By Meredith Farkas | January 6, 2006
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No! It’s Library 2.0!
What is Library 2.0? Is it all about technology? It is new? Is it just old? If Library 2.0 were an animal, what would it be?
Does any of it really matter?
Why do people like to squish things into these neat little boxes as if the world was meant to be that way? Web 2.0. Library 2.0. I don’t like labels and I don’t like boxes. I was never a fan of the DSM IV when I was a therapist. A bunch of men a long time ago created these categories of mental illness because it was convenient for them to have a common vocabulary and I’m stuck slapping these arbitrary labels on poor innocent children because medicaid requires it. Now, if people have certain symptoms, they are bi-polar and if they have other symptoms they have borderline personality disorder. Does it mean anything? Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder not so long ago according to the good old DSM and many of the diagnoses pathologized pretty average (often female) behavior. The problem is, these labels are biased, they are often stigmatizing, and they assume that there are specific treatments that work for everyone with a particular diagnosis. I’m sorry to break it to people who cling to their mental health diagnoses, but the label “bi-polar” really means about as much as the label “library 2.0″.
What I’ve thought a lot about while writing my book is that most things in the real world just don’t fit into neat little packages. Not should they. In my book proposal, I created these very distinct chapters for different social software applications. Unfortunately, there is so much overlap and dependence that I’ve had to do a lot of rethinking about how the book is structured. Obviously, for the book I have to have distinct chapters, but why exactly do we need to fit all these very good ideas into a box called Library 2.0? Was does it accomplish?
Library 2.0 and Web 2.0 don’t exist. Web 2.0 is hype. Library 2.0 is just a bunch of very good ideas that have been squished into a box with a trendy label slapped on it. I do believe that this is an exciting time to be a librarian and to be involved in technology. I am excited that people are talking more about the importance of being responsive to patrons’ needs, even if the idea isn’t new (why quibble over such things?). We don’t all live in Ann Arbor or Chicagoland or Seattle. These ideas might be revolutionary in some libraries. There really are libraries (plenty) that don’t base technology implementation and service provision on the needs of their patrons. There are plenty of libraries that never do surveys and that never ask their patrons what they think or if they’re happy. Some people have been teaching the same things in their information literacy classes for years, in spite of the fact that students aren’t using the same tools to do their research anymore. Some libraries still only have books in English, in spite of the fact that their population has become much more diverse.
But I think we’re spending way too much time defining something that has existed in one form or another for quite a long time and will exist when the meme has ended.
So enough talk about what is or isn’t “L2″. “Reaching out to new users, inviting customer participation, and relying on constant change” sounds great. Now how do we do it? As someone who has been a professional librarian for 5 months, I surely don’t know. How do we form better partnerships with IT? How do we figure out what our patrons want (beyond the vocal minority or majority)? How do we figure out what the people in our communities who don’t come to the library want and how do we get them there (and by that, I don’t just mean the tech-savvy folks)? How do we evaluate all of these new social technologies to determine which is best for our patrons’ needs? How do we sell our less L2-happy colleagues on new technologies and ideas? How do we sell new technologies to our patrons? How does the new-ish librarian in rural Vermont whose colleagues are happy with the status quo create change? Instead of working on a definitition of something that doesn’t need defining, why don’t you work towards making 2.0 a reality. Why don’t you share your success stories with other libraries. Tell us about something terrific that happened at your library and tell us how we can make it happen at ours. I know a lot of you have done cool things at your library. I don’t just want to see the finished product; I’d like to hear how you did it and how you dealt with the barriers you’ve encountered. Because most libraries don’t even have blogs and most librarians don’t know what social software is. You can’t be so pie-in-the-sky or people outside of the our little bloggy microcosm just won’t listen. Those of us in library 0.9 or lower really need something more concrete so that we can replicate your successes.
If you have done something cool at your library or if you have some great ideas or advice to offer, please do consider writing about it in Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki or submitting a proposal for HigherEd BlogCon. We need to collect good ideas. If collaboration and idea-sharing isn’t part of this whole 2.0 thing, I don’t know what is. My hope for HigherEd BlogCon is that it will be all about people telling us how they did great things and how we can make those same things happen at our libraries. We need more practical nuts-and-bolts blog posts. It’s easy to talk about a philosophy, but hard to show how regular front-line librarians can make it happen. That’s my challenge to you. You librarians who have done really great things at your libraries or have successfully faced challenges, tell us how you did it. Because I know most librarians sure aren’t going anywhere near your 2.0 ideas without some concrete examples and advice.
Update: Literally moments after posting this, I saw that Laura Crosset of lis.dom (one of my very favorite blogs) just posted exactly the sort of thing I was talking about. Definitely check out Laura’s very simple, but very brilliant, idea for reaching teens at her library. Simple, concrete, and something most librarians could replicate. I love it!