Do Libraries Matter: On Library & Librarian 2.0

By Michael Stephens | Michael Stephens Head ShotAllow me to direct your attention to this white paper that Ken Chad and Paul Miller just posted at Talis: Do Libraries Matter? The Rise of Library 2.0 (available in PDF format).

It’s from the conference where they demonstrated Whisper that Jenny wrote about here. It's time to continue the conversations (and start them if you haven't already) about improving library services for the future via social software and some forward-thinking about library users.

Chad and Miller propose that, “ Library 2.0 is a concept of a very different library service that operates according to the expectations of today’s library users. In this vision, the library makes information available wherever and whenever the user requires it."

Amen. This U.K.-centric paper applies to U.S. libraries as well. Change is afoot for sure. And this is what many of us on the bandwagon have been saying, especially last week at Chicago Public Library’s SIR program. The discussion continued this week for me as well. I flew down to Texas to present to a class at the University of North Texas, where I’m currently working on my doctorate.

The Principles of Library 2.0
These are the discussions that must take place in YOUR library. How will you change or improve services to match this new model? Chad and Miller detail four principles; let’s look at them and ponder what libraries need to be thinking of sooner than later.
  • 1. The library is everywhere.
I’m reminded here of the libraries that seek to have a definite presence in their communities, from the public library to academic institutions. Outreach via technology, beyond the bricks of the libraries’ walls—to users at home or students in the commons area—should be the goal of every organization. I kid you not, we cannot hide behind a reference desk or within a fortress-like building anymore.

Thus, the IMing library is “out there" in ways we’ve never seen before, as is the SMS-ing library. Watch this technology closely as well. During a discussion Wednesday night in Dr. Brian O’Connor’s doctoral seminar, one student pointed out how easy it was to text Google from her phone and how she’d used it that day to find information.

“Did you even think about the library?" I asked.

Her answer: “No…"
  • 2. The Library has no barriers.
What barriers are we putting up that prevent our users from getting the information they need? Are you closing off resources and systems within your building? Make sure your users can get to your stuff no matter where they are—and make the systems easy to get to!

And what other barriers are in place in your buildings? What messages are you sending? No cell phones. No IM on public PCs. No talking. No working together on the workstations. No THANK YOU, I’ll go to Starbucks.
  • 3. The library invites participation.
[Insert raves about Ann Arbor District Library’s collaborative Web presence here!] Really, this is the model, and I encourage you and your colleagues to have this discussion in your next strategy meeting for sure. We need to ask ourselves, “How can we reach out and get interactive with our users?" Don’t be afraid. Your users won’t bite.

Are you planning for a new building or for a new technology initiative? I'm sure your technolust is in check, but are you involving your community from the get-go? Is the project/plan blog keeping folks "in the know" about how their tax dollars, student fees, or funding is being spent?

Also, from the information sources and blogs I subscribe to in my aggregator, the idea of tagging the library catalog springs up time and time again, from sample tag clouds to actual implementation. This blows me away and yet makes so much sense. Why not let users collaborate on how we present our holdings?

Dr. O’Connor and I actually pondered ways a library might present a tag cloud for the physical browsing of a library collection: a hand-held device that reads RFID tags and creates a visual representation as a user moves amongst the stacks? a representation of the cloud via plasma screens?
  • 4. The library uses flexible, best-of-breed systems.
Component-based software, not “monolithic" ILS here, writes Chad and Miller. Sometimes I think we make decisions about tech in libraries without much thought about the big picture. How does one system interact with all the others in place? How, for example, do we explain to iPod owners that the big money we spent on an incompatible service doesn’t get content to their players?

We need to open up discussions with the professionals at our ILS vendors, database providers, and subscription services and ask them: “Are you making the best product you can that will work for all of my users no matter where they are?" Inquire about built-in RSS feeds, tagging, and user commenting while you’re at it. The vendors that get it are, hopefully, already communicating future innovations as these.

Chad and Miller seek to further the discussion with this paper. If so, I’m in! I would add the following for their consideration and yours:
  • The library encourages the heart.
As we reach out to users, we must remember all of the folks we serve. To me, Library 2.0 will be a meeting place, online or in the physical world, where my emotional needs will be fulfilled through entertainment, information, and the ability to create my own stuff to contribute to the ocean of content out there—the Long Tail if you will. Librarian 2.0, then, will be available to guide me and teach me to use the systems provided by the library to do just that. As Abram said, librarians will provide clarification: “Librarians need to position themselves and the library to help with finding the answers to: how? and why?"
  • The library is human.
Users will see the face of the library no matter how they access its services. Librarians will guide them via electronic methods as well as in person, and they will no longer be anywhere near the stereotype we still see in movies or on television. Versed in the social tools, able to roll with each wave of change, this librarian will encourage and educate future users. Isn’t that the kind of librarian you’d like to be?
  • The library recognizes that its users are human too.
Hooray for loud spaces in libraries that might be full of collaboration and conversation! Congrats to the administrators that build meeting places of comfortable spaces for all generations, from arcade-like meeting spaces on gaming day to a comfy chair and lamp where I might plan my next trip via the collection of travel books and a laptop connected to the Web. Well done to the folks in libraries that see we still hold up some sacred cows that just might be building barriers and seek to change this.

Finally, Web 2.0 allows us to have this discussion, across blogs, comments, and through IM, where I found Michael Casey this morning. Author of LibraryCrunch, I told Casey about this post and sought his input. "What else do librarians building Library 2.0 need to do?" I wondered.

“We also need to look at all of the services we offer and ask ourselves, ‘Do they still serve our customers?’ and 'Do they serve a large-enough group that our ROI is positive?’ he queries. “Library 2.0 is, perhaps above all else, the idea of constant change. Not only constant library change, but the recognition that our communities are constantly changing and that our services to them must change proportionally."

Chad and Miller sum up their white paper: “Put simply, libraries must now begin to use these Web 2.0 applications if they are to prove themselves to be just as relevant as other information providers, and start to deliver experiences that meet the modern user’s expectations."

Our users have expectations. Our communities are changing. Libraries—and librarians—must change as well. Please put a discussion of Library 2.0 on the agenda for your next staff meeting! Your users and staff will thank you for it!