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Features - The State of the Law Library Blogosphere

By Bonnie Shucha, Published on November 3, 2006

Bonnie Shucha is Head of Reference, University of Wisconsin Law Library

Editor's Note: In April, 2007 this article by Bonnie Shucha received the AALL-SIS Outstanding Article Award.


Abstract

Although the legal and library literature is filled with information about the theoretical pros and cons of blog publishing, little has been written about actual blogging experiences. Who is blogging? What are they blogging about? Who reads blogs? What technologies are being used? Have blogs been successful? What lessons can be shared? These are the questions explored in this article. Through this study, potential bloggers will better evaluate whether this technology is right for them and veterans will gain insight into their own blogging experience in comparison to their peers.

In the area of Reference, Research, and Client Services, the American Association of Law Libraries has designated the following competencies for law librarians:

3.1 Provides skilled and customized reference services on legal and relevant non-legal topics

3.2 Evaluates the quality, authenticity, accuracy, and cost of traditional and electronic sources, and conveys the importance of these to the client

3.3 Assists clients with legal research using both print and electronic resources

3.4 Assists non-lawyers in accessing the law...

3.5 Aggregates content from a variety of sources and synthesizes information to create customized products for clients

3.6 Creates research and bibliographic tools (handouts, aids, pathfinders, bibliographies) on legal and related topics

3.7 Monitors trends in specific areas of the law[1]

With these competencies, AALL has identified the skills that "define the profession of law librarianship and its value to the legal field."[2] Using these skills to providing valuable reference, research, and client services is an essential part of what we do as law librarians. Any technology that can assist us in these endeavors is welcome. One that is relatively inexpensive and easy-to-learn is especially desirable.

Fortunately, many law librarians have discovered such a technology: the blog. There is a tremendous amount of legal information being distributed via blogs. By reading blogs, law librarians garner useful information to share with patrons and clients. A growing number of law librarians have also realized the technology's potential for communicating with patrons, clients, and colleagues. Publishing a blog is an excellent way for law librarians to share our expertise of legal materials, offer educated evaluations of sources, and inform our readers of new trends and resources. Because posts are archived and often searchable, law library blogs also serve as lasting pathfinders to legal and related topics.

Although the legal and library literature is filled with information about the theoretical pros and cons of blog publishing, little has been written about actual blogging experiences. Who is blogging? What are they blogging about? Who reads blogs? What technologies are being used? Have blogs been successful? What lessons can be shared? These are the questions explored in this article. Through this study, potential bloggers will better evaluate whether this technology is right for them and veterans will gain insight into their own blogging experience in comparison to their peers?

The Survey

In the fall of 2005, I conducted a survey of law library bloggers to gain insight into the questions posed above.[3] Law library blogs were defined as those affiliated with a law library, a law library association, and / or written by a law librarian.[4]

I asked a total of twenty-four questions which focused on the following areas:

Footnotes

[1] American Association of Law Libraries, Executive Board, Competencies of Law Librarianship (March 2001), http://www.aallnet.org/prodev/competencies.asp.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Each respondent was instructed to complete a separate survey for each blog to which they contributed. If there were multiple authors for the blog, only one person was asked to complete the survey.

[4] Personal blogs written by law librarians were not included.

[5] An archive of the Law-lib listserv is available at http://lawlibrary.ucdavis.edu/LAWLIB/lawlib.html.

[6] The Teknoids blog and archive is available at http://www.teknoids.net/. The CS-SIS Blawgs Committee Blog can be found at http://cssisblawgs.blogspot.com/.

[7] As of July 2006. For a current list of law library blogs, see http://library.law.wisc.edu/wisblawg/blogslistpublic.htm.

[8] According to the survey, 58.8% of law library blogs are affiliated with law libraries, 3.9% with a law library association, and 7.8% with "other."

[9] 2005-2006 DALL EXECUTIVE BOARD, DALL BLOG POLICIES (September 2005), http://www.dallnet.org/SimpleBlog/policies.asp.

[10] LLNE News, http://llne.blogspot.com/ (last visited Feb. 9, 2006).

[11] Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania

[12] Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin

[13] Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

[14] Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia

[15] Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas

[16] Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming

[17] Note that survey respondents could choose multiple responses to the question "who contributes to the blog." Since some blogs are co-authored, responses total more than 100%

[18] The raw survey data indicates that only 43.1% of respondents used their blogs as marketing tools to distribute news about their library and its resources. However, since 3.9% of law library bloggers surveyed are affiliated with a law library association and 29.4% are completely unaffiliated, presumably these respondents did not select this select this response. Subtracting out these individuals yields a higher percentage, 64.7%, of bloggers affiliated with a law library that are using blogs as tools to market their library and its resources.

[19] Dennis Kennedy, Dennis Kennedy's 2005 Best of Legal Blogging Awards (the Blawggies), DennisKennedy.com, December 22, 2005, http://www.denniskennedy.com/archives/2005_12.html#a000959.
A law library blog was also selected for an award in another category: the Stark County Law Library Blog (http://temp.starklawlibrary.org/blog/) was chosen as the Best Legal Blog Digest.

[20] Although other librarian professionals were not one of the primary audience options on the survey, comments revealed that many law library bloggers do write for their library colleagues. Presumably, these blogs also make up a portion of the 29.4% of blogs in the "other" category.

[21] Because it is a free service, "splogs" or auto-generated spam blogs, are common on the Blogger domain. Therefore, some readers may question the authority of blogs hosted by Blogger.

[22] Although WordPress is a free service, there may be costs associated with hosting it on the blogger's own server.

[23] Susannah Gardner, Time to Check: Are You Using the Right Blogging Tool? Online Journalism Review (posted Jul. 7, 2005), http://www.ojr.org/ojr/stories/050714gardner/.

[24] 17.6% of respondents indicated that they did not offer an RSS feed for their blog and 7.8% did not know whether they did or not.

[25] RSS readers are also known as RSS aggregators, news readers, and news aggregators. Bloglines, http://www.bloglines.com/, is one of the more popular RSS readers.

[26] Some email applications, such as Thunderbird, have built-in RSS readers.

[27] For additional information on the similarities and differences between RSS readers and email applications, see Bonnie Shucha, RSS: It's About Time, Connecting... December 2005, at 8, at http://www.aallnet.org/sis/cssis/newsletter/2005/December05.pdf#page=8.

[28] 52.9% of survey respondents indicated that they did not offer an email subscription and 9.8% did not know whether they did or not.

[29] Although there are other RSS to email subscription services, FeedBlitz, http://www.feedblitz.com/, is one of the most popular.

[30] For a listing of these blogs, see http://library.law.wisc.edu/wisblawg/blogslistpublic.htm.

[31] Emphasis added.