The Meaning of Book Reviews for LibraryThing
I have just finished my seventh book review for LibraryThing. Most of my review content uploaded to the site has been possible by books given away at LibraryThing by either publishers or promotional groups. The aim of this tiny essay is to inquire about the meaning of writing for a website such as Librarything given what is happening to publication in general across the internet.
When one enters text or other content into fields in LibraryThing, there is no editor standing over one’s back checking form, grammar, whether anything inappropriate has been included or even whether your content has “stayed on message.” None of these factors are taken into consideration when text is added after the user has logged into the site under his or her account. Reviews, upon submission, can be voted positively following current crowd-sourced, social trends. Reviews can even be flagged for content reasons. But there is no committee, fact-checker or grammar check required to submit.
There are myriad points one could make about writer-controlled content added to a popular and publicly used site such as LibraryThing. Many of the same points can be made about author controlled web-sites of any kind. Writers, like all “public” figures, want to appear to put their best looking foot forward. In our contemporary era, web personas and content added to pages attached to these personas, are submitted to websites. Some of these websites are built upon freely available web authoring software such as WordPress.com. Others may have started out as Blogger sites but have transitioned into full-blown branded sites. And I do mean branding. This means that even if the free code has been downloaded from WordPress.org, it has been manipulated and customized according to specific and unique interests and then hosted at one of the many places to host code seen through browsers as a URL.
Whatever code and style limitations that may have been imposed by free blogs hosted at WordPress.com (which always include .wordpress.com in the URL) have been evaded by adding more distinguishing features, but not limited to, branding through naming. Some famous authors with fully branded websites (which do not necessarily have to be based on WordPress.org code) are William Gibson, Thomas Pynchon and Jeanette Winterson. I mention these three as examples of different styles that are designed with the intent to brand each author for marketing (which is not a bad thing). Each site is different. In truth, each of these sites may have people who run them who are not the authors themselves. But that doesn’t matter because the authors themselves are in control of what happens on them and how content is uploaded for live viewing.# So even though each author’s controlled and branded site looks nothing like LibraryThing nor a “standard” blog that could be run by anyone with an internet connection, the overall demand from controlled web publishing technologies are the same – content added for all the world to see is uploaded/added by select administrative personnel who determine what content is loaded and may or may not have any fact-checkers, editors or “appropriate” content managers standing over their shoulders deciding whether said content has “stayed on message.”
Now, it probably works to the benefit of every author who has a branded website to “stay on message” and use all necessary fact-checking and editing skills at hand because, well, they’re authors who author (write) and who are interested in developing an educated and positive fan base. These aspects of web publishing, however, are used by every author. It doesn’t matter if an author runs a small blog hosted on freely available software (where the software is openly branded) or a site built on fully developed and manipulated code. Each author wants to put his or her best looking foot forward. One could argue the best looking feet on the internet are branded and controlled websites. But it is not the case that every author prioritizes his or her writing the same way as another more famous one. Plus, there are lots of important and famous institutions (some universities and publishers) who use freely available web publishing software (where the software is openly branded) to promote their goods and services. Why can’t a “normal” person do the same thing? Time and space change all the time.
It seems to me many authors who care about their content added to the internet will already do their best to upload and submit the highest quality content they can manage. No, not every submission or act of uploaded content counts as authorship or toward activities built to promote a “writer.” But these days with technologies such as websites, blogs, Twitter, google+, about.me, LibraryThing and other social media applications that can be linked to each other, why would an author not make the most of every act of content upload? The linking of technologies to each other, a form of interoperability, can be used extremely effectively to promote and cross-promote writing of all sorts all across the internet. In some cases, a single post in social media will automatically cross-post to other applications. Professional writers use these technologies intelligently all the time. An amateur or non-professional writer can as well.
