“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”).

18 thoughts on ““Welease Wibrarian tWopoint Oooo”

  1. I think this is a very good response to that post and comment thread, something I wouldn’t even attempt.

    There is plenty to critique in the discussion around library 2.0, but I can’t take the critique seriously when it comes as part of an attitude that all experimentation is simply faddish posturing.


  2. Well said, Ryan. And thank you, Jessamyn, for the pointer to this post.

    Both the “twopointopians” and the “wheat paste librarians” (I’m just guessing from context what that might mean) are too extremist, in my view. The Second Life people have really jumped the shark in terms of trying to sell L2 when there are still people who don’t have access to high-speed. But the L1s who won’t even consider any new technology are also on the wrong side of the discussion.

    (Just an aside, I used to read AL regularly, but I got tired of being a witness to the pity party of people who obviously are making too good a living as librarians to leave it for something more to their taste.)


  3. i’ll assume nobody called *you* a cultist.
    until you denied it. what it looks like to me
    is somebody said there *are* some cultists …
    and you don’t like ’em saying so. hmm. why not?


  4. Vlorbik:

    My thesis: “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.”

    I agree that cultists do appear to exist, or at least that some of the library 2.0 enthusiasm has a cult-ish appearance.

    But my post is about the assumption that because irrationality exists on one side, any defense of that side must be irrational as well. I believe we oughta pick the corn out of the poop on either side, rather than add to the poop.


  5. The Library 2.0 ideas that are coming straight out of a techie librarian’s enthusiasms (SecondLife, anyone?) are probably not going to be helpful to many people or good with digital divide issues. The Library 2.0 ideas that are real godsends are the free tools that can solve pre-existing problems, like the Google Docs for libraries that don’t have word processing software but have people without personal computers who need to submit resumes online.

    The problem is that the L2 librarians aren’t necessarily there in the small libraries that could really use those tools. The librarians that could really make a difference are often too busy to even hear about these tools, much less train themselves on them. I talked to a Chicago Public Library librarian this spring who had no budget for training, much less software, and was in that situation (with the resume thing above, especially) while she was serving for two positions and having people with drastically different technology skills come into the library – new immigrants from all over the world, hipster grad students, etc.

    Seems like if the most devoted L2 librarians could expend a bit of their energy doing the kinds of basic intro material that you did above for the RSS book list example, other librarians would be a lot less hostile. It’s hard to be told to learn new things if you don’t have the context or time to get started. The Infodoodads blog is a fun step in this direction, but how about a source for really basic introductions and very practical suggestions for Web 2.0 tools and uses? Does such a thing exist already? How about handouts for using things like Google Docs? Kind of like the myspace security bookmarks some libraries have, only written to address a need and not a problem.


  6. I haven’t even thought of writing handouts for Google Docs. I think anyone who has used MS Word would find it intuitively obvious. But that’s just me. I recognize that a lot of people aren’t as comfortable with “new” interfaces as I am. Back in the olden days, when I was a software engineer, I had to learn a new text editor almost every year.

    But I do know where to find some tutorials for OpenOffice. Amy De Grof, at the Howard County Public Library, has put together a terrific presentation:



  7. You know, I think there could be room for a very rudimentary “how to” wiki or blog that gave very explicit procedure-style instructions on how to do typical “Learning 2.0” stuff targeted at the people who want this stuff spelled out for them.

    There would have to be a fairly good versioning structure, though to accommodate interface changes.

    It could have legs outside the library world too. Library 2.0 doing something for non-librarians. Novel. 🙂


  8. Very cool. What I’m thinking about are printable Web 2.0 “step-by-step” procedures and/or cheatsheets that could be used by small libraries and folks who offer public internet access. Folks could use them to train or just hand them out to people who are new to the techs. Kind of like the ones you can find for developers, except more on the front end of things.

    And of course, they could link to the common craft videos as well. 🙂


  9. I have written step-by-step how-to’s for setting up a Yahoo email account, sending attachments, and similar very specific operations. I’m not sure what a reasonably brief handout for GoogleDocs (or Zoho or ThinkFree) would cover. Would you assume some prior knowledge of word processing, or not? If not, it could get pretty lengthy.

