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The Library 2.0 ‘Bandwagon’

Longish post, sorry.
My cool uber-blogger friend, Steven Cohen, blogged about Library 2.0 today at Library Stuff. Here’s a snippet:
“Note: Don’t see this post as me jumping on the L2 bandwagon, because it isn’t. I still don’t get how it’s different than anything we’ve done in the past. Call me a skeptic, but until I’m shown otherwise, I will not be smoking from the L2 hooka. IMO, L2 is just smoke and mirrors.”
Skepticism is a great quality. Steven is right to ask these questions. This follows in a grand tradition of librarians who have questioned new technologies. This is what critical thinking looks like.
So let’s think about what we have always done:
S. R. Raganathan parlayed his 5 laws of library science into library fame:
“Books are for use.
Books are for all; or, Every reader his book.
Every book its reader.
Save the time of the reader.
A library is a growing organism.”
Part of that growing involved a move to grow beyond just ‘books’ and into all modes of information, service, community and entertainment. We evolved but didn’t discard the past.
Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman updated or more accurately added to Raganathan with these 5 rules:
“Libraries serve humanity.
Respect all forms by which knowledge is communicated.
Use technology intelligently to enhance service.
Protect free access to knowledge.
Honor the past and create the future.”
I like to use both sets of five as touchstones to see if a shift is taking place. Is the Library 2.0 conversation just old hat? Have we always done this? Is nothing changing? Is the stuff we are debating in the 2.0 context really no different than anything we’ve done in the past?
I think things are shifting under 2.0 and here’s why.
1. The users are moving into the control position. Libraries are no longer able to drive the good bus ‘library’ alone.
How about LibraryElf which lets users build family or individual alerts from the ILS completely outside of the library’s knowledge or management. Is that a change?
How about LibraryThing? Communities of book owners catalogue (in MARC!) and share their personal collections online and ultimately build a social recommendations engine of readers. They connect to recommendations and reviews on the web. Have libraries always done that? Connecting home collections and readers?
How about the interesting stuff that Ed Vielmetti does? He is the AADL library end-user who has created mashups for his local library to use. He displays these at his blog, Superpatron. Have libraries always had users programming things from their websites and ILS’s? Is this a change with noting?
How about Amazon and its over 130,000 registered API coding folk? Is it normal day-to-day practice to have this many coders internationally working with book data? Is this something libraries have always done or will permit easily? Will we be comfortable when it starts happening in our space? Will we notice? I already see users extracting catalogue records, their holds, reading lists, etc. and showing them on their MySpace pages, Blogs, RSS feeds or websites. Is that business as usual? Are we thrilled to have them do this? Often I hear concerns that they should be restricted due to ‘privacy’ concerns and laws.
Are we comfortably ready for the OS/OA coder community, the Ed’s and Elf’s of the world. I think that Library 2.0 based in the Web 2.0 trend is a sea change. Yes, just like the story of the bricklayer I believe that it is based on the strong foundation of an amazing past built by library workers. But it’s not smoke and mirrors. It is real and it’s happening for real.
To those who say that libraries have “always done this” they are only partially right. Yes, we have always served people and their learning, community, information and entertainment needs. That’s our foundation. We are good at it. However, the Web 2.0 / Library 2.0 opportunities offer new and materially different ways to build our services. Some are so necessary that we could be sidelined in certain user spaces if we don’t adapt. Some, but not all, of these changes include:
– the transition to a hybrid container space. Those libraries that continue to be more or exclusively comfortable with physical containers like CD, DVD, book and magazines (anything we can label or barcode) versus streaming media, MP3’s, article aggregations, e-books, talking books, and the like will likely find some challenges in their future. When some of these physical containers become extinct or focus on narrow markets . . . do we follow?
– the transition to the interactive web. We are already seeing libraries who have made the leap to truly conversational, transparent communication with their communities, usually through blogs. When we see some libraries and their directors getting hundreds of blog comments to their postings weekly and, sometimes, daily, things look changed to me.
– Are there new 2.0 tools that allow us to be device independent and serve PDA users, and engage the mobile generation? Seeing MySpace go .mob is an early indicator of a shift in the community of users.
I also see that the Library 2.0 conversation is about going beyond outreach and into just ‘reach’. That’s exciting. When our ‘reach’ is into the social networks of the communities we serve we have a greater chance to offer information and services to improve research, learning and knowledge acquisition. 2.0 could be largely about achieving a new balance for our bricks, clicks and tricks strategies. If the vast majority of our library use is happening virtually, are the people who animate the information there too? 24/7? We have to ensure our reference librarians, other user support staff and teacher-librarians are available to virtual users as much as they are to physical users.
I love the concept of mash-ups. I know libraries always provided their branch addresses on their websites. Some even provided maps or directions on how to get there. It might be just me, but those libraries that have adopted one of the API’s, like the one from Google Maps, to plot all of their branches on maps and photos and give users the functionality to draw a map directly from the patron’s home to the branch of his or her choice, are cool. It might not be a big leap from traditional library service, but it is an improvement. It’s also real and being done now. It uses 2.0 tools to improve current services.
Another big thing that seems to come out of the 2.0 discussions is user-driven comments, reviews, ratings, etc. Have we always done this? In the way, but certainly not on the scale, of the Amazons, or Barnes and Nobles of the world. Are we comfortable with adding this sort of feature to our product mix? I don’t know, The jury’s out with my conversations often involving the fearful aspects of bad grammar, cuss words, trash talk, libel, etc. Loads of reasons why not while the rest of the world has already added these features.
The role of visualization tools in the 2.0 discussions is another key thing to learn. When we see some libraries experimenting with tag clouds and visualization tools like Grokker, AquaBrowser, Vivisimo, KartOO, etc., we see us moving beyond our list orientation. Yes, we’ve always displayed results somehow, but 2.0 gives us a opportunity to really enhance display and navigation. It’s not business as usual. What we’ve always done is to tend to prefer ordered lists over nearly every other form of display. There may have been historical reasons for this but it’s no longer necessary to exclusively value a list display format over a variety or mix of other kinds of results display.
Another related aspect of the 2.0 changes is the issue of user created content. This is an integral part of what’s happening in the read-write web. How ready are we for collecting, storing, discovering and providing access to user created content. There have been some great experiments, notably the U.S. election page harvests at the Library of Congress and some public library local history projects. What’s the ratio of user created content in our libraries versus the web at large? It’s a rhetorical question. The addition of Wiki comments and reviews by OCLC to OpenWorldCat has not gotten the traction it deserves.
Anyway, I think if libraries are truly about supporting society, we need to look closely at the social networking aspects of the 2.0 technologies. Yes, we have always been part of the social good and our communities. Is the context of society’s social networks changing? I believe it is. They are no longer bound merely by our physical proximity to our colleagues, neighbours and family. As libraries take up and build things that integrate social tools like blogging, MySpace, The Facebook, PubSub, Pandora,, etc. we will find ourselves practicing in a different way, in a different context and in a wider space. It will still be built on the strong foundation of those who came before us. It just won’t be exactly the way we’ve always done it.
2.0 is ‘smoke and mirrors’? I think not. It’s a great title for a conversation about how Libraryland needs to adapt to the wider changes happening in our communities.
For now, start your brownbagger conversations with these questions:
1. How static is our web presence?
2. How much interactivity do we have with our community of users and the community at large?
3. How much non-text do we have in our web presence?
4. Any 2.0 tools we should play, experiment, or pilot with?
5. What’s our real role in the greater social context? Hard one!

