There were two long and thoughtful responses to my recent blog entry which asked if one had a bigger impact on the profession writing books or blog entries. I thought they deserved their own post, so with the authors' permissions...
The author of the first response is Jancie Robertson who describes herself as "... a teacher-librarian in Mississauga, Ontario who grew up at a time when there were no computers, and have been in at the ground level so consider myself fortunate and I've taught 20 + years." She has a reader's advisory site at http://web.me.com/janicerobertson
BLOGS NOT BOOKS!
A "long term effect" to me means something that will still be around a couple generations from now. For example - your grandchildren's generation will still be able to read the book you wrote, but SO WHAT?
More important than the long term effect IMHO (especially considering how quickly book ideas become dated - is the wide spread immediate effect.
You asked "which sort of writing has the potential of making the greatest contribution to one's profession - books, articles or blog posts?" and then you said, "I'm leaning toward the first."
WHY do you think a book makes the greatest contribution to your profession? Here's why I don't think it does.
- Lots of people can't afford to buy a book and read it, but most people can afford to read a blog so with a book you have a limited audience.
- Some people don't want to read a book, but will read a blog (shorter time committment)
- You probably have NO idea how many lurkers you've influenced with your blog posts, and you never will know! Those readers link or point others to your words, and they tell two friends and so on and so on. Lots of people don't pass on books in the same fashion because they're too cheap and want to keep the book for themselves even if it wasn't that great.
A carefully crafted, established blog contributes immeasurably to our profession. It is a noble gesture to share a piece of yourself so publicly with people who often will give you nothing in return - no money, no fame, and sadly, often not even any thanks or praise. So... since you asked - I think your blog is an extremely valuable and generous use of time; precious as it is.
We've never met - probably never will, but I read your words of wisdom, your ideas, your suggestions, and your occasional rants, and feel like I have a mentor sharing a journey with me. I do NOT get the same feeling when I read a book written by a fellow librarian. I do not get the same feeling when I read everyones blogs - the ones that are not worth my time or the ones that I'm not developmentally ready for, have been deleted from my feedreader. At a workshop I ran for fellow librarians, you blog was one of the first that I introduced them to... and it was MUCH more exciting that just holding up a book and writing down the title!!!
So.... I'm offically casting my vote for blogs as the more significant contributor to our profession. I own a TON of professional books, but most of what I've learned and remembered and used and discussed and shared, came from blogs not books! (And I do love and buy books, just in case I needed to make that clear!)
I appreciate the kind words, Janice, and am humbled!
The second response comes from a library hero of mine, Walt Crawford. I know Walt best as the author of Future Libraries which was a seminal work in my thinking about how technology might impact libraries. He's written a ton of other library-related books, is a very popular columnist in the public/academic library world, and is the editor/publisher of the e-journal Cites & Insights.
So, on books or blogs or "other" as having the most impact on the profession? Walt writes:
It depends. I'd like to say books, but I suspect some of my ejournal issues and essays will have at least as long-lasting effects as any of my books. (On the other hand, I would never EVER suggest anybody emulate my founding of an ejournal. Never. Sharpen that stake and aim for the heart.)
So, yes, in general, a good book should have more long-term effect than most any article - and a lot more lasting impact than a blog post.
You have to understand: I'm really torn on this issue - but between articles and blogs, not between books and blogs. I wrote an essay in 2007, "On the literature," which values blogs (and other gray literature) over the formal literature (that is, articles) - but also values books, differently.
I read the [Janice's] comment, and I think it makes an excellent case. My own situation:
- Blog posts at my midrange blog reach at least 900 people, and possibly many more if they're picked up. Most aren't, but a few are.
- I'm a peculiar situation, because my most important stuff goes in Cites & Insights--and that seems to reach a few thousand people over time (well, 40,000+ in the case of the Library 2.0 issue, but that's an edge case).
- Only two books I've written have sold more than 5,000 copies (MARC for Library Use and Future Libraries), and most have sold fewer than 2,000...
*The hot-item PoD books I've been doing have sold, to date, between 30 and 250 copies each. Thus, blogging would reach 3-30 times as many people, C&I would reach 10-100 times as many...
And, frankly, I have no sense of the total readership of the two magazine columns I write, in EContent and Online.
My rough metric would be that you'll have more short-term impact and possibly a broader reach with good blog posts, but that you'll have more long-term impact with books, if you're really lucky (or really good). And that you'll never please everybody, no matter which choices you make.
I'm also thinking one writes blogs, books and articles for different purposes – sustained lines of reasoning in books, reporting and calls to action in periodicals, and opinion/reaction in blogs. In a very general way. Walt commented on this statement:
These days, I'd say:
- Off-the-cuff stuff in blog
- Sustained lines of reasoning and synthesis in Cites & Insights [e-journal]
- Shorter, focused, linear narratives in columns
- ...and stuff in books that really doesn't work any other way.
But that's me.
Interesting topic, for me at least. Still wondering - books, blogs, articles, columns - which has the greatest impact?