Untold Lives blog, The British Library (Margaret Makepeace and Penny Brook) – Interview #3


 “I maintain a planner so we can make sure we maintain coverage of key events we’ve noted in the calendar and to also mix up the contributions so that there is a spread between different collection areas if possible.  And this schedule is constantly shunted about to fit in topical stories that appear out of the blue from inspired colleagues. We like to keep a store of 5-10 blog posts in readiness, in case there is a sudden dip in posts being submitted.”

–          Margaret Makepeace

800px-British_Library_entranceway_1The third podcasted interview for the Blogging for Historians project was conducted on 31st January 2013 at the British Library (London).  The British Library hosts twenty blogs covering topics as diverse as its own collections.  This is a different approach than the one we saw for The National Archives, who have established one all-encompassing blog.  The British Library has broken up its interests by department or theme, but have maintained some element of cohesiveness by including all these blogs in a well-publicized index page.

Untold Lives is run by the History and Classics department with the remit to focus on stories of people’s lives as viewed through the multi-media materials available at the British Library.  It began life in October 2011 and in that time might look on the one hand at a member of the East India Company (blog post here) and on the other at a conservator of forests in British North Borneo (blog post here).  Margaret Makepeace and Penny Brook act as the blogs administrators – uploading new posts and taking care of the schedule.

In this interview we discussed the nature of the Untold Lives blog and its most popular topics.  At the time a post about a dead cat at the Foreign Office had done particularly well (blog post here).  The post described how a cat had been mummified when accidently trapped behind a large bound volume of newspapers.  At the beginning of March this year, Penny Brook noted that subscribers to the blog increased when they posted about the Bradford vs. Swansea cup final (blog post here).  

The title of the blog posts is one of the most defining features of this blog. They tend to be imaginative and interesting – an attempt to draw in interest to what the blog post is talking about.  Thus, for example:

Five Weddings and a Funeral – for a post about a dysfunctional Victorian family

Was ‘water rat’ the new black in 1697? – a post about late seventeenth century silks

Dickens grows a beard – a post literally about Charles Dickens growing his beard within the context of a ‘beard movement’ in the 1850s.

The podcasted interview is available to listen online or download.  It is 23 minutes long.

Untold Lives Blog, Margaret Makepeace and Penny Brook (British Library) – 31 January 2013


Outline of Questions asked in the Podcast

Purpose of the blog

  1. Before we begin could you tell us a little more about yourself and your position here at the British Library?
  2. Let’s move on to the blog itself.  When and why was the Untold Lives blog set up?
  3. Do you remember what discussions were had at the time?  What were the concerns, priorities, and hopes for the blog?  Could you give us an insight into the original thought processes?
  4. Which blogging platform did you use and for what reason?  What did it offer you that made it the most appealing and useful?
  5. This is a collaborative blog.  How is this managed?  Is there a process to ask staff to write posts for the blog or is it done more informally?

Promotion and popularity

  1. Who do you think is your main audience?  Does this affect what is written on the blog?
  2. In your view how successful has the blog been and what do you base this view on?  (i.e. stats, public discussion, in-house interest etc.)
  3. How many people tend to visit the blog each month?
  4. Have you received much in the way of feedback from those writing blog posts and those visiting the blog?  Do visitors often leave comments related to particular blog posts?
  5. How have you promoted the blog?  Other social media (Twitter, Facebook etc.), websites, leaflets etc.?

Best practice

  1. In your view, what makes a good blog post?
  2. Do you have any suggestions for best practise in using and managing blogs as an institution or individual?
  3. Is there anything else you would like to add?