By Meredith Farkas | January 24, 2008
I found John Blyberg’s post, Library 2.0 Debased, very interesting and in many ways, a breath of fresh air. I agree with him on a lot of levels. I agree that mistakes have been made. I think there has been a lot of confusing rhetoric about Library 2.0. I think a lot of people lost touch with what their patrons actually needed and wanted and started implementing cool technologies because they thought that was what Library 2.0 was about. I think the only thing we really disagree on is Library 2.0 actually has a single coherent definition.
Anyone who’s read my blog or has been to one of my talks where I mention Library 2.0 knows that I have always been uncomfortable with the label. I always felt like the 2.0 label and bandwagon wasn’t productive and that it would end up leading to more confusion and navel-gazing than anything else. I was right and wrong, I think. Perhaps it was because of the Library 2.0 bandwagon that the Learning 2.0 movement exists now. That is something useful and concrete that has exposed thousands of librarians to social technologies who may never have gotten that experience. I think the 2.0 meme gave Learning 2.0 the traction it needed to get implemented in so many libraries. Could it have happened without Library 2.0? Perhaps. Hard to say.
But still, I think the movement has had some negative impact as well, and that is due, largely, to a lack of a clear conception of what 2.0 is and how one can get there. It has confused and alienated a lot of people. When you have something as amorphous as Library 2.0, it can be interpreted in so many ways. Some people see it as being all about technology. Some see it more as a service philosophy. Others see it more about organizational change. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who gets to define it?
Library 2.0 is a term with myriad definitions, and it’s no wonder that people ended up defining it in ways that others didn’t agree with. Trying to capture the essence of Library 2.0 is like trying to capture the wind. I still don’t understand what Library 1.0 looks like, so I have a hard time understanding exactly what 2.0 might look like. No matter what the definition, though, when you start hearing people say that every library should have a blog, you know things have gone too far and that folks have lost site of the goal: to do right by our patrons.
I think Library 2.0 led to a lot of librarians losing their way and you can see that in the huge number of library blogs, Flickr account and MySpace pages that haven’t been updated in months or years. It’s valuable to know how to use this stuff, but the focus should never be on the tools. Never. I know they’re fun to play with and it’s exciting to see the cool things other libraries have done with them, but that shouldn’t impact whether you use the technology or not. We should always be focused on our patrons’ needs. Not every library needs a public-facing blog. Not everyone has a population that wants to read news about the library or book reviews. Not everyone has a population that wants to have a dialog with the library. Unless you see a real need that could be filled by a blog, your library does not need a blog.
What I always hoped to see come out of the Library 2.0 movement is exactly what never did. I wanted to see a greater culture of assessment in libraries. Are you doing more assessment than you did before? If so, bravo! But I don’t hear people talking much about assessment, which makes me think that Library 2.0 hasn’t impacted that area enough. And yet, I can’t think of anything more integral to Library 2.0. How can we know what our patrons need and want if we’re not doing assessment?
I also wanted to see more value placed on technology learning and implementation, and that happened to some extent. I think it’s great that many library administrators gave their staff time for Learning 2.0, but there are so many libraries where all learning has to go on at home (and while I love this profession, it shouldn’t consume your life). I was at an academic library a while back where the staff were complaining that administration wanted them to implement all this 2.0 stuff, but expected them to do it on top of all their regular duties. I wonder 1) how they’re supposed to accomplish that and 2) how enthusiastically they will implement social software tools under those circumstances. By not giving people time to learn on the job and to work with these emerging technologies, staff end up feeling like their administrators are only paying lip service to Library 2.0 and Web 2.0.
I’ve tried to define Library 2.0 for myself. I see it as:
- Working to meet changing user needs – get to know your users and non-users, develop a culture of assessment, examine any and all assumptions about how services and systems should “be”, visiting other libraries and remembering what it is to be a patron, and then changing once you’ve figured it all out.
- Believing in our users – trusting them, listening to them, giving them a role in helping to define library services for the future
- Getting rid of the culture of perfect – being able and willing to experiment, learning from failure, being agile as an organization, continuously improving services based on feedback rather than working behind the scenes for ages to create the “perfect” product or service
- Being aware of emerging technologies and opportunities – looking for partnerships in your community or with other libraries, being aware of library and technology trends, giving staff time to try out new technologies and learn
- Looking outside of the library world for applications, opportunities, inspiration – understanding the culture of the technologies and how they are used by the public, seeing how technologies are implemented in non-profit and for-profit institutions
Of course, if you asked me what any good library should be doing, you’d get that same list. The fact is, this isn’t exactly revolutionary. And good librarians have embraced these ideas for decades and decades. We have always had librarians who are change oriented and those who are change-averse. We still do. This is probably where I get stuck, because it makes it hard for me to figure out what Library 1.0 would be.
