“Welease Wibrarian tWopoint Oooo”

I think the Annoyed Librarian is hilarious, biting, and often dead-on with some of her criticism about current library-related issues. A recent post called “The Cult of Twopointopia” hits on alot of important weaknesses in the 2.0 rhetoric, particularly where they overstate the benefits of using Web 2.0 technologies or refuse to accept how rational individuals may choose not to join the Library 2.0 bandwagon.

But like most things rational, her readers sometimes revert into irrationality. Thus, from a rational criticism of the so-called Library 2.0 movement/manifesto follows an irrational trashing of anything having to do with Web 2.0 services and user-centered library services, and any defense of library 2.0 becomes evidence of group-think or outright stupidity.

As I commented on the post, the scenario begins to appear like the Life of Brian where a prophet will tell his or her followers to think for themselves and they can only repeat “yes! we must think for ourselves!”

Here is an example. I responded to one of the anonymous commenters who claimed that the only justification for library 2.0 services was that social networking sites were popular. Here is the exchange:

My Comment: A bit too reductionist there. In some cases, the L2 requests are both “no-brainer” ish and because of library culture fairly insane to implement, regardless of the popularity of social networking sites. Things like RSS feeds in the catalogue count here.

The [Anonymous] Response: “??? I prefer abstract to reductionist anyday. I assume you mean for updates to the catalog; we used to call those the New Book List. Packing it in a new format isn’t really revolutionary, and re: my previous comments probably more cumbersome than before.”

This put me in a dilemma. This person empirically does not understand the difference between putting a new book list in an RSS feed (format) and putting a New Book List on the web. Further, he or she does not appreciate that format, or at least the mechanism to distribute the format does, in fact, matter quite a bit.

Yet, if I say “you do not understand” I am part of the twopointopian cult who brow-beats everyone into seeing things my way. It is a difficult thing. If you told someone about the significance of the printing press, and the response was: “The Bible? We’ve had Bibles for centuries. Scribing it with some kind of horizontal Iron Maiden shouldn’t matter one bit.” How would you respond without saying “er. you just don’t understand the significance of the printing press” (no, I am not equating the development of RSS with the development of the printing press — I am making an analogy to demonstrate that the way information is disseminated does matter lots.)?

The only way I can think of to respond to this comment without being labelled a “library 2.0 cultist” is to lay out the benefits of RSS as plainly as I can.

Ok. What is the logistical difference between a catalogue booklist available on the webpage and the same thing with an available RSS feed?

  • In terms of cost, the RSS feed requires a) a small graphical link on the webpage 2) a small bit of PHP or Perl code to output SQL information into RSS format; alternately a tertiary web service could be used to make this happen.
  • The catalogue booklist means that your typical web user has to visit the catalogue “Oh what a horrible thing,” you may ask an a sarcastic manner, but read on. The question you have to ask here is, does the user care one bit about the importance of the catalogue? Well, maybe you need empirical evidence? It turns out that “library catalog” is a phrase that most library users do not understand. What they do understand is “find books.” So, while the book list might be something the user wants, the library catalogue is not going to be one of the say 5-10 websites that your average user will visit each day to get updates on the booklist. RSS? Well, with RSS, the booklist ends up on a MyYahoo, MyGoogle or whatever news resource which is on that website list.
  • Once the feed is created, the list can be put almost anywhere. On a library website. On a student’s blog. In a Integrated Learning System. Just about anywhere it is relevant.

In short, an RSS feed available in the catalogue is a fairly simple addition that can improve service to users. It is user-centric, because the user gets to decide where and when they want to see the data. Regular booklists are not user-centric because they force the user to remember to visit the library website to get their needed information. The difference may be subtle, but it is important.

Further, just because RSS may not bring in 10s of thousands of users daily, people assume that its implementation must be a failure. That’s not the point here. The point is that with little cost, you can make a small portion of your users happier than they were before. A service that is marginally better is still a service that is better. And all other things considered equal, the user will still choose the single scoop pistachio ice cream with the chocolate nugget over the one without. Little things do matter, and despite the hype or cultish attitudes of the few, we should not allow a curmudgeonly backlash to Library 2.0 cause librarians to lose sight of this fact.

Yet, RSS for a list of new books in the library is only one of many possible small benefits that librarians can do for little cost. Put a few of these pilot projects together and there is potential for a larger increase in service. Not guaranteed, no. But does any paid vendor guarantee success either?

Oh, but there was a response here as well:

“Libraries are continuously failing to create a new purpose or identity, and saying “It’s easy to implement” doesn’t quite cut it, the net basis of most L2 arguments are along the lines of “it’s easy, it’s quick, and *you* don’t know if it’ll work or not,” ignoring any contrary evidence. But don’t let that stop you…..”

Do we really need a revolution to create a new purpose or identity, or can libraries develop these organically through small improvements in service. I think the latter is definitely possible. Therefore, giving an easy to implement service a try (among all the other “big” projects that libraries put out there) is a positive step toward libraries and librarians creating a new purpose or identity.

Another criticism that came out of this scenario, was that the twopointopians ignore that the digital divide exists. I’ve seen evidence of this, actually. Once I watched a Second Life presentation on gaming in libraries with a presenter whose only response to a digital divide question was “they should just get on Second Life and then they’ll learn how to use it.” There was a slight cough in the audience. Personally, I was thinking “uh, what if I am running a 386 with a graphics card circa 1994 and only a few megabytes worth of RAM?”

That said, some Library 2.0 initiatives may open up resources for digital divide concerns. For instance, making staff and customers wise to something like Google documents may mean you do not have to purchase expensive productivity software for your computers. That opens up money for other things. Jessamyn West was able to make use of an old donated computer by installing Ubuntu as the operating system, also saving money. Then, because she put the video of her doing the installation, she was given a whole whack more CDs to share around. More money saved.

In the end, Librarians do need to plug their noses and *try* some of the library 2.0 broccoli. Pick the one that you think you will like best. Maybe it’s not Second Life or Flickr, but Zamzar. If it doesn’t taste good for your library. Fine. No biggy. Move on. I am no cultist and I do not expect people to implement services that clearly will not work.

But, if you refuse to taste the Library 2.0 broccoli, then the dialogue is over. Objectively, you “do not understand” and this lack of understanding has nothing to do with the library world going crazy on some kind of library 2.0 drug. The problem sits with a refusal to do your job: keeping aware of the latest social and technological trends (and, unfortunately for the librarian curmudgeon “trends” does include “fads”).