We are closing in on a year after the September 1st article in Library Journal proposing a “new model of library service” called “Library 2.0.” Unless you have been asleep in your library duties, you ought to know that Library 2.0 calls for things like user-centered change, reduced institutional boundaries, and a heightened awareness of social software and related technologies.
My sense is that the prominence of the Library 2.0 moniker has plateaued and we are about to see put it in with nostalgia-inducing sayings such as “groovy” and “smashing.” I see the obsolescence of the phrase as an indicator of success. Sure, it was hype. But as hype it did exactly what it was supposed to do: raise awareness of a problem and get people thinking about possible solutions.
No Guff, it was all Hype
The success of library 2.0, as is to be expected, has been mixed. That was kind of the point anyway. Library 2.0 was, in part, a way of seeing success in failure — we had to learn to play, take risks, fail, and learn from the process. In short, the library 2.0 movement was not really about changing libraries, but changing librarians. Librarians needed our time in the sun, and now that we are getting our time. Now that we are popular, hopefully we will see that we need to clean our houses before we invite people in.
Examples of Librarian 2.0 changing Librarians
As I’ve said, while we called for changes in libraries we actually got changes in librarians. While folks like Meredith Farkas, Helene Blowers and Jessamyn West got broad attention, I’ve seen many examples of people who looked beyond the time, space and resources of their workplace to offer better services to clients. Lots of librarians I have met started blogs and shared notes for conferences. Lots of librarians plugged their noses to try things like Second Life, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole range of other Web 2.0 tools, even though it was cutting away at other hobbies they enjoyed more. I know more librarians than is fair that have used their own money to have access to a test server so they can install, experiment and create various open source or self-made projects on their own. Lots of librarians gave us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves by creating YouTube videos, composing songs and photoshopping pictures for our amusement.
There’s no doubt that Library 2.0 got librarians to learn about themselves and the world of information they live in. But, considering the “user focus” that supposedly went with Library 2.0, did our brains translate into actual services?
For the ILS, Library 2.0 has meant comments and/or tags in the catalogue front-end for some particularly innovative and/or resource-rich libraries. In the broad spectrum, libraries are moving very slowly along these lines. For one, very few libraries have the knowledge and resources to provide a useful overlay to our current systems that can provide these products. While many resource-rich libraries have been very generous in offering their innovations to smaller libraries, they are not often able to provide long-term support for these changes — making the prospect of any major alteration to our core service a scary process indeed.
Many libraries depend on vendors to provide library 2.0 innovations for them. LibraryThing has just started to offer a vendor-based service to get us started in this realm. Other vendors are moving forward as well — for instance, Aquabrowser is offering visualization tools to help customers access information more easily. However, on the whole, service enhancements such as RSS feeds, user comments, book ratings are largely enhancements that need to be provided over the long term by librarians with fairly specialized knowledge and an understanding of the long-term maintenance of code. And if your code fails and you have failed to back-up your system — you are on your own.
The good news is that Librarians are learning how to code (If you want to learn to code in a library environment, here are my suggestions — in this order: Html, XML, SQL, PHP or Perl, JSP or ASP, XSLT, & AJAX. Bonus points for Ruby on Rails). In an environment where librarians know how to code, open source systems such as Evergreen or KOHA become real possibilities and communities can develop that can support wider ranges of services in the long term.
Gaming has gone on in libraries for quite a while, in many cases to the disdain of staff. The change that Library 2.0 appears to be making is that libraries are now actively encouraging gaming in libraries. Changing the attitude towards games have helped libraries become what they have often longed for — popular with teens. Managing this popularity is a topic for another blog post, but on the whole, being gaming-friendly has changed the outlook of libraries, perhaps for the better.
Some folks espouse that gaming has serious learning benefits associated with it. Personally, I find that the benefits from gaming are limited. I cannot conceive that the next Jimi Hendrix will come out of young people playing Guitar Hero, for instance. However, gaming as a recreational activity is no different from recreational reading. Thus, it is a positive move that libraries are providing programs and help for young people access recreational technology.
Using Web 2.0 Services on the Whole
Using Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, del.icio.us and other social software to promote the library has been another side-effect of the Library 2.0 hype. The interesting part of this in my view is the fine line between library services and library promotions. If we put an RSS feed on a MySpace page, is that service or a promotion of a traditional service? Either way, there is alot of benefit to engaging these services to help boost library usage, particularly among young people.
The use of these services in libraries also speaks to a broader societal trend — namely the globalization of library services and the promotion of “library” rather than “your local library.” I will speak to this point later on, but using global services to promote local ones leads me to question who gains from Library 2.0 — librarians or customers.
Discussion — Whither a Core Library Service?
Library 2.0 has produced some minor benefits to library services, but hardly the radical change of model that was proposed in the article about a year ago. The changes that have occurred, in my view, are hardly noticeable to the average customer because, for the most part, the actual changes in services are merely logical extensions to what libraries have done all along.
So, can we call Library 2.0 a lukewarm success? A failure? A waste of time and resources? To do so would be to misunderstand libraries on the whole. Libraries are largely democratic institutions and as democratic institutions they should change not with the rapid pace of technology, but with the slower pace of society. Library 2.0 should happen when Society 2.0 develops — and that means once we have a majority of converted folks. That puts libraries on the “late adopter” part of the adoption curve, to the chagrine of many a library 2.0 advocate I am sure.
This doesn’t mean that librarians should be on the “late adopter” side of the curve, however. The largest benefit of Library 2.0 has been a radical change in the core service that libraries offer — namely, librarians (and by “librarians,” I mean anyone who works in a library). In that realm, the largest success of library 2.0 has been projects like Helene Blowers Learning 2.0 programme. Through their librarians, libraries are able to break out of such institutional barriers as normal operating hours and formal community locations. Library service in the library 2.0 realm happens every time a librarian’s RSS feed shows a new and exciting novel to read.
To recap, the benefits of library 2.0 have resulted in rather subversive actions of librarians including:
- Using personal web space to design and create potential new services.
- Librarians are learning that previous technological barriers are being broken in big ways and are stamping potential technology projects with a “yes” more frequently.
- Librarians being more active in online communities, and thus providing better access to information.
- On the international scale, alot of “library” (as opposed to “your local library”) service happens on the 24 hour clock.
- Despite the snickering at such lines as “guybrarian,” this year has been good for changing the stereotypes about librarians in the world.
- Through blog posts, YouTube videos and other web 2.0 tools, we have amused, promoted and reminded users everywhere that we exist and can help.
- New librarians and library students have had the experience of something cool to stitch their career choice to.
- Librarians are also getting involved in the open space/unconference movement, which will lead to better community development on the whole.
In sum, Library 2.0 has done a lot for the library world. So, while the term and hype dies down or changes to something else, rest assured that change has occurred in big ways and that libraries are adapting to the world. They are not doing this through the institutions themselves, but through a steadily increasing change of heart in librarians on the whole. Harp on hype all you want — Library 2.0 needed to happen and the world is better off because of it.