Blogs have existed on the Internet for several years now. But it has only been in the last several months that they have increased in popularity. This rise in popularity has resulted in new words being added to the English language: blog – a weblog; blogging – the act of creating a blog; bloggers – individuals who create blogs; and the blogosphere – the connected realm of blogs that exists on the Internet and is accessible via links to other blogs, specialty search engines and blog indexes. As this form of communication flourishes, other jargon will surely come into existence as well.
Blogs started out as personal communication tools that could provide Web commentary on social issues and other topics of interest to the blogging community. Blogging was quickly picked up as a distribution tool for technologists, who use their blogs to distribute source code for software, provide bug reports and comment on the state of technology and society. Some examples of this phenomenon are Little Green Footballs’ blog, Scripting News, and WriteTheWeb.
More recently there has been a surge in the number of professional blogs. Several professional journalists have blogs, including Andrew Sullivan and Iain Murray. Noah Shachtman reports that several journalism schools are including blogging in their online journalism classes for the fall of 2002 (Shachtman, 2002).
Part of the spread and popularity of blogs are due to the fact that they are often interactive and community forming. There are even some library blogs that are collaborative, like the Handheld Librarian. Collaborative blogs, i.e. blogs with multiple contributors, are supported by much of the blogging software available today. Other library blogs include The Shifted Librarian, Library Stuff, and Library News Daily. There are so many library blogs now that Peter Scott, Internet Projects Manager at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, is compiling an index of them.
But blogs could be so much more. How about incorporating blogs in a lesson plan on using search engines, on using news aggregators, or evaluating online resources? Or in a journalism class on detecting bias? Or in a computer class on how to document code? Here is an example of how one class used a blog to communicate what they learned about Tudor Exploration in their social studies class: Tudor Exploration. Schoolblogs has many other examples as well. If as a librarian you helped students find resources for a history blog like the Tudor Exploration one mentioned above, the blog could turn into an online history fair.
How can you and your students get started?
First, you will need a connection to the Internet, a web browser and some blogging software. Then, you will need a plan. Will you collaborate with an English teacher as part of a writing project? Or with a social studies teacher on watching and commenting on elections or the current political environment? The opportunities are only constrained by your imagination and the needs of your school’s curriculum.
Let’s take an example. Say you are working with the school’s science department on an ecology project, like the study of a local river. Students could create a blog to track their daily/weekly observations of the river in question after explaining their hypothesis in their first blog post. They may also use a news aggregator, like that included in Userland’s Radio, to track local news item that are relevant to their project (possibly online newspaper stories on dumping of wastes into the river) and post those to their blog. They may also post to their blog links to other sites on the Internet that reference the river’s history, impact on the community, etc. These web links could come from the local historical society’s web site to a doctoral dissertation a graduate student in environmental science did on river ecologies. The students would not only learn about river ecologies as part of their science unit, but also develop information literacy skills for the 21st century.
Blogging software allows a blogger to create a blog without knowing a lot of HTML or working with complicated web templates. Blogging software, unlike web editors like Front Page, is easy to use and is designed for frequently updated pages. Many blogs are updated daily and often have multiple updates in a single day. However, you don’t need special blogging software to create a blog. Some bloggers use straight HTML to create their blogs. For those of us who are scared away by lines of code, here are some examples of and places to get blogging software that help make the creative process of publishing a blog a little easier:
Blogger, Userland’s Radio, Live Journal and Schoolblogs also provide hosting on their server for you. With Moveable Type, you will need access to a server of your own to use the software.
Resources for Bloggers
Blogdex is the ultimate index to blogs on the web, with categories that include “fresh” and “all-time.”
Daypop is a search engine that searches news items and blogs. It also keeps track of the most popular items each day.
Weblog Bookwatch tracks the popularity of books mentioned in web logs using the Amazon.com book number that is built into Amazon.com URLs.
Voidstar RSS-ify is a tool that allows you to turn a weblog into a RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed. RSS feeds are the road maps used by news aggregators to collect resources on the web.
YACCS is a tool used to allow others to comment on your weblog.
Now that you have the resources and tools to create a blog for your library or class, you deserve some recognition. Discover The Bloggies. The Bloggies are an annual award for web logs, entering its third year. They currently don’t have a category for student blogs, but with the increasing attention blogs have received they may be adding categories in the future.
Very few books have been published about blogging. Most of the information about this practice and trend has appeared in the blogs of bloggers and a few articles in the traditional news media. However, that’s about to change. With the publication of the titles listed below, blogging moves into society’s mainstream.
Bausch, P., Haughey, M., & Hourihan, M. 2002. We blog: Publishing online with weblogs. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons
Blood, R. 2002. The weblog handbook: Practical advice on creating and maintaining your blog. Cambridge, MA: Perseus
Blood, R., & the Editors of Perseus Publishing. 2002. We’ve got blog: How weblogs are changing our culture. Cambridge, MA: Perseus
Powers, S., et al. 2002. Essential blogging. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.
Stone, B. 2002. Blogging: Genius strategies for instant web content. Indianapolis: New Riders.
Theresa Ross Embrey is the Automation Coordinator for the Chicago Library System, a consortium of libraries that includes private and public school libraries, college and university libraries, the Chicago Public Library and special libraries in Chicago, IL. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.