Weblogs and weblogging, blogs and blogging - many terms are used to describe this increasingly popular Web-based activity, but is a library Web site the right place to host a weblog? Are weblogs simply another trendy tool for those with time to spare and something to say? Consider this from the BBC news Web site:
'Weblogs are sometimes criticised for being the self-obsessed ramblings of people who have little to say and too much time on their hands in which to do it. But there are gems out there - including many sites created by children.' 
This news article describes how weblogs are routinely used by children at Hangleton Junior School in Hove, Sussex; a project which has been so successful it has been shortlisted for a New Statesman New Media Award - an annual award for best Web development in the UK. The children, some as young as seven, participate in an after-school weblogging club, and as a result their knowledge of IT has improved beyond that expected of their age group, and literacy levels have also risen. The children use weblogs to explore subjects which interest them.
Writing in the Education Guardian Stephen O'Hear also believes that weblogs have a key role to play in education, partly because they are so easy to use:
'Blog software simplifies the process of writing and publishing online - creating and editing blog entries is no more difficult than sending an email.'
O'Hear argues that weblogs with multiple contributors e.g. where students, teachers and subject specialists all participate, can successfully support the development of a learning community. He goes on to describe the setting up of a weblog as a discussion forum for literature students reading the book by Sue Monk Kidd entitled The Secret Life of Bees . The author was invited to participate in the weblog by answering questions and commenting on students publications, and she agreed. The end product is a weblog which has attracted over 200,000 visitors, and which now serves as a learning resource for other students.
Weblogs can therefore take many forms - from virtual soapbox or personal journal to community space for learners, or any community with a shared interest. The weblog is a democratic and enabling medium which enables people without Web authoring skills or technical knowledge to publish their views and share them with others. Weblogs can also host features including links to external Web sites and news feeds. This suggests that weblogs will fit comfortably into the library Web environment, where they can complement existing library services. A weblog could be used to support local reading groups, clubs and other special interest groups, as well as adult learning and homework activities for children.
How many libraries currently have a weblog? A search on Google (using the search terms 'library weblog') returned 544,000 hits on 21 June 2004, but this is not indicative of widespread use of weblogs by libraries for user-related activities. The top ranking site from Libdex  is a list of library weblogs by country, which also features articles on weblogging by and for information professionals, most of whom are based in the U.S. and Canada. Articles carry titles such as 'Blogging Your Life Away' and 'The secret life of tattooed and bellydancing librarians' (the mind bloggles) [sic] - as though to illustrate that librarians can be as hip and cool as the regular guys in the blogging community.
'England' and 'Scotland' were among the countries listed and clicking on the 'England' link brings up ten entries, but Scotland only has a single entry - a news feed from the National Library of Scotland. Top of the England list is the only UK public library listed as having a weblog - Gateshead Central Library. Gateshead's weblog, et cetera , was the first library weblog in the UK; it now has over 150 registered members. Although most of the entries have been logged by library staff, Gateshead plan to use the weblog for community publishing activities in the future .
Other library weblogs in England are: a National Health Service (NHS) weblog from Ben Toth (on digital libraries in the NHS); 'Keeping Legal' by Paul Pedley (legal information for information professionals) and 'Midwifery Information' from library staff at the Royal College of Midwives. There are also several news feeds including information literacy news from Sheffield University, and news from Oxford University Libraries.
Two weblogs listed on this site are likely to be of general interest to UK library and information professionals. These are Peter Scott's blog (University of Saskatchewan Library)  and my fellow columnist Phil Bradley's blog . Phil describes his blog as: "for librarians and people interested in search engines, searching the net, design issues and general whitterings and rants". Scott's blog is sponsored by Xrefer and powered by Blogger (the free Google weblogging service) . As well as offering news on conferences, services, software and library jobs worldwide etc., the libraries are categorised by sector. There are entries for public, school and academic libraries etc. with around 80 entries listed under the public library category - the majority of which are in the USA and Canada, although Gateshead is included and is the only entry under public libraries for the UK.
