National Libraries Part II

For the second national library did I really have a choice except for the US National Archives? Not really. Besides I really want to see how the nation that gave us the most expensive website (see the last post) will handle a blog for libraries. Ok again, Libraries and Archives are different organizations, but really doesn’t some of the competition come down to sibling rivalry? I am going to say yes and include the US National Archive in my search to understand blogs in the world of libraries.

The main national archives page is somewhat well-organized, but the reliance on small widgets with different colours makes it rather busy and gaudy. In the centre of the page, however, there is box that shows off their web 2.0 street cred with the logos for Facebook, Flickr, You Tube, and Twitter. Clicking the link brings you to a links page for the National Archives and Records Administration with links to their blogs, Facebook pages, Flickr, Ideascale, RSS feeds, Twitter, You Tube, and wikis.  Yes they are listing all of those different new technologies right out in the open, and yes they have multiple blogs, eight in fact and twenty-four Facebook pages.   Suddenly the kudos I dolled out to my own government seems rather feeble in the face of American might.

I am not going to go and mark every single blog, but I am going to look at them to see their strengths and differences and then mark them as a collective whole.

The first one is the AOTUS: Collector in Chief, by the Archivist of the United States. The site is nice and calm, he has a link to a different blog with some of his favourite documents (which are pretty darn cool), and the posts strike the right tone of new-tech savy and fulfilling his role – how else do you describe someone with a summer posting blog starting off talking about potlucks, going to Aristotle, and then the Records Transparency Conference and the importance of transparency in a 200 word opening!

Next one was the Hoover Blackboard for teachers and students and Hoover Presidential library.  This one is a little more stereotypical for libraries with pictures of kids reading books, seniors sorting pennies, pretty pictures of the building.  They even have an archive for Laura Ingalls Wilder!

NARAtions for the U.S. National Archives greets the reader with a mass of text to scare you into submission or austere authority – I think I want to go back to the happy raccoons in Hooverville.    Ok not a real Hooverville.  The site reminded me of reading emails from people in all caps as they don’t realize they are yelling at me.  This is the blog equivalent.  While I actually really enjoy seeing numbers on how organizations crunch files, this one left me cold:

We delivered 406,730 items to over 78,000 researcher visits; 90% of the records were delivered within an hour of the pull time.

I had to get out of that one quickly and check out the National Declassification Center.  I was rather excited by this one, but wow is it boring.  I have to say that it is still a rather new site that has only been going for three months, June, July and November(?), but at least there are some comments of substance on the posts so it is nice to see people engaging in the content like they should with this technology.

Prologue: Pieces of History had that magic word for me: history.  The site itself has really large posts but they are pretty fun.  Check out Facial Hair Friday for some wild beards.  I quite liked this site as they had fun with their content but still sought to impart the knowledge their institution contains in a fun, but serious manner. OK not that serious, but it made me chuckle.

Next is the Regan Education Workshop.  I am going to remain above the easy potshots on this one, but this site worries me as the first posting is from an intern asking for submissions for a new name for the site.  I always thought you should plan out the site’s name before you build it and send links to it out into the world.  Am I surprised that the post has been up since October and there are no suggestions?  Isn’t this the sort of thing the Daily Show would love?  There are a few uninspiring posts and the site is run by an MLIS student from NC.  I was excited and then disappointed to see that they have a Document of the Month section, which I thought would be somewhat interesting to see wise words from the Gipper, but project ran out of steam after six uninspired posts.  It is attempts like this which worry me.  I can see the effort, but it looks like there was no project supporter or champion within the full-time library staff and it fell to people in a temporary position to fill in.  Essentially, someone started hanging up the laundry, then was called away on an errand (putting bonzo to bed?), and now we are left looking at Dutch’s laundry just flappin’ in the wind.

The National Records Management Program’ Records Express blog is actually quite a bit nicer than I had expected. There is a group of four of them and they blog frequently, with interesting content, and they actually use categories! Although they use the site with the stately blue with corinthian columns, it doesn’t seem as oppressive as some of the others, as their posts are short, but not devoid of content and they toss in the occasional picture to brighten things up. Who would have thought Records Management could be so snazzy!