Posted on: February 24, 2006, 11:50 am Category: Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. I have to take exception with the “updated” version of Raganathan’s rules. It takes very little imagination to apply his rules to modern-day issues while the updated rules use fine sounding buzz words (“technology,” “enhance,” etc.) that really don’t say anything new. How is “libraries serve humanity” different from “Books are for all?”
    To my mind, this is the whole problem with the 2.0 concept. It is interposing a layer of sophistic jargon (“rearchitecting the opac”) is another example) between our patrons and librarians generally and technological people and front-line librarians specifically.

  2. Just to clarify:
    + I’m not against technological advancement.
    + I’m not against user centered/created content
    + I’m not against new avenues to serve our users.
    + I’m not against blogs, RSS, wikis, and other forms of social software.
    + I’m not against change.
    The thing is that we’ve been doing this for a while now and L2 only became a buzzword because Web 2.0 is one. Yes, Web 2.0 is a buzz word. Library 2.0 is a copied buzzword with nothing to back it up (very little substance). The examples (mostly theories) that you point to are marvelous, but I’ll have to see more before I’m convinced that this is a movement.
    When we first starting talking blogs and RSS, libaries jumped on board with ferocity. More libraries created blogs in such a short amount of time, it was staggering. How many libraries are doing “Library 2.0” programs and initiatives as you defined it above? Very little compared with the movement towards blogs and RSS. Right now, it’s just people talking and very little action.
    We didn’t brand the blog/RSS movement because the movement spoke for itself. Placing a name on a continuing technological movement into social software and user-generated tools that hasn’t caught on yet in our libraries is a bit premature and, IMO, a bit phony (Stephen: I’m not calling you a phony, I’m calling L2 a phony buzzword). Most of your comments above are great, but they are mostly “what ifs”, only mentioning three tools that are actially in place.
    BTW, When I preview my comments, it looks like one long paragraph and not broken up the way I wanted it to. Not sure if it will look the same when I publish it.

  3. Steven:
    No one would ever accuse you of being against change or any of those other statements! It’s great to be skeptical and use your critical thinking skills (Walt does the same thing). That’s what keeps the 2.0 conversations going and interesting.
    There are some bandwagons we jump on early and others we stand back and think. I quit a job once when the CEO gave a speech in late 1994 that the web was a fad. This is one of the largest pubishers in the world and I felt he was dead wrong. They didn’t approve my web pilot proposal. They’ve since come around. We sold them back their domain name! (grin) In that time the evidence was light for what the trend would be too. It all worked out in the end. Time marches on.
    Keep up the good work.
    (Who got a cel phone late and still doesn’t use the internet for banking.)