The whole point is lost if you keep it a secret: Musings on the LIS Blog

There’s a great scene in Dr. Stangelove where the existence of the Russian’s doomsday machine is revealed, but at a moment when it is too late for its explosion to be stopped.

For those not familiar with the movie, the doomsday machine is a nuclear device that can destroy the entire planet in a single explosion, whose triggering is automated, and once triggered, can not be stopped. In this critical scene, Dr. Stangelove complains that the whole idea of having a doomsday machine only works if you tell someone that it exists. Having a secret doomsday device is not a very good strategy. As he points out, “the whole point is lost if you keep it a secret.”

I think about this insight often when I think about our efforts to communicate with our community, and with ourselves, about all of the services and resources that we make available. Without an effective way to allow people to know about what we provide for them, we risk spending lots of time and money on things that few will ever know about. Thinking about how we are going to communicate when we change something or add something should be integral to the process of changing or adding something.

One of the major ways we communicate what’s new and what’s changed is via the LIS Blog. In turn, some items from our blog find their way into MiddPoints, the LIS eNewsletter, and our Facebook and Twitter feeds.  On a monthly basis, a small group sifts through the LIS Blog to assemble the eNewsletter. Of late, we’ve found that despite all of the changes we’ve made to our services, there is no corresponding posting to point to. Over the years, we’ve tried various strategies for being systematic about always posting to the LIS Blog when there is something new or changed that we want our community to be aware of. We hope not to have to return to the days when we had to hound contributors. That was annoying for all involved. To that end, I turn the question over to you: what can we do across the organization to get into the habit of always posting to the LIS blog news about what’s new and what’s changed in order to avoid having to be heavy-handed about this?

A second question about the LIS Blog that I have is whether or not we should continue to run the blog as a public blog. WordPress, the software that powers the LIS Blog, is now able to easily cross-post items to other blogs (that’s how we get posts from the LIS Blog to MiddPoints).  I wonder if we ought to create an LIS-only Blog where we post and where we read, and then create a mechanism for selected posts to make their way to a public LIS Blog and to MiddPoints. The advantage of doing this is that I suspect we might be more apt to make comments, to try out ideas, and to share more insider information if we knew that only our colleagues in LIS would be able to read the posts and the comments. Am I alone in thinking that this might be a good idea? What other ways might we accomplish the goal of encouraging more contributions, more dialogue, and more communication within LIS? (If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your thoughts on the public LIS blog, send me an email!)

11 thoughts on “The whole point is lost if you keep it a secret: Musings on the LIS Blog

  1. Petar Mitrevski

    Grille gift cards for Poster(s) of the Month? But that only rewards parent posts and not the folks engaging in discussion…

    It’s a bit of a catch-22. To make the LIS blog more valuable (and to attract more readers & writers) we need to post interesting information. Thus, at least initially, I think we do need an editor that will track down and ensure contributions from individual authors.

    As for having an LIS-only blog that can easily cross-post to other blogs, I think that’s a fine idea.

  2. Michael Roy Post author

    Maybe we go with the blogger of the month rather than the poster of the month; that way you can be recognized for doing a good job of asking good questions, providing other points of views, links to useful resources.

    Point taken on needing an editor. But I’m trying to resist the temptation to provide the solution!

  3. Dan Frostman

    Personally, my treatment of this blog would not be changed by making it an LIS-only blog. Doing that seems like it creates yet another link in the chain, rather than streamline it. If one can streamline a chain…

  4. Arabella Holzapfel

    I would like more clarity on what is meant by “new” or “changed” that is “worthy” of posting on the LIS blog. After the ERP/VSP, many work units had to redefine their work and who did what. Are you saying that those resulting workflows should have been posted on the LIS blog? Or, if the necessary work is still getting done, is it not “blog-worthy” to describe exactly how and by whom? (I think most of us assumed the latter.)

    Can you give some examples of the kinds of things you were looking for when you said “we’ve found that despite all of the changes we’ve made to our services, there is no corresponding posting to point to.”

  5. Adam Franco

    The big challenge I’ve faced in posting to the LIS blog is the question of audience/impact of the change.

    Should we post if a change just affects 15 people, how about 25, 50? How about if the change affects 10 people directly, but helps them to better serve most of the campus? Providing guidance on what constitutes items deemed newsworthy enough for the blog may help us strike the correct balance. Alternatively, a reminder to sum up six months of changes to a system or process may collect enough incremental changes to be newsworthy.

    I would also echo Dan’s sentiments. Making the blog LIS-only would not change my behavior.

    1. Ian McBride

      The most read post of all time on the LIS Blog was your write-up of the Varnish web proxy server configuration (1,754 views). That’s a topic that probably fewer than five people at Middlebury College would find interesting, but is still great to have on the LIS blog to show off the great work that we (you) do to colleagues at other institutions and give back a bit for all the articles we’ve had to read to figure things out.

      Other posts that people have found interesting on the LIS blog:
      675: New Course Schedule Planner
      540: Upcoming Displays at the Main Library
      529: DrupalCon 2010 Trip Report – Day 3
      484: We Have Your New York Times
      462: “Display Name” Updating Automatically
      432: Microsoft Office 2007 Upgrade now available!

      That’s just a few of the many different posts with hundreds of views and represents a wide variety of topics.

      In my opinion, there’s really nothing too small to make an interesting blog post and the worst case scenario is that nobody will read it, which isn’t a big risk. So why not just post about things you think are interesting and see what works?

  6. Brenda Ellis

    I thought the AD’s/SLT’s were going to post more? Have we given that enough time? As part of our librarians/liaisons meetings we always end with “what need’s to be communicated?”. Maybe the SLT’s meetings should end the same way. (and this should be different than the Area 51 Notes, which most people outside LIS would have no idea what that is). This group might also prompt a workgroup or team to post something about a topic, when needed. I think it could be useful to have an internal LIS blog for when we want to discuss an issue in house and not have it searchable by web search engines. I’m not sure those posts should be fed elsewhere – that might confuse things. If we want it public then there’s the LIS blog. If we want it private, we use the separate one or Moodle as Joe has suggested, as long as it’s easy to get an email notice with a link.

  7. Jess Isler

    I think it is fair to say that some individuals and groups in LIS do a very good job of using the blog to communicate about their work. It’s no secret who these people are; we have a list of blog authors to point to. For many workgroups and individuals, the default communication spot is definitely the LIS Blog!
    No matter what option we choose, I think you’ll need to ask managers to be more accountable for ensuring their staff communicate outwardly–whether that means outwardly to other LIS staff or beyond. I think the issue here isn’t so much the blog setup that we have, so much as an absence of outward communication in the workflow for certain workgroups or individuals.
    I would feel equally comfortable sharing comments and engaging in discussion whether this blog was private or public. My sense is that creating a private blog would not generate increased posts or comments from those who do not already post and comment on this blog. I do not think you will see increased blog engagement unless you ask managers to incorporate “communicating about changes” into workflows and hold them accountable for communicating (setting an example). As Brenda mentions, having each meeting end with the question, “What needs to be communicated?” could be a great first step toward incorporating thoughts about communication into our workflows.

  8. Tim Parsons

    As a notasactivebloggerassheshouldbe and a closet computer geek, I’ve got the LIS blog on my RSS and would miss it should it go private. I realize not all postings are interesting, and maybe discussions might be more productive internally if privatized, but isn’t that what face time is for? I don’t want you all to censor what you assume I’ll find interesting, and if something really grabs me you bet I’ll post a comment. Expertise, or at least opinions, can come from a wide variety of sources in an academic setting, and I don’t think you should cut down on your signal to eliminate some noise.


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