Friday, February 13, 2009

Library Blogs: Guidelines, Policies and First Amendment Rights (Lisa T. blogging)

According to a Pew study, 32% of adults are blog readers. Portland has the second highest number of blog readers and contributors in the country. What people like about blogs: the material is always new and fresh, they foster community, they're interactive.

What Multnomah County Library (MCL) learned from early tries with blogging:
  • be afraid
  • you must moderate comments
  • only let people comment for a specific period of time
This comes from a situation where they had an unmoderated Everybody Reads blog on their site, where people were still commenting on it, spamming it, etc. after the project was over. This led to the MCL site coming up as a result for searches of words that were not at all library-related, and possibly offensive.

How to get the public what they want without getting the library into trouble? There are rules for behaviour in the library, those could be extended to library blogs.

The three major policy issues related to allowing public comment on blogs are:
  • 1st Amendment rights and responsibilities of the public and library staff
  • Public records retention
  • Liability - copyright infringement, libel, etc.
Re: 1st Amendment rights - describe the blog in a way that makes it a limited public forum. One that focuses on giving people information (e.g. book recommendations) limits the scope of what people can comment on. As for staff, give them guidelines as public employees, ones that are connected to existing behaviour guidelines for staff.

Post a purpose statement on the blog that defines the limited public forum. Write a social software policy for the library and post disclaimers on the blog as well. Comment guidelines also appear directly where users would post their comments to the blog.

Comment moderation helps avoid spam. There are two reasons to reject a comment - if it's unlawful, or off-topic (this is where it's important to have a purpose statement to help define what is on-topic or not). Keep any comments you don't post, in case of a legal challenge.

Re: public records retention - this is one reason why it's better to host the blog on your own server, rather than having it hosted by another site.

Re: liability - make sure staff have clear guidelines for writing posts, think about having a social software policy especially for staff, and make sure it's clear how to deal with copyrighted material. It's really easy to post images and video that may be under copyright.

Presentation materials online


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