By Christine Sellers, Legal Reference Specialist, and Andrew Weber, Legislative Information Systems Manager, Law Library of Congress
Best Practices for Government Libraries is a collaborative document that is put out annually on a specific topic of interest to government libraries and includes content submitted by government librarians and community leaders with an interest in government libraries. The 2011 edition includes over 70 articles and other submissions provided by more than 60 contributors including librarians in government agencies, courts, and the military, as well as from professional association leaders, and more. Best Practices is edited by Marie Kaddell, Senior Information Professional Consultant; SLA DGI Chair. If you did not write for this year’s Best Practices, Marie invites you to submit a guest post for the Government Info Pro firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Law Library of Congress continues to embrace new mediums to spread and promote our collections, research and services. Over the last two years we have started using social media in a variety of ways. The Law Library has been on Twitter since October 2009 and Facebook since December 2009. The Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), a multi-national consortium we oversee, is also on Facebook. We started our newest Twitter feed in April 2011: @THOMASdotgov, which is designed to give timely updates regarding legislation from THOMAS.
Our goal in social media is to develop and expand knowledge about the Law Library of Congress. In furtherance of that, we determined that a blog would fill a role that the other social media efforts did not. It would provide a platform for more discussion or analysis than a tweet or post to Facebook could provide, but not be as in depth as the detailed reports that we make available on our website.
One of our aims was to expose the various facets of the Law Library that might not necessarily be well-known, but could be very useful to our diverse clientele. To that end, we started with a group of bloggers that included staff from across our organization including a librarian from collection services, our New Zealand foreign law specialist, our United Kingdom foreign law specialist, and the two of us. Andrew would focus on posts related to THOMAS and Christine would provide more of a legal reference librarian viewpoint. We hoped this cross-section of staff would provide those outside of the Law Library with a glimpse into the different kinds of work that we do here, as well as the people doing that work.
We wanted to post daily to the blog, with a stated goal of 5-8 posts per week. Each author‘s goal was to contribute one or two posts a week so there would be regular content on a variety of subjects. Coming up with a name for the blog took time as we wanted something catchy and unique to the Law Library, but also with gravity befitting the institution for which we would be writing. We also needed something everyone agreed upon and could understand! We finally decided upon In Custodia Legis, which is Latin for in the custody of the law. We tried to put our spin on the legal phrase because one role of the Law Library of Congress is to be a custodian of law and legislation.
In Custodia Legis was officially launched on August 2, 2010, with our post What is In Custodia Legis?. We have been keeping up a strong and steady clip since then! By the end of April we had published our 200th post in just our ninth month.
Each of our posts goes through a thorough review process before being published. Only the five primary authors have access to the WordPress software. After the review process, the author has final approval and publishes the post. The process is flexible and posts can be drafted, reviewed, and posted on the same day. Each week we email out a status update with the proposed posts for the week and their step in the review process. This helps ensure content is posted every day of the week and provides reminders for specific event themed posts.
August 2010 was a great first month for us! We had ideas built up since we first decided to start a blog back in November 2009. But after the first month with twenty wonderful posts, we realized coming up with posts on a daily basis took some time (sadly only 14 in September). One thing we did was reach out to other Law Library employees for potential guest posts. We were so successful with submissions that we created a new category for them. As the blog became more established, some staff members came to us with post ideas.
We also developed regular weekly content, which included interviews with Law Library staff and a Pic of the Week feature every Friday. The picture provided a fun way to end the week, while still occasionally linking to previous posts. The pictures also provide a creative outlet for looking at things you pass by every day (sometimes for years) with a fresh perspective. One of our favorites was the introductory picture of a card catalog sign in the Law Library Reading Room. One of our most viewed is Looking Up the Old Law Library, which is a view of where the Law Library used to be thirty years ago in the Jefferson Building.
Through the six questions in the interviews, we‘ve learned a wealth of knowledge about our co-workers and the institution. Two questions in particular bring out interesting answers: ―What is the most interesting fact you‘ve learned about the Law Library? and ―What is something most of your co-workers do not know about you? Interviewees tell us those are the hardest questions to answer. For the former question, answers ranged from learning that more than half of the Law Library‘s print collection is in languages other than English to applauding the outstanding intellectual quality of the staff at the Law Library. For the later question highlights include a co-worker who was offered a job driving a Zamboni and one who interviewed President George W. Bush.
Both series were designed to provide an insider‘s perspective of the Law Library. A goal is to provide our audience with faces behind the institution.
We have learned a number of things since starting the blog, which we thought we should share with you. One of the more difficult lessons was finding the right tone and was a varied learning process for each blogger. As we are writing for the Law Library, the tone of posts cannot be too personal. Yet that personality is what makes blogs different and enjoyable. We have sought and continue to seek to strike the right balance in our writing.
We have also learned that having steady and continuous content takes a lot of planning. We have posts planned for up to two weeks in advance. Andrew sends out status updates containing the post schedule so that all of those involved in the blogging process can be aware of what needs to be done and where posts are in the review process. It takes time to be this organized, but we think the consistency in the blog proves that it is worth it. It also takes time to solicit content from guest bloggers and interviewees, which we try to work into the schedule as much as possible.
We have been surprised by which posts do well and which do not. We have also been surprised by the fact that we can never accurately predict which category a post will fall into ahead of time. Our interviews and pictures typically do well. We started a monthly retrospective post to provide an overview of what people view the most, liked on our Facebook page, commented on, and tweeted about.
Themed day posts have been popular with one on St. Patrick‘s Day and Cinco de Mayo in our all time top five. Blogging about updates to THOMAS.gov also received a lot of page views. Our most viewed post since we started is a straightforward post sharing our statistics, Top Law Library of Congress Web Pages. Our worst post was one of the first of the retrospective posts, December Retrospective. We have since rebranded how we announce the posts, which has improved their statistics.
Above all, we have really enjoyed how much fun writing for the blog can be and hearing how much people enjoy reading it. Some of Christine‘s favorite posts are those that detail reference questions received either on the reference desk or through the Library‘s Ask A Librarian service. These posts include Tales of Al Capone‘s Jury and What Does This Symbol Mean?. Andrew enjoys writing on topics that relate to THOMAS like Where to Watch Congress Online and THOMAS off of THOMAS.
We hope you will stop by to read our blog sometime and leave a comment!
Christine Sellers joined the Law Library of Congress as a Legal Reference Librarian in September 2009. In addition to her reference duties in the Law Library Reading Room, she is part of a team that develops new features for THOMAS and has compiled a report on the social media practices of Congress. Previously, she created the Law Librarians of Leisure blog and before that was a Senior Research Librarian at Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, P.A. in South Carolina. Sellers holds a Bachelor’s degree in art history and English from Wellesley College, as well as a Juris Doctor and a Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of South Carolina.
Andrew Weber, Legislative Information Systems Manager, has been at the Law Library of Congress since June 2004. He has contributed to reports for Congress, updated parts of The Bluebook, trademarked the GLIN logo, and drafted visa applications for co-workers. He runs the Law Library’s Twitter account and Facebook page and works to develop and implement new features for THOMAS. He has been fortunate to blend his love of technology, law, gadgets, and working for Congress into his ideal position. Weber holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Ball State University and a Juris Doctor and a Master’s in Public and International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh.