For background, this post was inspired by Laura’s (of lis.dom) excellent post on the uses of the biblioblogosphere, which was in response to posts by Mark Linder, Angel, and Joy Moll.

It’s now been almost three months since Adam and I moved to Vermont and since I started my job at Norwich (note that I am not using the term MPOW, Mr. Cohen ;) ). We’re still learning the area and I’m definitely still learning the players at Norwich who are important for me to know. I remember when I first started, I heard a lot of names I didn’t know. Names like Mich and Don and Bill and Carmen were bandied about as if I knew them, which I certainly didn’t at the time. But I tried to remember the information I gleaned from conversations about these people. I learned that Mich was a fellow techie and Don was a big fan of the library and of information literacy instruction. Good to know. And by the time I met them, I knew who I could talk to about certain issues and who I could probably work best with. Even now, I still hear names of faculty members I don’t know and I try to make a mental note of their name when I think they might be useful to me (or the library) in the future.

This is what happens when you move into a new community. You have to learn the people and you have to learn the shorthand. Sometimes you will be at a meeting where nothing is explained to you, so you may have to do some digging to understand the players and the context. Eventually, as you get more familiar with your surroundings, you become an insider too. You know the lingo and the people and you bandy acromyns and faculty members’ first names around with the same ease. Somehow, without noticing it, you became part of the community that seemed so foreign to you a few short months before. It’s the same with any new community, whether an academic institution or a city.

It’s the exact same thing with the “biblioblogosphere.” To someone coming in for the first time and reading our blogs, it may seem cliquish at worst and confusing at best. Who are Jenny, Steven (and which Steven?), Michael (and which Michael?), Jessamyn, and Sherri? What is a wiki? What is RSS? What is MPOW? What is del.icio.us? I sure was confused by all that when I first started. But is it because y’all were an elite clique? PUH-LEASE! I have never seen someone humiliated or booted out of the biblioblogosphere. I have never seen anyone be anything but welcoming of new bloggers or the wonderful folks who comment on posts. Very early on in my blogging, I received an encouraging comment from Jessamyn that made me feel a part of things. I couldn’t believe that someone as important as Jessamyn would take the time to comment on my silly little blog. What I learned is that those A-list bloggers want the dialogue to grow. They don’t just want to hear the sound of their own voices.

At this point, I certainly feel a part of the Biblioblogosphere and I usually understand what people are blogging about. But even now, I sometimes have to click on a link to find out who a blogger is talking about (when they put “Michael”, are they referring to Michael Sauers, Michael McGrorty, Michael Casey or Michael Stephens?). But we provide those hyperlinks, which is lot more than you get when you start out in a new physical community. It is not elitist or rude not to explain everything in every blog post just in case there are new people reading it. I remember getting a message from someone who read my blog and was annoyed that I hadn’t explained what a wiki was. Well, I had in previous posts and that person would have found it had they searched the archives of my blog. Should I really include a definition of a wiki everytime I write about one???

Laura at lis.dom writes about how she felt when she first started exploring the Biblioblogosphere:

It was code to me; code being spoken by a group of people in the know, all of whom seemed to know each other and refer to one another in endless loops. In many ways, then, it was like a clique–like one of those supercool groups of people I never quite belonged to. But in important ways it was different from a clique–it existed (mostly) in virtual space, and, perhaps by virtue of that, it was a club that anyone could join. I never felt excluded in my early months of reading; I just felt like I was getting the lay of the land.

Right! Just like in any community, be it virtual or physical, you have to get the lay of the land. People are not going to hand you a map of your community with all the cool places to eat, go door-to-door and introduce you to everyone you might want to know, and get you hooked up with a good doctor, dentist, and mechanic (if only!). You have to learn those things on your own. And it’s a lot easier to learn in a world full of hyperlinks than where I live where restaurants, stores, and dentists rarely have an online presence. We are in dire need of a community wiki (which I hope to provide in the future). I found it much easier to find my way around in the blogosphere than in Vermont. Everything here is word-of-mouth, which is hard when you don’t know anyone.

While we all started out as individual people writing about libraries, technology, books, intellectual freedom and the like, somewhere along the line we became a community. We linked to each other, commented on each other’s posts, and even met in person in some cases. When one of us wrote something controversial or particularly interesting, it would touch off a conversation that continued in the comments section, in other people’s blogs, and even in other people’s off-line lives (which we certainly can’t measure, but I know I’ve come to work and talked about other bloggers’ ideas). These distributed conversations are the hallmark of an online community. It’s harder to follow a conversation in the blogosphere than it would be with a listserv, but I find that the conversations are much richer and more thought-provoking in the biblioblogosphere. These distributed conversations are what keep me blogging. It’s an exciting thing to be a part of.

If you’re coming to the Biblioblogosphere for the first time, you may be a little confused by what you read. Don’t give up. You may also think we’re cliquish. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In the short time I have been blogging, I have seen many new people start blogs and join the conversation with ease. I’ve seen many other people who don’t have blogs of their own become regular commenters on other people’s blogs. If you’re confused, follow hyperlinks, search people’s blog archives. It won’t take long before you’ll be using terms like MPOW and driving Steven crazy (and you’ll know which Steven I’m talking about!).