I gave a keynote on Library 2.0 that is posted on YouTube. The fact is, what I was really talking about for an hour is what I think libraries should be like. So is Library 2.0 just about being a good librarian and creating a good library? For me, I guess it is.
I really don’t blame the vendors for jumping on the 2.0 bandwagon with tagging, RSS and whatnot. We’ve been bugging them for years to integrate tagging and RSS and now that they’ve done it, we’re going to complain that they’re paying lip service to 2.0 or are co-opting it? Sure, they could have integrated many of these features more intelligently, but we didn’t do it so great the first time around either (see John’s comment on his former library’s catalog tagging failure. I only hope our patrons are more forgiving of our 2.0 foibles than we are of our vendors.). My Discoveries from Medialab is the first technology specific to libraries I’ve seen get the social stuff right. While each library has its own instance of My Discoveries (a social tagging and review platform) on AquaBrowser, all reviews and tags go into a central repository of all comments and tags from all My Discoveries libraries. So you end up with a much bigger pool of data that will be much more valuable to users in the catalog (and having a lot of tags will make it more likely that other people will start tagging). You can even pre-populate your catalog with tags from LibraryThing. This is a huge step in the right direction and it came from a vendor, not from us.
I did an assessment recently of our distance learners here, and what they wanted had very little to do with Library 2.0. They didn’t want more participation. They didn’t want to see photos of what we’re up to here. Other than the few who wanted 24/7 reference services, most of them wanted the library to be invisible. They didn’t want to have to log into the library. They didn’t want to have to search multiple databases. They didn’t want to learn new systems. And they wanted us to have more full-text articles available online so they didn’t have to use interlibrary loan. Basically, they wanted to be self-sufficient and not to have to deal with us. And who can blame them? A library for online students is a means to an end. They just want to get the resources they need in the shortest amount of time so they can get their research done. The easier and more seamless we can make it for them, the happier they will be. The most “2.0″ thing we’ve done is embedded a customized library presence for distance learners in their course management system. Not as sexy as Facebook, but it makes access for them a lot more seamless and it’s exactly where they want the library to be.
I love Rochelle Hartman’s very level-headed assessment of her forays into the 2.0 universe:
I’ve been in and out of the 2.0 stream for awhile. It was like a life preserver when I first grabbed hold of it several years ago, after feeling like I’d been dog paddling far too long. I needed something to re-engage me, to keep me interested, to make me feel relevant. It was a the perfect flotation device. Eventually, I threw off my floaty, went into the deep end and became an enthusiastic supporter of all things 2.0. Then, I left my reference librarian position and became a reference library manager. I was tossing out 2.0 at my new colleagues like beads at Mardi Gras (if I may abandon the water metaphor). Some of it stuck and has become a seamless part of how we work, like Meebo IM. There’s a gaming program here that’s the purview of Teen services. It’s regularly scheduled, well attended and means a great deal to a miniscule and static portion of our users (you know, like book clubs).
After about six months in my position, I was able to step back, breathe, and realize that 2.0 in the tech sense was not a service priority for adult reference or, really, for the community we serve. We deployed Flickr, a blog, MySpace, even a YouTube account, most of which ended up being inexpensive experiments that had zero impact in any direction. On the other hand, our internet access is probably one of the least restrictive I’ve heard about in a library environment and I love that our IT folks understand that it’s crucial to be responsive. At any given moment, I’d guess that 70% of our public access terminals are being used for social networking: MySpace, various IM clients, Runescape, eBay, etc. Our help or involvement is not needed or welcomed (unless time is about to run out and a patron wants an extension). Those folks don’t want to interact with us. They don’t want us in their space.
Mistakes will always be made. If a library doesn’t have any failures, then they’re probably not doing enough to change. But the focus should always be on the users we have, not the users we read about in Educause or Wired or the ones at the libraries that are successfully implementing all sorts of social tools. It’s important to be up on the trends, but you can’t rely on studies like that to tell you what you need to do with your users. Assessment may not be sexy, but it’s critical to making the library reflect the needs and wants of its patrons. I know libraries can feel like technology is passing them by when they see all this cool stuff other libraries are doing, but if you’re focused on the needs and wants of your service population (including people in your community who don’t use the library), you shouldn’t worry.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think the Library 2.0 movement itself is to blame for a lot of the not-so-well-thought-out technology implementations we’ve seen out there. There hasn’t been enough focus on assessment, on knowing our users, and on really understanding the cultures of these online communities/tools we’re getting ourselves into. Instead, the focus has been more on the cool thing that Ann Arbor, or Hennepin, or UPenn, or some other really cool library has done and the big study that tells us that __% of users are doing cool things with social software (whose users?). So it’s not shocking that people have gotten confused. I think every blogger, writer and speaker who discusses Library 2.0, social software, etc. should ask themselves if they focus enough on assessment and understanding each individual library’s population before jumping into this stuff (or if they only focus on the tools). Because, if we’re not doing that, we’re doing people a grave disservice.