or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Library policy about personal blogging

   July 14th, 2009

The Man Behind The CurtainA couple of weeks ago, the director of the Wadleigh Memorial Library in New Hampshire wrote me with this question (I'm paraphrasing):

We have an intern for the summer, and she's started a blog about her work at the library. However, the next thing I knew, there was a link to her blog from the library's homepage (it's since been removed). While I like the idea of the public getting a bird's eye view of what we do at the library, I have to think of worst case scenario....

I couldn't find your blog linked from CPL's website, but you do publicly announce on your blog where you work. Does CPL have any policies in place about staff blogs? Have you ever had anything you've written come back to bite the library?...

This is a very interesting question. Something I wrote once did come back to bite, and the Town, the Library and I were all threatened with a lawsuit. That prompted a discussion between my director and me about separating library and personal, although no written policy ever came of it. But in general, here are the blogging guidelines that I follow:

  • Nothing written can be unwritten - think before you publish
  • Get permission before using names, and be vague when referring to people otherwise
  • Personal website has a disclaimer disassociating the library/town from me

Which is basic, I know, but since it's a personal website done on personal time, there's not much keeping me from doing whatever I want - other than common sense, experience, and goodwill towards the library. Since most of what goes on in libraries is public record anyway, pretty much everything I do at work is fair game, so long as I don't break the law or violate patron privacy.

Even still, it might be a good idea for libraries to create some sort of guidelines for staff who publicly use the library's name online. I don't think libraries can force people to do or not do most things (aside from using library resources and time), but basic guidelines might help a well-meaning library employee avoid awkward situations they might not have otherwise considered.

A few resources for these guidelines are:

It's a great idea for library employees to share their work with the public (and other librarians). Especially if the library is going to link to that personal blog from the library's website (in which case, the library might be entitled to more control over the content of that personal blog). If no employee is doing this on their personal blog, the library's blog itself could occasionally spotlight behind-the-scenes activities in the library.

I guess the bottom line is that people are still discovering Web 2.0, so there's a lot of inexperience and new situations out there. Libraries shouldn't try to prevent their employees from participating, but instead can assist them in doing it well (remember 23 Things?).

After our email discussion and speaking with library Trustees, the Wadleigh Library decided to put the link to their intern's blog back on their homepage, which was good news. So if you're looking for a model on how to do this, check out Lexi the Intern's blog - she's doing a great job.

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5 Responses to “Library policy about personal blogging”

  1. Rich Says:


    The Electronic Frontier Foundation (http://www.eff.org) and the Citizen Media Law Project (http://www.citmedialaw.org/) have excellent resources on blogging rights.

    Things to think about:

    1. Government workers have more rights than private workers who are treated as “at will”.
    2. Employers are now searching web sites, blogs, Facebook, etc. for employee names and any comments.
    3. Lawsuits can be expensive.
    4. Putting a disclaimer on your blog usually does the trick.

  2. Randy Robertshaw Says:

    “Smart Policies for Workplace Technology: Email, Blogs, Cell Phones & More” is a decent read.

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  5. Lisa Says:

    I’m currently doing a MLIS class on web 2.0, and have linked a few times to your excellent posts in my ‘Useful Links’ section. However, I am actually going to reference this one in my discussion, as I think it presents some great information for librarians who blog. Thanks for the thought provoking post!