Drawing the veil …

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When should you blog about work and how much?

Meredith Farkas suggests that we need to know about each others’ failures and difficulties as well as successes, Sharing the bad stuff as well as the failures. All isn’t “Happy Valley” in every library, or every library blogger’s professional life. If we share these moments, then we feel less alone or stupid when they happen to us – and learn from each others’ wisdom or forbearance.

I agree in principle. In practice, I’m a lot more cautious. It’s a personal line that is different for everyone, but I thought I’d share mine.

Considering that this is a blog mainly about being a librarian and I do mention my job in it, my personal hierarchy of respect/ obligation / duty goes :

  • my family
  • my real life friends and relations
  • my workmates
  • online friends and contacts
  • my profession
  • audience of my blog

Sorry folks, but I won’t be telling you about what happens in my job if it’s likely to offend or even make my workmates uncomfortable – even though I’ve had some corkers that I’d LOVE to share with you.

My yardstick is not about individuals, but about the group to which they belong. When I want to mention what someone else said or did, I think:

“If I write about workmate x, will my other workmates think I am looking at them as blog fodder too?. If I mention the cute action by one of my kids’ friends, even with the parents’ permission, what does that do to the trust relationship with other parents ?”

Here’s some instances of where I’ve drawn the line.

1. I wrote a post about a fantastic library-based initiative that is unique and involves a lot of clever hard slog by my sons’ school librarians. I ended up not posting it because I didn’t want to identify my sons’ school.

2. One of my sons has a disability which can be hard for our family to handle from day to day. I mention it on twitter sometimes, and I’ve blogged about it here a couple of times. But the specific details of his day to day behaviour is his stuff, not mine to share. It’s not about hiding or denying his disability (which is basically EDIT: I removed this 4 yr later (2011) when as a teen I was concerned that he would have problems with this information being here and findable by his schoolfriends. ) . I’m not comfortable about sharing my frustrations with his behaviour here with a group of people he doesn’t know. When he’s older, I’ll happily share that with him, but until then I don’t want to write stuff that his friends, teachers and others could read.

3. Several months ago, when I asked for feedback at work about where we should go with our Emerging Technologies Group, a colleague sent me a wonderful, straightforward email about why she found it difficult to find time to learn new stuff. It was so well expressed, and it made so many things clear to me that I asked her whether she’d mind me publishing it on my blog. I emailed a copy of my draft post to my work colleague and to my supervisor, and they were both just fine with it.

Just before I pushed “publish”, I thought about the implications. If my work colleagues read it, how would they feel next time I asked for feedback? Even if it was clear that I had permission, would they think I was scrutinising everything they did to find blog fodder? I changed it enough to make it more general – substantially weakening the impact of the post.

I’m not always consistent with my own guidelines and don’t always get it right. Sometimes I think I do err on the side of blandness as a result. Sometimes it can be a convenient excuse for not facing my own shortcomings or not speaking out when I should. Still, I’d rather live with those mistakes on my blog and shortchange my subscribers than diminish my Real Life relationships. I love writing my blog and get a lot of my professional and personal lift and engagement from the blogging community – and I do want this space to be one of honesty, courage and sharing.

7 thoughts on “Drawing the veil …

  1. I agree that it is very difficult, and it changes constantly. Some days I wish I didn’t have a blog.

    One of my rules is constricting as well as freeing, which is to not blog about work. Obviously this is a huge restriction on what I can write about – I don’t share projects or exciting news, but at the same time it frees me from having to think about whether or not to post something work related. How I’ll talk about my upcoming job news on the blog is something I haven’t decided yet!

    Besides whether or not talk about failure (which I think is important, and was one of the most valuable lessons I gained this year) it is important to reflect on how and why we say things about what we are doing, especially in a place as public as a blog.

  2. thanks for your thoughtful post Kathryn, speaking with my manager’s hat on, I think you are spot on. It”s a seductive media, this, and I think you need to be careful to tread softly – and be aware of the impact one’s comments might have down the track. I read of journalists with similar dilemmas, especially using family/friends experiences. Blogs aren’t private memoirs – they are out there!
    cheers
    Christine

  3. Fiona, I almost wrote in the post “I know that Fiona has a rule never to blog about work” – and then thought that probably wasn’t really kosher. I was wondering whether you’d share about your exciting travels on your blog – you ought, we’d all cheer…but I can understand you not wanting to.

    Christine. Thanks so much for the feedback. I wonder what we’ll be thinking about my self imposed limitation in ten years, or even five? I wonder whether I’ll seem like I was being terribly fussy and prim.? I hope not.

  4. Thank you for your post, Kathryn. I agree with you about the trouble/care one must take when considering what will be posted. My library blog rarely has anything in it about the library I work in (I have been guilty of promoting some of our cooler things, though) – I try to stick to generic issues that apply to all of us. I have a personal blog that I also try to keep things just about me (it is for others that may share my cancer or treatment path – http://cheekylibrarian.blogspot.com) and not too much about family or friends that would ‘out’ anyone. Thank you for your writing, and for the care you exhibit – the readers 20 years from now won’t think you prim or fussy, I bet!

  5. Thanks for this post, Kathryn, and for articulating some practices which had been floating around in my head for some time. These are very important issues for me. One of the reasons why I retired my blog was because I did not think it would be possible for me to maintain this ethic. I decided that it would be better to stop the blog rather than risk these boundaries.

    I totally agree with Meredith’s point that we should be open about blogging about and learning from the failures and difficulties in our work. But the question is – how can this be done without harming our employers, co-workers and our own careers?

  6. Terasa. Thanks for the links. Sending strength your way..although from your Cheeky Librarian blog, it looks like you’ve got it in bucketfuls. I went through my mum’s cancer, and found that I used my librarianship to find out everything I could about what was going on. I don’t think it helped her necessarily, but it calmed me down to do yet another search on the treatments and research…

    Morgan. I was thinking further about the co-workers vs blog audience thing. I wonder whether our blog audiences will actually be with us longer than our co-workers, in this age of rapid job change?

    I was sad when you stopped Exploded Library, as you really think things through much deeper than I do, and I appreciated your perspective. I can see how, with BIG things happening at work, you could feel that anything you wrote on your blog was kind of insignificant by comparison. I reckon though, that I and the rest of your blog audience would still enjoy what you had to write.

  7. Thank you for this post! This problem is so familiar for me, too. Sometimes even a slight mentioning of job may bring misunderstandings at work because people tend to take personally even things that don´t “touch” them.

What do you think? Let us know.