By Meredith Farkas | August 22, 2007
I have to admit that the Annoyed Librarian is one of my guilty pleasures. I love to laugh and she makes me laugh like crazy, even though she’s probably insulted me on her blog in the past and I was too thick to notice. Reading something that is so diametrically opposed to most of what I read helps me to think outside of the narrow little world I inhabit. I think sometimes we all take ourselves too seriously. We can get tunnel-vision. We sometimes lose focus on what’s important, what’s real, and, for some of us, what it’s like to who work with patrons on a day-to-day basis. The Annoyed Librarian reminds us to “get over ourselves.” While I actually agree with the spirit of Laura Cohen’s “A Librarian’s 2.0 Manifesto”, which was published in American Libraries and also can be found here, I did laugh a bit at Annoyed’s trashing of it (even though it was a bit… well… insane). What I really found interesting was how many of the comments supported her anti-2.0 rant. That there is this much vehement hatred of Library 2.0 really concerns me and got me thinking about what the Library 2.0 movement has brought us. Ryan Deschamp’s excellent post, We Asked for 2.0 Libraries and We Got 2.0 Librarians, also helped me to focus my own thoughts about this.
I like teaching “the unconverted” about social software tools (not that I’m actually trying to convince anyone of anything). People who don’t use social software often have really good questions about the practical use of these tools in libraries. I learn a lot from them. And often I have to agree that a tool isn’t a good fit at their library or that it won’t work because there is no support from above. No big deal. We have to focus on the practical.
Some people have told me that they think Library 2.0 is all about people using these tools in their libraries and that they feel pressured to do so. One librarian wrote on the AASL blog:
Sometimes, I wish that people like Michael Stephens, Meredith Farkas and Stephen Cohen could spend a month in my (sometimes sensible) shoes as I try to keep all these balls in the air. And then I wish that they’d look at all the technology thats “out there”, the 2.0 stuff that they say I must use and help create a program where I can do just that.
While I don’t think Michael, Steven or I have ever told people they must use these technologies, this post speaks to a larger anxiety that has come from the Library 2.0 movement in my opinion. I don’t think it was anyone’s intention to make people feel pressured like that, but it often is the outcome of any movement.
No, these social technologies are not always the most important things to be focusing on at your library. In fact, you really shouldn’t be focusing on tools at all, but on what your patrons’ needs are and what you most need/want to accomplish in your work. If some of that can be accomplished using social tools, great! If not, that’s great too. We just implemented a link resolver, which has just made our patrons’ lives about a zillion times easier. A link resolver isn’t as sexy as a wiki, Second Life or Flickr, but it was absolutely something our patrons wanted without even knowing that something like it existed. I think I make myself far more available to our distance learners by being embedded in their individual classrooms (using a decidedly Web 1.0 tool like WebCT) than I ever could in Facebook or with a blog.
Sometimes, though, the thing your patrons need actually is a social tool. We have an online Masters of Military History program at Norwich. For anyone who has dealt with online historical resources, you will know that it would be very hard for a library to support an online history program of any kind, much less one so focused on the military and war. There just isn’t much out there online and what is (digitized primary source materials) is obscenely expensive. There are some good free online resources, but they’re scattered around and can often be hard to find. I know that our students are finding resources I’ve never heard of in the course of their research. But that knowledge often stays locked up in their heads and never benefits anyone.
A few weeks ago, one student posted some tips on the library discussion board in his classroom (I’m embedded in the class), offering tips on some resources he’d found online. Suddenly, it occurred to me, why not create a wiki for the military history students to share resources and advice??? With most student populations, I wouldn’t think of doing it, because I know the wiki would not receive any contributions other than from me (and that’s ok, but I can just keep using my regular subject page). However, the military history students are a rare breed. They are eager, passionate and love sharing what they’ve learned. I suggested the idea to my Director and she immediately and enthusiastically green-lighted it. By the end of the day, I had the skeleton of a wiki. Two days later, I told the military history students and they were already contributing to it that very day!
Yes, I know, it’s crazy that I didn’t think of it sooner (being the “queen of wikis” or whatever). The fact is, though, I wasn’t focusing on the tools. I wasn’t thinking about wikis; I was thinking about my students. And once I got a sense that they did want to share resources, a wiki seemed like the perfect way to help them with their research.
There were four things that led to the success (so far) of this operation:
- Understanding my patrons’ needs
- Knowing about the range of tools available out there to share information
- A supportive director who doesn’t seen anything wrong with trying something, even if it might fail
- Having a sense of my patrons’ comfort with technology / interest in sharing / interest in using something like a wiki.