In many cases, posting in social media dovetails into the history of a writer’s writing. Writing a “proper” essay somewhere for web or print publication in which content is theoretically edited by a “real” editor is then promoted via blogs, websites with branded URLs and social media technologies. And now with publishers of books and e-books lining up to get some of those same publications promoted on LibraryThing, literary minded writers and creators of creative critical essays can submit high quality reviews for others to read while “real” writers can submit reviews to “real” publications on the internet. I understand the conundrum of peer-review when it comes to what makes a “real” publication. In no way are those justifications negative. They make sense to me too. In tandem with this point is the statement from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers that users who write reviews are more likely to receive more books to review than those who fail to submit reviews for books received has the caveat: the actual content of reviews does not matter. In this, a submission to LibraryThing may not count the same as publication proper, but publishers are still riding a circle by using it so heavily to promote (alongside “real” sites of publication) their wares. One just hopes, at least I do, that all reviews submitted to LibraryThing exhibit the best looking foot forward by writers submitting content for this particular social web portal. There is obviously some value and some cultural cache attached to these reviews.
Thank you for reading.
As always, I am open to comments here or @ Twitter.
#If this is not true, please communicate with me in a polite and educational manner. Thank you.
Technology in the Library and Lifelong Learning
Review of Nicole C. Engard’s (with Rachel Singer Gordon) The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition. Information Today, Inc. 2012. ISBN: 9781573874533
One of those ever-famous quotes from library school is that librarians and librarians-in-training must be life-long learners.* The reason for referencing this quote in this review is one of the methods through which Nicole C. Engard gathered anecdotes and examples for her work, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition (TASL) was via a survey sent out to libraries and systems librarians. A general response suggested by many of the respondees was they never expected to be bored. Engard deliberately makes this point 2 or 3 times across the book in varied contexts because one of her main points is systems librarians may go by different titles at their respective institutions, but they are also in charge of teaching staff, teaching patrons, spending a chunk of their scheduled time at the reference desk or some other task in “traditional” library services and keeping current on all kinds of tech services – a task which shows every sign of continual exponential change. Engard’s goal is to explain the types of issues that may fall under the description for Systems Librarian and also the real work/learning load associated with the position.
TASL is divided in two major sections: The first four chapters, titled Systems Librarianship 101 – 104, are followed by 8 chapters with specific titles focused on subtasks and the granularity of higher level involvement and projects. I would suggest one justification for this structure is a quote by Eric Morgan in his penned Forward, “Working with technology is as much about collection development as it is about knowing how to use computers” (xvi). Technology in libraries is not about adding more “stuff” for staff and patrons to learn – though more learning is hopefully the inevitable result. Technology is built into more facets of library work and library services because it reflects the types of resources that are in current use and in demand by patrons. As a pathway to being involved in culture, learning about whatever topic, or checking e-mail, networked systems of all kinds must be maintained in order to make that pathway easier to traverse. Hardware, web applications and other e-formats are simply used in tandem with resources such as magazines, newspapers and books.
Engard makes clear, however, throughout the book the need for constant education. Not simply personally in efforts for life-long learning. This notion we have already mentioned and will be touched upon once more below. Rather, education designed to bring all staff in-line with expectations held by patrons. In other words, many patrons need help with various aspects of devices, software and some hardware. Many libraries (or library systems), including the one at which I currently work, schedule technology classes in order to teach patrons skills as diverse as how to use subscribed databases for genealogy, how to navigate their e-readers to use the library’s e-collections and how they might use social media to collect ideas for new reading interests. And there are so many others Engard details in the book. The point is it takes educated staff members, confident with these same technological resources in the library’s collections/services arsenal to assist patrons. Also, when a patron comes to ask a question, it is okay for the librarian and the patron to learn something together. But, honestly, the staff member should be the “expert” up to a point and Engard suggests it’s up the systems librarian to collaborate with the rest of the staff and make sure this is the case.
How the local Systems Librarian works and what he or she accomplishes is partly up to her and how distributed the technological work load is in the librarian’s respective setting. There are no set tasks declared in the book. There is not an absolute description of what A Systems Librarian is supposed to do because needs vary so greatly. And in this, Nicole C. Engard’s book, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition, has its greatest strength. Sure it lists a ton of web, journal and book resources to learn network troubleshooting, research techniques and modes of instruction. But it emphasizes life-long learning as the mode of interaction across technological “borders,” changes and constant problem solving which fine-tunes that learning.
A strength indeed.
*This is a phrase I come back to pseudo-regularly as I find it of high value to my own motivations.
PS: A copy of my review has also been published at LibraryThing.
This entry was posted in collection development, internet, knowledge organization, librarianship, libraries, library, library collections, library design, networking, reference books, reference works, social media, Technology in Libraries.