Christina's LIS Rant
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
  Is blogging for personal information management generalizeable or just for some?
Is blogging for personal information management useful for all professions and personality types or just for writers and information workers?

When I talk about blogging for information management I mean maintaining a personal blog (or if a collaborative one, one with low or no barriers to posting) to keep what you've found, provide context and analysis though commentary and linking, and to allow for time sequencing and searching. (You can see what I mean in my ASIS&T presentation and my presentation in June). A few years ago, Seb Paquet noticed that the early blogosphere was dominated by professions who uncover implicit information. Specifically he mentions journalists, librarians, lawyers, and educators. Looking at this a few years later, I would say that it's different aspects of the various jobs that encourage blogging: communication skills, writing fluency, extroversion (or at least comfort in dealing with people, desire and ability to network)... So, to the professions mentioned above, I would now add public relations and perhaps politician. Of course, the individual has to also be willing to experiment and try new things.

Where do scientists and engineers fit in? Both fields tend to draw more introverted people; however, in training and in practice both groups need to collaborate and share to get ahead. They get together at conferences and virtually to co-author papers, brainstorm ideas, and solve problems. They work on project teams and together in labs. Some trust is implied from this sharing of information but that trust may only exist when a f2f meeting has occurred. Comments to this Cosmic Variance post reinforce the idea that one to-many sharing like on blogs is uncomfortable for researchers who are being pressured to patent, publish, etc. Like an earlier Educause article, the Cosmic Variance post linked above talks about making conference or seminar conversations persistent, asynchronous, and at least partially available to interested parties unable to participate in preferred channels.

This morning I read the David Secko article from The Scientist (8/1/05, free reg. req, pointed to by ResourceShelf) with great interest. The article discusses the power of blogs for finding information, collaborating, networking, keeping up with science news, archiving project information. The article also mentions that the life science blogosphere is in its infancy. Eric Gerritsen speculates (in a quote in the article) that this might be "due to scientists' caution about retribution, unfamiliarity with the technology, or not grasping the potential impact yet." Both the Secko article and Clifford's Cosmic Variance post encourage me to believe that blogging can help the PIM of scientists and engineers.

So for science/technology librarian bloggers: how do we translate our success with our personal blogs to the work of the scientists? We can offer training and familiarization with the technology and go on about the impact... we can provide internal blog hosting (thereby limiting the risk and returns of sharing). Is this something that has to come from within their field?

Update: amazingly enough, I completely missed the editorial from the issue in which life scientists are prodded into action. Well, let's see what that does and let's see if physical scientists get jealous... (pointed to by Geoff)
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The nature of blogs would not keep off "introverts" but the current image of blogging will perhaps do, especially because some usage types are overly stressed, such as public intimate diary, spike journalism, corporate PR vehicle, and extensive commenting. The other types of blog usages, such as intranet radar reporting, topical exchanges among domain experts, or collaborative note-taking, are in fact very appropriate for many professions and personality types. As for your "introverts", think of the fact that they may be more comfortable with this asynchronous rather than oral communication that can be revised before uttering, and the incremental characteristics of link commenting and annotating which may well be more comfortable than monographs and stand-alone presentations. Also in contrast to listserv lists, blogs are less extrovert and aggressive. However, while no personality type will be left behind, not all cognitive types and styles will be happy with blogging, or at least not with blog writing. If someone shuns literacy or incrementality, he or she will probably not like to write a blog.
Incrementality... hmm... that deserves some thought. Thanks for the comment.
A few thoughts on this from an engineering perspective. For one thing, I've found that the engineering field is a lot less open to sharing knowledge than, say, our profession. Then again, I don't think there are may professions that are as open to sharing knowledge as ours is.

Also, from my experience, there are many engineers who just aren't good at documenting their work. Some are, of course, very diligent about documentation and use things like laboratory notebooks in the way that they should, but there are many who just don't bother. This was something that was never stressed to us in undergrad. (Note: I went through mechanical engineering; this may be different in other programs such as, say, chemical)

So, one of the hurdles IMO is the culture. Perhaps this is something that needs to be addressed at the undergraduate level - more education on the importance of information management and use.

Another possible hurdle is the limitation of present blogging tools. With text-based tools, writing formulas and diagrams can be problematic. Perhaps there needs to be a 'science-friendly' blogging software tool developed (unless there's already one out there that I'm not aware of)
Right - there's a huge difference between the way scientists (my undergrad is in physics) and engineers operate. It's a real mistake to try to treat them the same way.

In re documentation, one of my ideas is that a little jotting as you go makes for less painful final technical reports... alas, still a PITA

A physicist blogger figured a way to do mathml in MT but that doesn't help with physically drawing a diagram of what's happening -- this is necessary in many sci/tech fields. Our electronic lab notebook project faced the same hurdles. We had tablet pcs for the pilot with input from a stylus -- wasn't good enough.
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina Kirk Pikas

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