My Top-ten Library 2.0 “No-brainers” for Public Libraries

toptenlow.jpg This is fairly straight-forward post. I was thinking about Library/Web 2.0 applications, hearing about projects that seemed to some to be a bit dubious or misguided and occassionally finding people being a bit dismissive in general about Web/Library 2.0.

I have sympathy with some of the Web/Library 2.0 skepticism. Not everyone has the resources, inclination or knowledge-base to develop high-powered services on Second Life or to design library based mash-ups and the like.

So, I thought I’d distill library 2.0 into 10 projects that I say are pretty much “no-brainers.” These are 10 things that are:

  • Low risk
  • Low cost
  • Low effort
  • Sure to provide added benefit to a good number of users
  • pretty much just common sense service enhancements AND
  • not likely to ruffle [needlessly] many technophobe feathers

In my view, if you do these 10 things (or some reasonable facimile) you have satisficed the Library 2.0 moniker sufficiently to say you are “L2.” You can always do more to be more user-centric, but doing these is enough to say you are decent.

Here they are:

1. Include Mozilla Firefox on all Public Computers.

Why is it L2?

It is open source, and has a whole bunch of cool add-ins, many of which are social-software-ish.

Why would my users want it?

Some would want it because Internet Explorer is too wonky and proprietary. I don’t want to get into why, but just trust me on that one. The other big reason is that many of your users may desire ad blockers, javascript disablers, and things like StumbleUpon, and Yoono a cool tool for surfing the web. You may not know or care what these add-ins are, but some of your users do and they will like the fact that they can add them when they visit you.

2. Add the Extension to Firefox as part of your suite

Why is it L2?

Delicious is a social bookmarking site. Social Bookmarking = Web2 Social Bookmarking in a Library = L2.

Why would my Users Want It?

It’s pretty simple. With no delicious, users can only bookmark to your PC which will probably get wiped by DeepFreeze the next time your user arrives. With delicious, all bookmarks go to the user’s delicious account. That means he/she can add to and access his/her bookmarks from anywhere. Access to bookmarks = easy access to desired information.

3. RSS feeds for library news and programs (minimum)

Why is it L2?

Well, users don’t have to visit your site to see what you are offering. More control to your user = L2.

Why would my Users Want it?

Is it better to have to go to the store to get your paper or to have it delivered? RSS is like having library and program news “delivered.” You can get fancier than this, but these two things are pretty straight-forward.

4. Have straight-forward guidelines for blogging (including a statement that you encourage staff to blog)

Why is it L2?

By encouraging blogging, you are taking your staff and sending them forth as evangelists for the library cause. By providing guidelines, you will also give people more confidence to express their opinions without fear of trepidation. The guidelines should be fairly simple: 1) respect the privacy of yourself and others, 2) don’t divulge confidential information, 3) don’t plagiarize or do things that are otherwise illegal, 4) be reasonably respectful of others. That sort of thing.

Why would my users want it?

Blogging staff are technically aware and community-engaged staff. Online users will enjoy seeing that their local librarian is blogging. Off-line users will benefit from more technically capable staff.

5. Have some kind of content managey system for staff information sharing

Why is it L2?

Content management is a way to let larger amounts of people add content to a website (internal or external). A wiki is a good kind of content management system, but you could also try something along the lines of an internal blog or other information sharing system. In short, a content management system invites collaboration, that means it’s L2.

Why would my users want it?

Similiar to number 5, L2 products for staff means smarter and more knowledgable staff. Example: say you have a “readers services wiki.” Prior to the wiki, you have to rely on the knowledge of individuals — and usually the ones who are on staff. How many times have you said “oh, this is a fantasy question — how I wish so-and-so were here. . ..”? Well, with the wiki, so-and-so could leave a list of great fantasy books — perhaps with brief descriptions and read-alikes to go with it. That means you can go to the wiki to see what so-and-so recommends for fantasy readers. Even better, “whosawitz” may be another fantasy fan from another branch who can add to the list. Pow — your reader’s advisory power just jumped exponentially.

6. Have a public blog and allow comments

Why is it L2?

Because it invites participation, fair and simple.

Why would my users want it?

Lots of reasons, including but not limited to 1) wanting and input on their library 2) getting answer to questions 3) getting to read interesting comments and how they are responded to 4) feeling like your website is not an automaton but that there are actually people running the show and 5) engaging other library-people in a discussion about their favorite place.

Moderate it all you want, but we are at the age where you need a blog with commenting power.

7. Collaborate with Partners using Google docs or Zoho

Why is it L2?

Google docs is pretty much a wiki with a few added security controls.

Why would my users [actually community partners] want it?

With no fuss over document formats and versions, you will all literally be on the same page. The chat feature is a nice addition as well.

8. Keep a flickr page with some interesting pictures of library programs etc.

Why is it L2?

It’s Flickr and people can see all the wonderful things going on at the library.

Why would my users want it?

Well, they get to see pictures of the library in action and get an idea of what’s going on even if they can’t make it on a regular basis. Further, your library staff (who are now blogging) could reference these pictures in their blogs.

9. Make sure Instant Messaging, Gaming, YouTube or allowed on your PCs

Why is it L2?

Well, it’s not L2 actually, but it is a mandatory requirement of calling yourself L2.

Why would my users want it?

Remember Dirty Dancing and how misunderstanding all those uptight parents were with the rather level-headed and quite remarkable and creative dancing kids? Well, IM, Gaming, YouTube and etc. are doing more for those young brains than you think. The major issues with these tools (1. monopolization of resources and 2. innappropriate use) are not inherent to Web 2.0 services. Got a PUC-potato? Well, restrict their time limits, citing equity of access. Got a porn-watcher? Well, have your internet use policy ready (which I’ll bet a dime a dozen says something about appropriate use in a public space). Don’t blow a positive library experience for the majority because you have a few rule-breakers.

10. Engage teens with technology

Why is it L2?

Engaging teens with technology will almost inevitably lead to using one of the technologies mentioned in #9 in a program or service.

Why would my users want it?

Well, there’s the teen-users who will come to use the library as a place to hang out. Then there are the citizens who will be glad those teens have a place to hang out. And lastly, parents will be happy to see their teens doing something productive, learning new skills and meeting new friends. It’s pretty basic.

That’s that. Do these 10 fairly simple things and you can call yourself L2. It’s not all, but it is enough given limited resources, knowledge or organizational inclination.

Most of these things take few resources on the part of the library. Numbers 6, 9 & 10 probably would take up the most resources, but they are also fairly core services so I think the cost is worth it. Numbers 5 & 7 may even save you resources compared to what you are probably doing in their place. 6 & 9 are probably going to be the hardest to convince management staff who are risk-averse or technically unaware, but they are not huge calls in the grand scheme of things, and the case for support should not be horrendous.

All in all, there are a wide range of Web 2.0 applications that are not risky or costly to implement, and at the same time they are bound to be effective. Even a “costly” web 2 service such as creating a video blog is not that costly in the end (a few thousand for equipment & software and some time to edit the movies). The point here is that you do not have to blow people’s minds to be L2.

Although, of course, I always encourage the occassional attempt at mind-blowing with the right preparation and thought.