And finally we have The Text Message, which represents, oh boy get ready for it: the Processing and Reference Archivists of the Textual Archives Services Division at the National Archive. Way to sell yourself guys. The first line of the site does not fill one with confidence either.

On an August day in 1991, the body of free-lance reporter Danny Casolaro was found dead in a Martinsburg, West Virginia motel bathtub by two maids.

I can’t say that I am a big fan of Unsolved Mysteries, but I read on and was quite intrigued by the story.  The site is dedicated to textual work within the National Archives and the fact that they are sharing this info with everyone is fantastic.  It makes me think of those key contacts we can make in our life where taking the time to get to know someone can give you wonderful insights into things which you had no idea.  I saw in the outtakes for Clint Eastwood’s true crime movie Changeling that the story came from a city archivist who knew a screenwriter and convinced him to read the transcripts for the story before they went into storage.  What if we all had access to someone like that?  Could this be the site.  I don’t know, but it could at least give me some random conversation topics for dinner parties.

Wow that was quite the collection of sites.  I didn’t know what I would find when I entered the National Archives but it was definitely an eye-opener. I know I should have concentrated on the Library of Congress’ blog, but frankly it was well enough designed but the main page gave me a headache and I didn’t want to start trying to poke around. The National Archives however, had some deep water to dive into.

As for a rating:

  • Location:
  • 8/10 Nice central button to draw people to site works wonders every time. It didn’t have a small feed of some of the blogs, and you can only click on “Go” in his large icon to actually connect, but on the whole, it works nicely.

  • Usability:
  • 8/10 This would be a very straight forward site for the first time user. The inconsistent use of categories, and no tags(!), limits its effectiveness as a blog device. (I still can’t see why they would remove tags. Sure it makes it cleaner for new users, but this is like getting a 21-speed mountain bike with and they take of changing gears right on your peddles. Sure you can change 7 gears, but without the gears on the peddles you can’t get the full range of gears that by all rights you should have.)

  • Fit:
  • 9/10 Apart from the Reagan site, the sites had a nice uniform style and a surprisingly consistent writing style.

  • Would I use this service:
  • I would actually go back to some of the sites and I would even recommend some of them to others.

  • Suggestions:
  • Use more tags and tag clouds, and use categories more consistently for pete’s sake! Most sites had an entire group of people involved with the blog, but the Regan site either needs to have a sponsor or take the site down. Otherwise, this is an excellent first step (I would guess there was a strong training program), and I encourage them to keep up the energy.

  • Other Points:
  • I found it strange that the one with the poorest conception and grasp of blogging etiquette was the Regan site which was run by MLIS students. Now, perhaps they were unable to implement the site like they would have wished, but the written content was poor, and I cannot see how anyone’s supervisor cold impede that aspect of the work.

  • Final Score:
  • 25/30 83% A- I liked these sites as they were not simply a collection of an individual jabbering on about what they find wrong with the internet and the world at large (see Digital Luddite), but rather organizations trying to become involved and active with the online community. The sites have great potential. To keep with my highway similes, the American car has passed the Canadian speed walker, but they are stuck in second gear.  Can someone please teach them how to use a clutch?


    Filed under National Libraries

    2 responses to “National Libraries Part II

    1. We came across your blog post reviewing U.S. National Archives blogs. I wanted to say thanks for the feedback on your impressions of them. We appreciate the time you took and were happy to get an “A” rating from you!

      Our website redesign will launch next week along with a revamped social media directory, so we invite you to check back with us.

      Thanks again!
      Social Media Team
      U.S. National Archives

    2. Wow, thanks so much for the in-depth review of our blogs! We really appreciate the time and care that went into your post.

      Tag clouds are generally considered to be a bit passe by web designers, but people new to blogging still love them. We do list tags at the bottom of each post. As for categories, they’re specific to each blog, not to the Archives in general. That’s why they’re not standardized.

      Ah, yes, the Reagan blog. I have full confidence that they’ll find their voice soon.

      Web Developer
      National Archives

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