Many public library weblogs seem to be devoted to children and teenagers. Several are described as 'teen pages' or 'teen news', and are linked to library reading activities. Spring Valley Library has a 'teen page' which offers a prize to readers who have read ten books (how do they know that the book has actually been read rather than just 'checked out'?) Caestecker Public Library, Wisconsin, USA, is a library which serves a population of 3000 residents but it still manages to provide a weblog devoted to children's literature . A posting on the 'blogroll' proclaims: 'why we adore Harry', (referring to JK Rowling's 'Harry Potter' books), while another entry relates to the author, Phillip Pullman. Caestecker's weblog is an inspiring example of how a modern technology which children enjoy and perceive to be 'cool', can be used to support and encourage reading. Weblogging, in a controlled environment, can provide young people with a safe, shared Web space in which to develop writing skills and share experiences.
It has been suggested that local councillors in the UK (often referred to as 'elected members' in local authority circles) tend to be ill-informed about the role public libraries now play in progressing local and national government agendas. Library managers have been urged to remedy this situation by ensuring that councillors, with responsibility for public libraries, are well informed and by getting them involved in library activities.
Some forward-thinking local councillors already have weblogs and use them as a simple communication channel between themselves, the local authority and people working and living in the area. David Boothroyd, Labour councillor for Westbourne ward, Westminster County Council has a weblog called The Westminster Gazette,  which provides news and views on local issues such as plans for dealing with unsightly fly-posting, as well as transcripts of council meetings and copies of reports. Stuart Bruce, Labour councillor for Middleton, Leeds, also has a weblog .
Libraries might consider linking to these weblogs, where they exist, from library home pages. This would mean that anyone visiting library Web pages would automatically see that local politicians are connected to services provided by the council and anyone could post or comment on items posted on the weblog. Libraries could set up a weblog and invite elected members (with a portfolio for libraries) to contribute on a range of library and related issues. Culture and heritage, learning and employment opportunities, schools etc. are all of interest to local people. Councillors and libraries would share a virtual space and both could be brought closer to the communities they serve. The weblog might also feature links to other weblogs provided by council services, such as social services, the police and schools.
Numerous articles and Web sites offer advice to library and information professionals wishing to set up a weblog. Library+Information Update Magazine has published several useful articles offering facts, ideas and Web site addresses which make the whole process seem easy .
BBCi has two fact sheets in the 'Ask Bruce' series: "How do I get my own Blog?" and "What is blogging?" - both provide a good introduction and overview of what is involved . Blogger , the free weblog tool from Google, lists all the possible forms a weblog can take from personal diary and political soapbox to news-breaking outlet. It also mentions that the weblog can be a place to collect and share things of interest, and a collaborative space - activities which are of most interest to public libraries in terms of supporting users.
For those wishing to search for weblogs, Phil Bradley published an article in Ariadne (issue 36)  in which he argues that Google is not the ideal tool for this purpose and suggests alternatives.
My own personal favourite weblog is h2g2 , 'a web community based on the Douglas Adam's idea of an ever-expanding guide to life, the universe and everything - the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'. Postings on the h2g2 weblog are categorised under 6 headings using the following criteria:
A quote from Douglas Adams sets the tone for this weblog: "We have the first snowflake. Now let's build a blizzard".
I think the late Douglas Adams would have approved of weblogs. The snowflake/blizzard analogy may refer to something completely different, but it does seem to encapsulate their very essence, i.e. something which starts life small, but which gradually 'snowballs' into something bigger as more people contribute comments, ideas, news, etc. Above all weblogs can, and should be, fun - which is perhaps why they appeal to children and are being used by children's librarians.
I very much regret that this will be Penny's last column for Ariadne as she will be leaving UKOLN in August 2004. I would like to record my thanks for her enthusiastic support of the Magazine and her faithful and telling contributions over the past 3 years.