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Public Sector, and Public Servant, Blogging and Blogosphere Issues

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I’ve been talking a lot lately with others about public sector blogging and I thought it might be useful to start posting about the issue.

(And, some of the best, and most productive, discussions I’ve had have been with the people at the Multnomah County Library who drafted these: a) Social Software Policy for Multnomah County Library Users and b) Blog Comment Guidelines)

Blogging issues that arise in the Public Sector World include technological, budget, practical, policy, politics, and literary ones, and, of course, legal questions and puzzles. I’m sure there are others, but one has to start somewhere.

In a nutshell:

1) Technology: In the public sector, hardware and software are generally pack horse quality, rather than race horse or even cross-country runner (or cyclocross 🙂 — that is, the word nimble rarely comes to mind when talking about most large public entities.

2) Budget: Money, money, money. It costs money to experiment, to organize social networking at an public organizational scale (rather than you going out and buying yourself a netbook or new phone and twittering away).

3) Practical: Many government entities, especially in small and medium size jurisdictions, are extremely lean operations and everyone is already multi-tasking. Something has to give if any staff person is to start blogging or if public meetings must add online service to their real-time, in-person, and public TV appearances. Who blogs, when, how, and what, who monitors the blog, when, how, and what, who does the training, who is on the helpdesk, etc.

4) Policy: I should probably use the word Policies, because, everything in the public sector requires a Policy, to make sure all is fair, honest, open, and consistent. Someone has to write it and many people need to be included, lawyers who know local government law, elected officials, front line staff, tech staff, and the public, for whom this is being done.

5) Politics: This is always present. Why do you think they are called Politicians? This is just a fact, not a matter of Right, Wrong, Good, or Bad.

6) Literary: blogs and other social network communications should be well-written, but public sector blogs also need to be politically, socially, and other “ally“-neutral, which can be the kiss of death to some writing. But even a public servant can develop a Writer’s Voice that is appealing, if also instructive, fair, and trustworthy.

7) Legal: First Amendment issues come to mind first, and limited public forums, but there are others I am sure.

Two Librarian resources

1) Library Law Blog

2) The Oregon Library Association (OLA) 2009 Annual Meeting will host this program:

Panic in the Blogosphere?–The Library, Social Software and the First Amendment
Cindy Gibbon Multnomah County Library, Arlene Keller Multnomah County Library, Bernadette Nunley Multnomah County
Fri. April 3 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM in Santiam 2
Burgeoning use of social software in the library world begs some important questions. What are the implications of creating a public forum on the library web site? What guidance should we provide to staff members who are posting on library time and in the library’s name? Many libraries have either ignored these questions or have opted out of using social software because they aren’t sure of the answers. This program will explore the legal and policy implications of using social software in libraries. We’ll provide practical guidance for creating public and staff policies and guidelines for the use of social software that can protect your library from thorny personnel issues and knotty legal problems. Specific topics will include: defining a limited public forum based on your library’s mission; First Amendment rights and user comments; and the rights and responsibilities of staff contributors. PLD/Intellectual Freedom