volunteer. I'm the only professional on staff. Other than that, we are your normal small burg PL.
Pete: Thanks Dave. So tell us a bit about your decision to make your webpage blog-based.
Dave: I had worked on several different templates for the new version of our website and nothing was working. Then I attended the Web 2.0 seminar led by Michael Stephens and Jenny Levine and took what the speakers said to heart. It really seemed to me that if we started with a Blogger.com format and expanded upon that, we would be able to accomplish what we wanted to do. Namely to be able to give our users news about programming, spotlight our collection and keep them up to date on new additions to our collection. It also dawned upon me that we could utilize Blogger's template structure to organize our website by listing the links to the various pages on our site in the right column and be able to provide an archive etc. It did everything we needed! So, I set to work setting it up, then "adapted" our extant pages to the Blogger template format.
Pete: Yes, the built-in archive feature is wonderful. Are there any other specific benefits that you see with a blog-based website? Any drawbacks?
Dave: Well we are getting lots of great comments about how up to date our site is. People really like seeing the latest news on the front page in reverse chronological order. And, of course, one big benefit is being able to offer an RSS feed through Feedburner. We like to stress that we can bring the news about the library to you on your schedule rather than you having to come to us all the time. One drawback has been that we have found that not a lot of people are acquainted with RSS feeds and we have to explain how to subscribe a lot.
Pete: That leads into my next question (or series of questions): Do you find that your customers understand the RSS feed? Are they using it? Have you done anything to promote the feed and/or teach your customers how to use it?
Dave: As I mentioned, there is some confusion about RSS still. I see that as being general initial confusion amongst the public at large. We really wanted to get the feed through Feedburner since they do a good job explaining it. We are pleased to have the feed in place and are actually waiting to see how it works out...right now.
Pete: Well, I think you're ahead of the curve. I believe the next release of IE will have built in RSS detection and reader. At that point, knowledge and use of RSS among the general population is likely to grow quickly and exponentially.
Dave: That's a good example of the confusion...try setting up an RSS feed with Firefox and IE and it's a different experience. We wanted the user to be able to click through the experience and know little about what they had to do to make it work. Feedburner does a great job enabling that.
Pete: And of course Feedburner gives you great stats and bunch of other nice benefits!
Dave: Feedburner has a nice page that you get after you click on our Subscribe link and it explains the variety of choices of RSS readers.
Pete: How much technical ability is needed to create a blog-based website? Is it something anyone can do or is a certain level of technical know-how necessary?
Dave: Good question. I believe that the approach we took to revamping our website takes little web publishing knowledge and could be mounted by people with little experience. And I think that is the direction web publishing is taking. Jenny [Levine] and Michael [Stephens] mentioned that web publishing software (Dreamweaver, FrontPage, etc.) will be outmoded by this approach soon... and I believe them.
Pete: Well, Blogger, Typepad, Wordpress really make it easy!
Pete: I see you have multiple authors. Who gets to post, and what do they get to post about? Did you and your staff come up with a blogging policy?
Dave: Glad you asked that question. From the get -go, I wanted our library website/blog to be a collaborative effort. I met with my Administrative staff and indicated that since we were re-creating the website in this fashion, I wanted them all to be involved. I also involved key members of the part time staff too (Book Discussion group moderator, etc).
Pete: That's great!
Dave: I also wanted staff members that are posting to be recognizable by name to library patrons that read the blog and could answer questions. We crave a fandom. [smile]. This is a truly collaborative experience.
Pete: I salute you! The research going on in virtual reference shows that customers really like to have a name associated with the librarian (as opposed to being served by ‘librarian34’). Using names is a great way to bring about more of a sense of personal connection.
Dave: I wouldn't have it any other way...I want it to be a personal experience for the user. We want to hear this: "Wow, Janice recommended the new DVD Lucky # Slevin. I checked it out and I loved it. Thanks Janice!"
Pete: OK, since we're on the topic of collaboration... It doesn't look like you have comments enabled. Any plan to enable comments?
Dave: We purposefully disabled it for now. We do have plans to enable them at some point, but we want to plan for it so we can handle it correctly.
Pete: Well Dave, I think you've done a great job with the site, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with us. Is there anything you'd like to add before we conclude?
Dave: I'd just like to say that we actually stumbled upon this idea by accident, and it was all due to the seminar... so thanks for sponsoring it. We're always looking for new and different ways to do things here at WLBPL and we are having lots of fun with the website/blog.
Pete: Credit for sponsoring the seminar goes to Princeton Public Library and CJRLC (although we also had Michael Stephens present for SJRLC members that same week.)
Dave: Thanks for interviewing me!
Pete: You're welcome Dave. Thanks again for your time.