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Matt Raymond of Library of Congress Blog [LexBlog Q & A]

February 22, 2008

Today’s LexBlog Q & A features a special guest: Matt Raymond, Director of Communications for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and author of the Library’s official blog.

We stumbled across Matt’s blog recently and were intrigued by the idea of a government organization blogging (so far our only other federal government Q & A has been with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Marcus Peacock). As you can see in the interview – available after the jump – the LoC’s blog appears to be indicative of a slow-but-sure shift if the federal government, which is starting to make its own presence in the blogosphere.

1. Rob La Gatta: You launched the Library of Congress Blog just under a year ago. Since it went up, have you gotten any feedback as to who the visitors are – are they members of the general public? Government?

Matt Raymond: We don’t try to identify where people are coming from, but just based on e-mails I receive and the comments that we see on the blog, it’s a pretty good mix of people who are generally history enthusiasts or who are themselves librarians. That seems to be a big part of the blog’s following (even though I’m not a librarian by training).

I think a lot of people view the Library of Congress as sort of a mecca for the librarian profession, and I try to do my best to cater to the diversity of audiences that the library itself serves. It’s a very varied mission.

2. Rob La Gatta: Before you took this job, you did political speech writing. Do you think your ability to write concisely has had any impact on how you write for the blog?

Matt Raymond: I’ve been a communications professional for my entire career. I started out in journalism – that’s what my degree is in – and was a small market TV reporter for a while before switching over to the public affairs and public relations side of things (primarily in the government).

To an extent my training, my education and my career have prepared me for this; I’ve always enjoyed writing. But more than that is my own personal interest in blogs, in the power of technology and watching new technological applications emerge, and trying to ensure that the library stays positioned to be able to operate within those spheres.

3. Rob La Gatta: As a journalist, how do you think that blogs are changing the industry? Do you expect that traditional newspapers will eventually cease to exist because of all this user-generated content?

Matt Raymond:

I think newspapers will exist in some form or another. There is a debate raging about what will that format be…will it be some sort of electronic ink? Or a new sort of display device?

It’s clear that newspapers as a medium are having difficulty, and to an extent, the entire profession is having difficulty. My own belief is that journalism is and hopefully will always remain a strong profession and a noble pursuit. I think there’s always going to be a market for it.

I don’t know what the business model is going to be, but I think it’s important for our nation that journalism – in some real and meaningful definition of the word – remains a viable force in the country.

4. Rob La Gatta: You said in an interview with Municipalist that government has a duty to listen to the public, instead of just broadcasting to them. Do you see more government agencies doing what you did and launching blogs in the foreseeable future?

Matt Raymond: I do see that.

When we launched in April of 2007, to the best of my knowledge we were the 8th or 9th blog across the entire federal government. And as far as I could tell, we were the first federal blog that really tried to speak with an institution-wide voice; the other ones that were out there tended to be a portion of an agency, or a program or for a particular outreach purpose. Since then, there have been many, many more that have come online. Several of them have come to us: they’ve looked for guidance and for the lessons that we’ve learned. And we’ve been very eager to help them to the extent that we can.

5. Rob La Gatta:

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you started blogging?

Matt Raymond: One thing I didn’t quite realize and that I hadn’t really seen so much in the private blogging world is that the vast majority of people commenting are basically spammers; people who are just putting in gratuitous links because they see the blog as a notable way to do it. That’s proved to be a challenge, because its very clear in our comments policy and in the Library’s own regulations that we can’t become a conduit for commercialism or endorsement. The sheer volume of those types of comments has really surprised me; its not just the basic things that get caught in spam filters, either.

But among [the spam], there is a lot of really great feedback and commentary that we’ve gotten, and I love to see that. I love to encourage it, and I love to interact with those people…sometimes on the Library’s blog, or – if they write about us or link to us or say something related to the Flickr Pilot Project – I like to go to their blog, comment, and engage them as well.

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