Better Library Services for More People

By Michael Stephens |
    UPDATE TO ORIGINAL POST on January 19, 2006
Please note that content, noted in text, has been amended.
    “What's going on here? I think Library 2.0 is a library response to the larger social technology changes going on right now. I wouldn't be surprised if there's an Automotive 2.0, a Psychiatrist 2.0, or a Teacher 2.0. Some librarians are noticing the change and are trying to figure out how libraries can capture the good stuff of Web 2.0 and use it to further serve our patrons. They have added a library-centric name to a larger concept that is appearing in our libraries, in our cities, and in the world at large." — from "Confrontational Aspects of Library 2.0 Discussed," by David King (on dave's blog).
Michael Stephens, TTW Librarian BloggerThis past week's publication of Walt Crawford's latest issue of Cites & Insights, Library 2.0 and "Library 2.0" (vol. 6, no. 2: Midwinter 2006), has pushed the topic of Library 2.0 deeper into the mainstream library world than anything yet written. Thank you, Walt.

We may not agree with some of the things that were said, but we must also recognize that the Library 2.0 discussion is new; so far as we can tell, the catchword was first used on September 26, 2005, in a post discussing Librarians Without Borders. That makes it a little more than three months old.

That does not mean that the ideas and philosophies behind Library 2.0 are three months old. This change has been discussed for many years, and the many ideas to improve libraries and librarianship—the social software, the ideas of constant change, the new library programs, and even the great new library buildings such as the one in Seattle—have been evolving for a long time. But the Biblioblogosphere, comprised of many diverse and independent voices, has turned up the volume of this ongoing discussion, and it has resulted in a more unified voice for change and improvement in librarianship.

We cannot speak for any other writers, but our discussions in blogs, conferences, and Webinars are just that—discussions. We write about ideas and issues in order try and form more useful and coherent understandings of these things. We think as a community.

Michael Casey, Library Crunch Librarian Blogger Steve Lawson's recent post says it very well: “But having to defend posts and comments that felt in their composition more like 'thinking out loud' than 'my last word on the subject' can be sobering."

Definitions of Library 2.0 are changing—in the community and in our own individual modes of thinking as well; any attempt to nail down a concrete understanding at this early date is premature.

One thing, however, is crystal clear—our discussion of Library 2.0 and the debate that's followed has but one goal and that is: better library services for more people.

It's difficult to believe a single librarian blogger who is discussing Library 2.0 wants to exclude anyone, would think that public libraries are failures, wants in any way to be confrontational, or do anything to harm the role and future of libraries.

What we do want is to discuss and search for ways to reach that goal; to improve library services and reach more users—without leaving any existing users behind. This is not an easy goal, but one that should be discussed. It would be great if we can do this in a constructive and productive manner.

The Librarian in Black (LiB), Sarah Houghton, posted a thoughtful article at her blog that included:
    I think that there are a lot of good ideas coming out of the Library 2.0 proponents' discussions. In fact, I have goals for the next year or two that have largely come out of Library 2.0 discussions. I also think there is some negativity coming out of these discussions (unintentionally): promoting services to youth while ignoring other service areas; making libraries who can't do these wonderful things right this second feel irrelevant; promoting technology over all else.
L2 does not focus on just one part of our user base. It includes all. John Beck in a discussion with OCLC last spring on Gamers and Boomers urges Librarians to create zones in their libraries. “In the next five years, Gamers will be the dominant demographic for your libraries. Nonetheless, you don't want to do anything that will offend or chase Boomers from the stacks. The key to securing and retaining these growing segments is giving each one what it wants."

The article goes on to list Beck's suggestions that may help your library serve and attract both Gamers and Boomers:
  • Create zones in your library....
  • Expand your AV collection.... 
  • Know each culture....
  • Go global....
  • Be a guide....
  • Personalize your Web site....
  • Be attentive....
Any library can adopt some of the Web 2.0 solutions and be part of the future incarnations of library services—with little or no expense. For example, IM (instant messaging) is free and can easily be "turned on" for a library to reach out to users. In addition, blog software is free (or, at least, can be inexpensive) and can be useful for both external and internal communication. The open-source movement is another example of applications being developed by a community and shared freely.

Eli at AADL sums it up very well in a blog post:
    Because Web 2.0 is the product of increasingly smarter software development tools and progressively more robust open-source code libraries, inventing and implementing a new Library 2.0-style service requires more creativity than it does cash. Furthermore, the ideas of Web 2.0 are based around sharing code, access, and services; the stuff that the bigger libraries do over the next few years are likely to become available to smaller libraries much faster than the [I]nternet achieved its current ubiquity.
And as we've discussed before, it's not all about technology. It's about people. It's about the way librarians do their jobs and interact with their users and how they plan. John Blyberg included, “L2 requires internal reorganization," in his, “11 Reasons Why Library 2.0 Exists and Matters."
    The type of change L2 requires involves shifting focus from departments who previously bore the brunt of the public face of librarianship. For example, your IT departments (if you had one) were traditionally support mechanisms that kept the cogs turning behind the scenes. Increasingly, they are becoming an important part of the decision-making process and have more influence over how the public perceives your organization. As such, the type of people you hire into those positions changes because the requirements are very different. L2 is going to require a great deal of inter-departmental integration. In order to be adept at navigating L2 waters, the old fiefdoms need to disappear. L2 requires drastic and sweeping changes to our internal cultures and will require some form of institutional enlightenment.
How will the public perceive libraries in 2015? The discussions carrying the name "Library 2.0" seek to make sure libraries are viable and on the radar of the future's citizens. It's time for examples. [NOTE: THE LAST SENTENCE PRIOR TO THIS NOTE ('It's time for examples.') WAS ORIGINALLY — MISTAKENLY — INCLUDED IN THE BLOCK QUOTE DURING EDITING. TANGOGNAT'S POST (LINKED ABOVE) DID NOT INCLUDE THE LAST SENTENCE. WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE ERROR.]
    It seems like many people are writing Library 2.0 commentary and manifestos, but I'm not seeing many practical applications, or even proposals or roadmaps for practical applications. Web2.0 at least has gmail and flickr and other social software applications to point to as examples. I think that the Library 2.0 thing might come in handy for people who want a conference presentation with buzz.
The next few steps, after all this discussion—and after the dust has settled from some virtual sparring—should manifest in the form of "stepping-stones": let's move from discussion only to developing and implementing best practices for Web 2.0 tools, to “How-we-did-it-and-did-it-good" case studies, and to empirically based discussions about our “We-tried-it-and-it-failed" lessons. And let's keep looking for the best ways to serve our users, wherever they are.

Let's be ready for the next wave of new tools and services and user expectations, and let's welcome new librarians to join this discussion with more ideas and new thinking.
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