    *Create a Google account (maybe a separate handout)
    *Open a new document
    *Edit, format, etc.
    *Organize (folders, yay!)
    *Share it with other collaborators

    Repeat for Google Spreadsheets.

    Generalize for Zoho, ThinkFree.

    How about if they were written using Jessamyn’s templates for web-based presentations?


  10. This was a great post about an issue I think many of us struggle with. We librarians seem to have our own internal digital divide to contend with! And the problem seems to be with communication (or lack of it!), rather than with technology or knowledge. I’ve seen far too many librarians completely shut down as soon as they hear the terms “2.0”, “blog”, “wiki” and so on… and far too many enthusiastic “twopointohpians” completely shut down when they automatically categorize folks as “not getting it.”

    Why can’t there be some middle ground where we all listen to one another… I mean, I feel like that’s what 2.0 is all about anyway – conversation and meaningful dialog, not shutting people out or washing your hands of people who don’t share your zeal. In fact, isn’t that what service professions in general are about? There just has to be some common ground here.

    Of course, that’s so much easier said than done. I can see how someone expressing doubt about the latest hot thing might feel like they’re just going to be written off in the name of progress. And I know firsthand how it feels to be written off for my “twopointohiness”. 🙂 Neither one is a very good feeling. And neither one is very constructive.

    Thanks for your post.


  11. Excellent! I like the wiki idea for this sort of thing – doing this sort of thing is an excellent way to get librarians really thinking about the digital divide.

    Google docs are very intuitive for me and I’m very comfortable with Microsoft Office and Open Office and I’ve sort of played around with zoho and heard of Thinkfree. But what about people who suddenly have to write a resume and submit it online even though they don’t have great writing skills and never use a computer? What about busy public librarians who know how to use Office but don’t know how to teach people that sort of thing and don’t have any word processing software on the library computers anyway?

    Just the process of writing with that sort of specific audience in mind can make these issues a lot more tangible.


  12. Emily, I encountered people like that every week when I worked at a public library helpdesk last year. I think that teaching someone to use a computer on an individual basis is above and beyond. If we’re fortunate enough to work in a library with a computer lab, or the space and commitment to create one, that’s something else. But there are usually other resources available: adult ed, the senior center, local computer users’ group, etc.

    For the folks who are beyond beginner, and have the motivation, they will find the resources. I watched a woman, probably in her mid- to late-50s, work her way through two excellent workbooks for MS Word and MS Excel. Only once or twice did she ask me for help, when the book’s instructions and our version of MS Office differed slightly.

    I think there’s probably a market–or will be one very soon–for the same sort of step-by-step book-length instruction for OpenOffice, GoogleDocs, and the like. Hmmm….maybe this is my big chance to jump into the after-market book business before it gets too crowded. I sure missed the boat on DOS and Windows. 😉 Meanwhile, let’s start writing some handouts for the folks who are already intermediate computer users and are familiar with word processing and spreadsheets.


  13. RSS feeds in the catalog is more than just a new books list.

    I’ve used the AADL’s RSS feeds in the catalog to build (as a patron) the following applications:

    – alerts for all new cookery books (via RSS support for search results)
    – “wall of books” report of the most-requested items
    – posting my currently checked out books to my blog in a sidebar

    Whenever there is a list of books that your library puts on a page, it should be in both human-readable and machine-readable format (period full-stop). RSS is a handy machine-readable format, much more handy than MARC.


  14. Edward

    — thanks for the addition to the conversation here. I guess I honed in on the “new books list” part to keep things succinct. Even if it’s just the new books list, then that’s an improvement. Of course, every subject area should be feedable (and frankly, it should not be that hard for ILS developers to make it so).


  15. […] What am I talking about? Well the latest (well okay, its not really recent) Web 2.0 blogging kerfuffle of course. If you want to revisit the discussion, debate or the tangled skein of yarn, take a look at David Lee King’s post The Annoyed Librarian is Annoyed with Me and Annoyed Librarian’s post An Alternative Voice in Librarianship. There are plenty of comments to read and I’m sure every avid library-land blog reader has run across mention of it on favourite blogs such as K.G. Schneider’s Free Range Librarian, Jessamyn West’s librarian.net or Ryan Deschamps at The Other Librarian. […]


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