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Webcred article in The Nation, Garage Bands, and The World

Rebecca MacKinnon, whose own RConversation blog is well worth following, has an article in The Nation summarizing “Webcred,” the Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility conference held at Harvard in January 2005 (which FRL attended). MacKinnon even uses the L-word: Webcred was a “group of fifty journalists, bloggers, news executives, media scholars and librarians trying to make sense of the new media environment …” Three librarians attended this conference, giving us 6% representation–not bad at all, for a conference that is strongly related but not centric to librarianship.

You know the commercial that claims, “Having a baby changes everything?” I feel that way about blogging. (Although the analogy breaks down once extended: for example, it’s not a terrible thing to abandon a blog if you decide you don’t want to take care of it any more.) I like Ed Cone’s comments in Rebecca’s piece that he thought he understood blogging before he started his own blog, but it took the act of blogging to realize how “tremendously empowered” he could be by this new medium.

Below are some of the blog-empowered thoughts that run through my mind these days. What strikes me is their granularity. I sound off on any number of issues in FRL, but the posts that give me the most personal satisfaction and sense of empowerment are very local and personal.

When I reported that my car had been broken into, I immediately heard from another librarian in Palo Alto who had the same experience, just blocks from where I live. We struck up conversation–we connected.

When the really awful garage band starts up next door–think middle-aged Jerry Garcia wannabes, with adenoidal voices and atonal guitars–I know that even if the Palo Alto police won’t do anything about it, if I wanted to, I could post about what it’s like to be 47 and living on what feels like Frat Row.

When I write about my book project, I always get encouraging email or comments from someone. To be an MFA student is to admit yes, I want to write, and no, I don’t write well, so it helps–a lot.

When I write brief book reviews, I hear from book fans. Don’t you just love librarians? Deep down, we all love books.

Finally, I have this comforting thought about any situation: “Someday–not now, but oh yes, someday, if I want to, I can blog this.”

As that last example indicates, I don’t feel free to blog anything about everything, and this blog isn’t my personal journal; it’s a side of me–or as some readers have observed, a few sides of me. I am circumspect about blogging about some of the inner workings of My Place of Work for a number of reasons (which I am equally circumspect to share here). I don’t go into great detail about my personal life, except for major events, because I respect my family’s privacy. Some subjects I don’t blog about out of consideration for friends and colleagues, although that sometimes leads to people putting words in my mouth. Some issues are worth blogging about someday–but not now–and some will be moot by the time I feel free to discuss them.

However, with Free Range Librarian, I have the option to blog. I have a voice. If I want to, and I’m willing to face the consequences, I can say whatever I like. And if you want to–and on Bloglines alone, now over 500 people want to–you can listen. All it takes is a small commitment on either end of the conversation.

Finally, when I say “information is a conversation,” I mean that not only among bloggers. With the ability to respond instantly to what other people say, blogging pulls down the pedestals, opens the drapes, and makes information more democratic. Blogging is inherently iconoclastic in the most etymologically pure meaning of the word: it is a destroyer of icons, a smasher of privilege for privilege’s sake. Either your content stands on its own, regardless of where you wrote it, or it doesn’t. But quite a bit of what we as humans have to say is valid and true on its own terms, from the quotidian to the timeless, the particular to the universal. Blogs are one way that in this disconnected world we reconnect and celebrate our collective lives.

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