By Meredith Farkas | July 5, 2005
Now that I have a job, I’ve started thinking about how my work will affect my blog. I was even asked by a soon-to-be colleague how I would handle blogging in the workplace. There are some things I know. I certainly wouldn’t blog anything that would hurt people’s feelings and I wouldn’t blog anything negative that really doesn’t have any purpose being written about beyond being cathartic for me. I’m a big believer in only blogging about personal experience if it is useful for others and can be tied to larger issues in the profession. Obviously, there is a need to be politic when blogging, whether one has a job or not. This is a small profession and an even smaller library blogosphere. But where to draw the line? Will I stop blogging about my own experiences? Definitely not. Will I only write about positive things that happen at my place of work? Hopefully those will be the only ones to write about. And if I do write about negative things, how do I do it in such a way as not to hurt people’s feelings or engender hostility at work? That I don’t know, but I do know that I would rather err on the side of caution. There were plenty of things I didn’t blog about during my job search because I didn’t think there was any useful purpose to others in blogging about it. They weren’t, as we like to say in the profession, “teaching moments”.
I don’t expect to have problems with blogging at my workplace by virtue of the fact that the search committee read (and ostensibly liked) my blog before hiring me. I’ve spoken to my library’s Director about my blog and people know that I’m going to continue blogging once I start work. Other people, who started their blogs while working at an institution, have not been so lucky. These people started their blogs in an institutional culture that is antagonistic to blogging and that promotes secrecy. A friend of mine continues to blog openly, but feels that if some of her colleagues read her blog, they’d be none too pleased. The author of Distance Education Library Services, who blogs semi-anonymously, states that “there is a real anti-blog atmosphere at my institution.” In spite of her anonymity, she still feels like she can’t discuss her work experiences in her blog and sticks with very factual “in the news” topics:
For example, I’ve been teaching a one-credit online class and designing some Blackboard tutorial course units. I bet you all (if anyone is reading this!) could offer me lots of useful advice, and perhaps inspire thoughts on how you can do similar things at your own institution, which you could share on your blogs or elsewhere. I’m just wondering if it’s worth my while to stick my neck out.
Frankly, as a fellow distance learning librarian, I’d be very interested in hearing about her experiences, but if it would threaten her job or her relationships with her colleagues, it’s just not worth it. No one wants to work in a hostile environment. And while it’s nice to say “I wouldn’t work at a place like that!” it’s unrealistic in this job market. And there may be a lot of great things about the institution in which she works that outweigh the negative. It’s surprising to me that there are librarians who are actually hostile to blogging. Is this only the case in academia — where the workings within the Ivory Tower have always been shrouded a bit in mystery — or does it happen in other types of libraries? How does your library feel about your blogging? Or do they even know about it? Have any of you felt like you were stifled by your institutions? Feel free to write to me personally if you don’t want to publicly comment on this one.
Rochelle has been struggling with these questions since she started her job last month. I don’t know whether or not her colleagues were aware of her blogging activities prior to her starting work, but it’s difficult to keep a blog a secret when your name’s on it. Rochelle brings up some good points about what a blog shouldn’t be (a place to complain about co-workers or to write up all the things you wish you could say to your colleagues — that’s what friends/partners/spouses are for!). She also discusses the fact that while her blog will not change its tone, she will not be blogging about every aspect of her worklife:
I need to underscore that this blog does not reflect the inner workings of the library where I am employed; it does not uncover the dark sides of meetings I attend, and it does not even cast too much light on the directions my own library will take. How do you distill what is entirely of yourself when you spend most of your day in the midst of the issues you also want to talk about, among incredibly knowledgable, thoughtful, and optimistic people? Take everyone else out, let your voice only be your own? Let your opinions on issues be only yours? Not easy. Is it even possible?
…I can understand why lots of professionals feel unable to keep a blog. No one wants to keep a journal that’s so institutionally correct that they can’t express what they think; but no one wants to make enemies because of their hobbies, either.
Very true. I don’t think Rochelle will have difficulty finding a balance between honesty and diplomacy, since her best blog posts are about universal themes rather than her specific experiences. And I hope I can find that balance as well.
On a similar note, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has developed a Legal Guide for Bloggers. Just because we’re “not journalists” and are writing what we think does not mean that we can’t get into trouble for out blogs. Whether we are the New York Times or Betty’s Blog, we are publishing our writings. We need to be cognizant of copyright, defamation laws, etc. so that we don’t go too far and end up being sued. The EFF’s guide provides a wonderful collection of FAQ’s on legal issues bloggers should know about with detail on such subjects as trade secrets, libel, copyright, and intrusion into seclusion. No matter what you’re writing about and regardless of whether you blog anonymously or openly, this guide is worth reading.
When we publish our writing on the Web, we can’t pretend we are writing in a vacuum. There can be real consequences for what we write, be they legal, social or professional. For me, a good rule of thumb is would you say this to your colleagues’ faces? If not, then it shouldn’t go in the blog. I know it can feel safer (and certainly easier) to write these things in a blog, but humiliating or hurting the feelings of colleagues in such a public way is far worse than talking to them behind closed doors.
My blog will not lose any of its “moxie” as a result of my job (though I may become a bit less prolific for a while when we first move to Vermont with the job, house, and all). But, like Rochelle, I will not be blogging every aspect of my professional life. I will have to find a balance between honesty and diplomacy, while still picking out those “teaching moments” from my own life. And I’d love to hear how others of you are making that work.