Deconstructing Library 2.0

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Submitted byWalton Fri, 02/19/2010 - 11:26

I realize I’m relatively new to the library scene as a second career librarian, so some of what I’m asking may have been covered somewhere already. I’m fine with being corrected in the comments (since there is no better way to learn than to question), but I’m still going to ask.

In trying to get an idea of it, I plugged the term into some search engines and then just followed the trail. I found the Library 2.0 listing in Wikipedia which also provides an antiquated round up of writings on the subject (the most recent article mentioned is 2007). It lists the principles as the following:

  • Browser + Web 2.0 Applications + Connectivity = Full-featured OPAC
  • Harness the library user in both design and implementation of services
  • Library users should be able to craft and modify library provided services
  • Harvest and integrate ideas and products from peripheral fields into library service models
  • Continue to examine and improve services and be willing to replace them at any time with newer and better services.

The first principle seems very specific and certainly obtainable. I don’t know of any examples of such an interface, but it has my vote for how an OPAC should function. The second and third principles look like the application of market research. Ask users what they want, design around it, and customize where desired.  Maybe it's because I have a science background, but when I look at fourth and fifth principle, I see the basics of evolution. The concept of an organization changing due to external pressures (read: patron requested services and materials) over time does not strike me as being radical or controversial at all. It is basically a call for librarians to use some (pun intended) intelligent design in approaching .

So, this concept is an intersection of a still-yet-to-be-realized vendor request, knowing and engaging your audience market research, and an evolving service model? Perhaps I do not understand. Were libraries not doing any of these things before?

Maybe the definition is antiquated. It was written before the rise of the current social media and Web 2.0 tools and websites. Does it need a revision?

First, a few observations and questions off the top of my head.

All too often, especially when it comes to technology, people will cite a recent survey or fact about the sale of technology or usage statistic and use that to make broad pronouncements of something that the library should be doing. But the causal connection logic doesn't follow. For example, if the total number of smart phones sold in the United States went up last year, this does not necessitate that libraries need mobile applications or sites. How many of those phones sold are replacing current phones? How many of those mobile users are library users? If I said that there are 1,000 people in a town, and that there were 600 people who have smart phones, this is not an immediate call to develop mobile resources. The question that this scenario begs (and that never seems to be asked) is how many of the library users have smart phones and would want or use a library mobile resource. While it could be argued that the creation of mobile resources might entice the non-library smart phone user to become a patron of the library, the counterpoint I would offer is simply, “Prove it.” Where is the correlation between the broader trends and the library user?

On that note, I rarely (if ever) see a posting, press release, or story about something new the library is offering that references a user survey or focus group or even an anecdote. It's as if the notion for these new offerings appear on circumstantial evidence or hunches or a variation of (the term I liked the moment I saw it) Ideas Worth Stealing. There appears, to me, to be an endless loop of libraries adopting practices (either service or technology) which do not catch on. These failures are then chalked up to a failure to publicize, staff training or awareness, or lack of interest when there was little or no user feedback indicating such a tool or service was desired in the first place. How much of a stranger are we to our patrons? If I stopped ten random people in your library tomorrow, had them write down what they wanted on a piece of paper, would you be able to guess what it was with any accuracy?

Now, beyond those statements, a few more questions.

  • What is beyond Library 2.0?
  • How are these principles different than how things were done in the past (pre-2006)?
  • How does Library 2.0 address the digital divide?
  • How much is Library 2.0 really driven by the user experience? I imagine the library-patron relationship less like a 'horse and cart' and more like a planet-moon relationship. (If information was the sun, patrons are the Earth and libraries are the Moon. We are roughly in sync with our patrons, sometimes ahead or behind, and sometimes in the way.)
  • When will the OPAC meet the our demands and (more importantly) the search engine expectations of our users? Do we have to go open source to get what we want? Why aren't we yelling at vendors to do this? Why are we putting up with this?
  • Has Library 2.0 been hijacked by technophiles? In looking over the Library 2.0 Ning, the majority of posts in the forums and blog revolve around technology. Or is it because online librarians tend to talk about online tools and sites?

And finally:

  • Is the term Library 2.0 dead? Is it more of a quibbling point for people who are looking to argue about the present and future of libraries? Does it really mean anything anymore? Has it become more of a “Blind men and an elephant”? What does it matter anyway?

I may get some heat on this last question, but if it takes some bumps to learn a few things here, I’m willing to take the knocks. I don’t mind being set straight, but in reading up on Library 2.0, I’m wondering what the big deal is about it.