Posted by: Emily | June 5, 2008

The peril of promoting private products

I just finished switching our library news blog from Blogger to WordPress. The switch is absolutely the right thing to do. WP offers better integration of widgets like a displaying links from our del.icio.us account and potential embedding of Meebo (if that’s what we end up using for chat reference) and much better statistics-keeping (due to problems involved in setting up our Google Analytics, we’ve got no numbers for the annual report this year). I also think WordPress templates are just prettier, and the back end functionality feels a lot smoother to me.

But should I be promoting WordPress, made by a for-profit company, in my non-profit environment? Part of the appeal of libraries to me is the way we can maintain for the users a kind of space outside of capitalism, an oasis of free stuff and sharing and collective ownership. I know, I know, this is a fantasy–space is seamless, right, and there’s certainly no escape from the crushing totality of the late version of our global economic system. Still, I do want to steer clear of promoting products–that’s a value for me. If that’s the case, should I look for an open-source blogging tool? Is this any different from promoting a particular database because it suits a particular need? When am I fulfilling my role as a librarian–connecting users to appropriate resources–and when am I reduced to a corporate shill? Can I say I love the new Ebsco interface in public, or does that reduce me to a commercial advertisement?

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Responses

  1. I’ve been thinking about this off and on all morning, and these are my initial thoughts.

    If we purchase or use a particular product, it communicates to others, “I have chose this product above all others.” That’s an endorsement of sorts, but the key word is “chose.” Commercial advertising implies that money (or some commodity) has changed hands in exchange for that endorsement. We *choose* to use Word Press or Ebsco because they fulfill our needs, because we find them superior products, etc., not because we’re beholden. Tomorrow you can say that you hate the new Ebsco interface, and you’ll lose nothing. Meanwhile, others are free to follow your advice or not–hopefully once they’ve evaluated the product for themselves.

  2. These are good questions. I’m doing a poster this fall at LITA about LibGuides. I love the product and I love talking about it, but am I unwittingly advertising for them for free? That makes me feel gross. I would like to think that there must be a way of talking about the tools we use without sounding like a commercial.


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