Blogging from the Backroom

Ann Chapman reports on a seminar on blogging, designed for those working in the traditional 'backroom' professions such as cataloguing and indexing, held by the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group in London, on 8 June 2007.

Blogging and the use of wikis and RSS feeds can seem daunting to many library and information professionals who are now encountering them for the first time. People think 'Surely blogs are just online diaries?' and 'What use are wikis and RSS feeds really, aren't they just for the 'techies'?' Then there's the 'I'm scared, it's all too technical for me.' And finally 'Is it really 'work'?' and 'Will my employer see it as 'work'?'

The CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group (CIG) decided to address the concerns of this group and design this event, the first in a new occasional seminar series, for those working in the traditional 'backroom' professions of cataloguing, indexing, acquisitions and knowledge management, with a focus on sharing ideas for incorporating blogging into working life.

Delegates came from a wide range of organisations; libraries and information units in academic, public, commercial and government organisations as well as archives, art galleries and museums, were all represented.

Information Blogs by Information Professionals: How Acquisitions, Cataloguing and Subject Librarianship Are Good Blog Fodder

Anne Welsh, Drugscope

Interestingly, this presentation took the form of a blog [1]. Anne reminded us that Blogger's help notes still define blogs as online diaries, and that one of the earliest blogs - Ref Grunt, begun in November 2003 - is still around. However, she stressed that content is more important than format - we value the content of books and journals not their actual printing (unless you have a special interest in this) and the same applies in Web 2.0. Blogs need to be targeted to draw people in, and intuitive and easy to use if you want to keep your readership.

Anne went on to point out that traditional skills in cataloguing, acquisitions and subject knowledge are as important in the 2.0 era as they were in the 1.0 period. The same skills that produced catalogue records can produce blog feeds from the catalogue and help in-site navigation. Understanding a user group's information needs is as relevant in acquiring Web documents and references and creating social bookmark sets as it is in buying print works. Finally she noted that advances in technology have also made it easier to use; where once RSS feeds had to be individually and manually created, now the process is semi-automated. Tagging software such as [2] and Connotea [3] enable indexing and subject retrieval via user group terms and, since tagging is here to stay, we should be using it to our advantage. Combining tagging with traditional indexing could provide a whole new search (and search again) experience. In this area she noted how the STEVE Art Museum Social Tagging Project [4] aims to exploit a user community's willingness to participate in extending the indexing of its resources.

Marketing and Profile-Raising through Blogging

Christine Goodair, International Centre for Drug Policy, St. George's Medical School, London University

Christine discovered the value of social software in her previous post at Drugscope. Like similar organisations, Drugscope wanted to raise its profile but had no budget for this, so the challenge was to get publicity at no, or at least very little, cost - so the Drugscope blog was born [5]. Christine paid tribute to Anne Welsh's enthusiasm and ability in getting this up and running within a very short time.

Christine noted the value of a staged release to the blog's core audience of drug service professionals first before opening up to a wider audience and noted that trying it out internally had made the library and information service more visible to the organisation. Evidence was also collected to demonstrate the value of the blog to senior management; this included site metering, a request by Italian workers in this field to translate it (permission was given), and the fact that academics in the field are starting to follow the blog and cite it in lectures and references.

Experience showed the importance of keeping the blog fresh so that users could expect something new every week. Drugscope publishes weekly articles which are available as PDF downloads via the blog - these can sometimes be tied into events. For example a tie-in with National Reading Day looked at the coverage of drug and alcohol addiction in fiction for teenagers. It was also noted that the blog was a useful way of repurposing information; donations could be mentioned on the blog, providing a way of thanking the donor and raising awareness that donations were important.

Discussion raised queries over potential conflicts of interest and situations where internal blogs would be more appropriate, such as law firms and commercial organisations.

Is Blogging Good for Your Professional Health?

Helen Nicol, NHS Connecting for Health

This presentation focused on internal corporate blogs. Helen described the Connecting for Health initiative, whose purpose is to connect the various parts of the NHS. The team members of each project are usually in geographically disparate locations, and some way was needed to enable people to share experiences and build communities. This tied in with Helen's need for a topic for her MEd in Training and Development dissertation, and she decided to investigate blogs as an internal knowledge-sharing tool - a 'dark blog' or as Helen preferred to think of it, an online notebook.

Helen described the setting up of the blog using Jotspot, a wiki tool with blog functionality. Her research found a strong misconception, based on experiences of older Web technology, that blogging is difficult. Getting people to participate was difficult, especially where teams were too small to provide the core of pioneers and active participants who will support the participators who read posts but don't contribute. The result was few posts of a very general nature; if what they wanted to know wasn't there, they didn't ask. Helen noted that specialist, targeted blogs are more successful than generalist blogs.

From the Backroom to the Frontline and Back Again: Library Current Awareness Services to the Home Office

Rachel Robbins and Karen George, Home Office

Rachel and Karen gave an interesting insight into running a library and information service for a large government department. Figures quoted underlined the sheer scale of their work and individual examples gave some good context to specific issues.

They explained that the current awareness service is delivered by email alerts and newsletters, feeds, blogs and other tailored services. Any of these may result in the information service being requested to find more resources on a specific topic.

Delivering the service relies on collecting information. Every day some 600 incoming email alerts and 3,000 RSS feeds are reviewed, filtered and channelled out in the form of 450 current awareness bulletins per fortnight, 40+ alerts to the Press Office daily, and alerts to other Home Office staff. Rachel and Karen explained that staff have to be both impartial and very good at sifting items in order to exclude what is not relevant while relaying what is in an appropriate manner. They gave the example of a single news item on the experience of a young woman in a forced marriage, which would be fed back to staff dealing with forced marriages, domestic violence and illegal immigration.

Building Bridges: Improving Patient Care with Social Software

Caroline De Brun, NHS National Knowledge Service

The final presentation focused on the National Library for Health uses of social software to keep clinicians up to date. More large numbers were quoted (the National Health Service England is the largest organisation in Europe and the 5th largest in the world) to illustrate the scale of the work and Caroline highlighted the fact that the NHS has undergone three major re-organisations since 1999.

Caroline then outlined how the National Knowledge Service uses blogs, RSS feeds, wikis, social bookmarking and networks to support NHS staff. She also acknowledged the fear factor - many staff have not had to use IT till now - and the impression that it is not really 'work'. The different technologies are used for different purposes. One example given was a glossary maintained in a wiki; in addition to a definition for each entry there is also a linked article that illustrates its usage in context.


This was a valuable starter session for those wanting to move into this area. In place of the traditional paper handouts, participants each received a CD-ROM of presentations and 'how-to' demos. The presentations are also available from the Blogging from the Backroom event page on the UKOLN Web site [6].


  1. Backroom Blogging
  2. social bookmarking
  3. Connotea online reference management
  4. STEVE: The Art Museum Tagging Project
  5. Drugscope
  6. Blogging from the Backroom

Author Details

Ann Chapman
Policy and Advice Team
University of Bath

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Date published: 
Monday, 30 July 2007
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