Librarians were trained to Write the Wrong Way

Just thinking about writing for the web. My writing developed this way: I went to school, and learned to write academic papers and speeches. Ok, I also took some poetry and creative writing type classes. And a couple of journalism classes so I learned the inverted pyramid thing.

But other than that, it was pretty much formal academic-type papers. I also learned highly useful stuff … like how to graph out a sentence to discover proper sentence structure. Yikes.

I learned to write in a way that required citations and quotations, which I refined in grad school (I even used one of my class papers as my first official published article). Then the web hit, and I had to learn to write in a new way.

So now, I work hard at writing like I speak. I try to “write it like I say it.” For some people, actually reading what they just wrote out loud can help develop that voice.

Why work at this? Because that type of writing is conversational, social writing. And that’s the type of writing we want on the web – especially in places we are looking for conversations (think blogs or social media spaces).

We are now writing out our conversations, and asking our patrons to respond. To continue the conversation.

How are you learning to write for the web? Have any resources to share?

pic by vial3tt3rs

Answer these Questions for your Website

We’re in the midst of a website redesign for our library. As we start looking at content, links, buttons, headings, etc – stuff like that – you know what we’re thinking?

We’re thinking this: does this link/content/heading/etc answer these questions for our customers?

  • What can I do here?
  • What can I do next?
  • Why should I care?

Answering these are really hard! Think about it for a sec – take a pretty normal link, like the library web designer’s favorite – “Library Databases.” Answering that “what can I do here” question certainly gets into how you label that section of your website (’cause we all know that “Library Databases” means nothing). Perhaps something like “Find articles” or “do some research” might work better?

Or think about a blog post – answering the “what can I do next” question can be as easy as linking to a set of related articles, topics, or even related books at the end of the post. I do this on my blog – when you’re reading it on the actual website, when you finish reading the article, you’ll see a list of related blog posts I wrote. What’s this get you? Website visitors staying on your site for longer amounts of time. More clicks. Hopefully, more conversions – more people clicking “attend this event” or checking out a book, etc.

“Why should I care” is a favorite one of our library director, and it’s probably the hardest of the three questions to answer. One way to do this is in the content itself. So your first couple of questions get the customer to your content … and then your content itself will need to answer that “why should I care” thing.

The answer could be any number of things, ranging from “because you can borrow it for free” to “because you’re a small business owner, and these resources will help you be profitable.” See where I’m going with this? Another way to say “why should I care” is to ask “what’s in it for me” or “why is this interesting?” Give them that reason.

Give your customers a reason to stay on your site by having great content AND by actually telling them why they might want to stay. Do that, and my guess is that … they actually WILL stay on your site – your digital banch – longer, doing more things.

Could be a good thing!

pic by Marco Bellucci

Volunteers vs Job Duties

Some people have told me they ask for volunteers to do blog posts or write content for their website. You know what happens there, right? Asking for volunteers works great … until the volunteer “gets busy” with their “real job.”

When people volunteer, they tend to think of the thing they volunteered to do as “extra work.” If it gets in the way of their real job, they’ll stop doing the volunteer work.

It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to do the web work. It’s simply this – the library hasn’t prioritized the web work (also insert Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/etc here).

No one asks for volunteers to work the reference desk, right? How about driving the bookmobile – does it only operate when a volunteer can get around to it?

I don’t think so. It should be the same with web work. Want it to happen? Don’t ask for volunteers. Assign job duties, then expect it to happen, just like working the desk or driving the bookmobile.

pic by LShave

How We Post in Topeka

I was recently asked how my library posts so frequently on our blogs. It’s a morphing process – here’s where we are now, and where we’re [probably] going.

Right now, here’s what we’re doing. Our digital branch is a huge priority for our library. We’re one big building and 17 bookmobile stops, and we have to reach a whole county. So we have prioritized reaching out digitally. In fact, our executive director often says “no one can opt out of the digital branch.” It’s that important to us.

How does everyone participate? Some blog, some take pictures or create/post videos. Some of us watch/add content to our outposts like Facebook or Twitter. Others answer texts/IMs/email reference questions.

For blog posting – right now, our guideline is two posts a week per blog/section of the site. Do we always make this? Nope – some areas do, some not so much. It’s a work in progress.

It also factors into our annual job performance reviews (more on this in a bit).

How will this be changing? Right now, we’re in the midst of a pretty major website redesign. We learned lots from our current design and the current way we operate on the back end, and are ready to put some improvements in place.

One improvement will be how we handle web content – here’s our thinking right now. We’ll probably align our blogs more closely with our physical library’s neighborhoods – we’re taking stuff out of Dewey Decimal order and putting them into content areas (i.e., all health-related books go in the Health neighborhood, etc).

Each of those neighborhoods has a team and a team leader … and each has a blog, too. So the blog is that team’s responsibility. We’ll figure out a posting schedule for them, and jointly create some goals/strategy for growing their little section of the digital branch (that’s a part of my job).

We’ll also probably figure out a way to more formally reward those teams for the digital branch work they do. Right now, it’s easy to say “no one can opt out” and “it’s part of our job performance” – but there’s no good, formal way to make that happen.

We’ll need to figure out a better way to say stuff like “yes, Joe wrote  24 posts this year, answered 200 text reference questions, and livestreamed an author event.” And have that somehow count for better scores on an annual review (alright – still need to talk to HR and other managers about this – it’s been mentioned that we need to improve in this area, just not exactly how yet).

The goal isn’t to punish people who don’t do the work (cause most of us already do it) – instead, the goal is to better recognize this great work.

And last – remember, I work in a pretty healthy organization. If our library decides to do something … we do it. If someone’s assigned to do something, that thing happens. Isn’t that how all libraries are [David quickly ducks]?

pic by pallotron

You-promotion or Me-promotion?

Just saw this on Seth Godin’s blog today, and thought I’d pass it along. Go read it – but here’s the jist:

  • Seth writes about self-promotion
  • He explains that 37 Signals doesn’t do self-promotion, because they’re “promoting useful ideas. They’re promoting tactics or products that actually benefit the person they’re reaching out to.”

Then he sums it up by saying “that’s because they’re doing you-promotion, not me-promotion.”

And that made me think – which type of promotion do libraries do? When we want people to know about our databases for example – do we do me-promotion (i.e., “we have a new business database”) or do we do you-promotion (i.e., “we have a way for your new business to gather B2B leads…. in this new database at the library.”)?

I’m not even sure those are good examples of me- and you-promotion… but – do you get this idea? In our advertising, in our writing, in our video making (for those libraries doing video) – are you simply sharing what you have? Or are you emphasizing the benefit to the customer? Showing the customer what our content, our expertise, our form of community will do for them?

That has the potential TO BE HUGE.

Thoughts?