All four of these are critical. If we use a tool that doesn’t meet any needs, it won’t get used. If we don’t know what tools are available, we won’t be able to make an informed decision about which tool will best meet the needs of our patrons. Without the support of my Director, I never would have done it in the first place. Finally, if your population is not the sort who would use a wiki or whatever tool you’re trying to sell them on, they won’t use it.
I think this is why learning programs like Learning 2.0, Five Weeks to a Social Library, and the InfoPeople Web 2.0 series are critical to providing good services to our patrons. Not every library will or should implement blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, Second Life, Flickr and more. However, we should all know how these tools work and know which would work best in different situations (though we should also know about link resolvers and other library technologies). We need a basic toolkit to draw from when we see a need or a problem. But we need to know more. We also need to learn how to assess patron needs, sell people on these technologies, successfully implement technologies, train people, and critically evaluate technologies. I really think any “2.0″ learning program should offer all of this. We’re only giving people half a toolkit if we just teach them the technologies. I’ve learned a lot about the project management side of technology implementation through trial and error. I learn more every time something fails. While experiencing failure can be educational, we don’t need for everyone to go through that before learning how to do it right.
I work with a population that would not be impressed with their library using blogs and Flickr. Students roll their eyes and look at me like I’m a million years old when I mention Facebook and I just don’t think the students here would be into their library having a presence on there. We have a rather unique student population being a military school. Our faculty is not into technology on the whole. I do use social tools at my library, but in very quiet ways that make them virtually invisible to students. We use MeeboMe for instant messaging. It’s right on the front page of the library website, so they don’t need an AIM account or a chat client. I have news blogs for the on-campus folks and the distance learners, but all our patrons see is news. I write the content on a blog, but then syndicate it onto our website proper (and into our library presence in WebCT) using Feed2JS. We don’t need the comment feature since it’s all about disseminating news, but it’s great to use a blog because other staff members can add to it without knowing HTML. We’re currently working on subject guides where the web resources are cataloged using del.icio.us, but are syndicated on the website (similarly to the blogs) and the output is styled to look like the rest of the subject guide. The purpose of using del.icio.us is to allow the library staff to update their own resources rather than depending on the Webmaster (AKA Meredith Farkas) to make every little change. Also, nowhere on the Masters of Military History Resource Sharing Site do I even call it a wiki. Yes, I’d love to do more with social tools, but it would be more because I find this stuff fun than because I think it would be useful to anyone. It just goes to show, though, that you can capitalize on these tools even if you do not have the patron population of the Ann Arbor District Library.
My take is that a library can be doing absolutely wonderful things for their patrons without ever implementing a blog, a mashup or any of the other tools from the Web 2.0 toolkit. And sometimes libraries implement 2.0 tools in a decidedly non-user-focused way. They get a MySpace site to look cool, but it doesn’t offer anything useful to patrons. They spend hours each week producing a library podcast, even thought they rarely see patrons with MP3 players. The reason I don’t like the whole 2.0 movement is that I think it can distract from what is important. I think it either attracts people who may feel like they must implement these tools or it repels people who hate bandwagons and movements. I can’t deny that it’s had good results too though. I’m teaching two sections of my Web 2.0: Connecting with the Community Using Social Software class for InfoPeople and they’re both full at over 75 students each with people on a waiting list. A lot of the people in the first section have already done Learning 2.0 programs at their library. Would they have done all of it without the term 2.0 attached to it? Hard to say for sure, but I think the movement does attract some people to the classes. If all this gives them a good toolkit to use to meet their patrons’ needs, then I’m happy. However, there are still many people who would turn their noses up at anything with the term 2.0 in it. The movement has alienated people like my colleagues who are risk-tolerant and totally user-focused, but who find the idea of 2.0 absolutely silly. They want to focus on practical strategies to meet their patrons needs, but are turned-off by anything that smacks of dogma. And what’s more dogmatic than a manifesto?
I still have a hard time deciding if the whole Library 2.0 movement is a good thing, and I fervently hope the phrase goes into quaint obsolescence soon as Ryan Deschamps predicted. I hope that people are not so turned-off by the idea of a movement that they completely ignore all of the good pieces. I also hope that people stay focused on the practical uses of these tools and don’t just implement things because they’re enamored with the tool or want to make their library look cool. I think Library 2.0 has led to good things and bad things. I wish this wasn’t such a divisive topic, but I’m glad that there are a multitude of voices out there, both pro and con and (like me) still on the fence. Whether I agree with people’s posts on the subject or not, I always learn something and it always influences my views in subtle ways. How boring would it be if we all just agreed with each other and how dangerous would that be in terms of keeping a sense of perspective?