The Library 2.0 Cafeteria

By Karen G. Schneider | Karen G. Schneider is the director of Librarians' Internet Index. A month ago, I attended a fabuwonderful day-long training session on new technologies taught by Michael Porter (who in the biblioblogosphere and other virtual worlds goes by "LibraryMan"). I hadn't attended hands-on training in a month of Sundays, and truth told, with a full plate at My Place Of Work (aka MPOW), I felt deep in a silo of my own creation. There are many Web sites where I can read about technology, and I am steeped in some very narrow technology where I work, but I really needed a day away from the daily onslaught of emailtelephoneinstantmessageskypefaxsnailmail, so I could focus on an instructor and a broad, important topic.

Michael Porter's Libraryman.comI came home with my brain full to the brim and invigorated with renewed Library 2.0 fervor. Given that I have that RSS/blogging thing pretty well in hand, I was slavering at the bit to my bookmarks, YouTube my videos, start podcasting on a regular basis, get a Second Life, and capture the grand mise en scene of my world on the photo-sharing site, Flickr. Oh, the places I'd go!

So where am I a month later? I am not so I YouTubed once. I am still pondering podcasting. I am still working on Life 1.0. But (until this week) I have been Flickring pretty steadily.

What I found is that life, work, and personal interests created an interesting set of affordances and obstacles to integrating these new technologies into work and play. I haven't rejected any of them, but after the initial feed frenzy, I'm now pushing my tray through the Library 2.0 cafeteria very selectively. Yet I understand the cafeteria and how it relates to library services better—and I'm more inclined to visit it more frequently.

First of all—and please don't take away my Library 2.0 union card—I plain don't care about right now. It's not that it isn't a great service; it was one of the easiest technologies to get started with, and I can see its value. But has activity that is so similar to what we do at MPOW—look at Web sites—that it feels a little like spending Saturday night reviewing invoices.

Second, YouTube and podcasting had similar obstacles: at the moment, I don't have a need to do either. And then there's the videotaping-expertise issue. I uploaded one video on YouTube (a brief section from a church service; I would point you to it except, at the end of the piece, I can see the choir director picking his nose—so I think I'll keep that between me and YouTube). I then watched a few funny flicks and moved on, returning only when friends sent me tempting URLs.

Don't discount YouTube for libraries, though. As Michael Porter remarked, even though it's a delicious time-sink, YouTube has a lot of potential for library outreach. Do a keyword search for "library" to see how many people think it's fun to shoot videos inside libraries—as did these Pitt library students, with their terribly funny but also effective National Library Week flick "Rock 'n' Roll Library."

There are a gadzillion YouTube users and counting, and that's because it's extremely easy to upload short videos to YouTube. Weigh the hour it might take to clean up a video and upload it with how much time and effort goes into library programming and events to begin with; with just a little extra effort, a YouTube video, carefully presented, could reach many new users and delight existing users who don't think of the library as a desktop service.

I also tinkered with podcasting. I plan to use podcasting at MPOW, to publish a podcast of our weekly summary, plus perhaps some brief interviews with site authors. But we need to adapt MPOW's RSS feed to support podcasting, and that's at least a couple of months down the pike—meaning that, for right now, I haven't done much with podcasting either.

'Pawedcasts' by the California Summer Reading ProgramYet a lot of libraries have dug into podcasting, for a simple reason: it's easy outreach. Buy a cheap USB microphone and install the free open-source audio software Audacity, and you can be podcasting in minutes. Librarians have found many uses for podcasts, including library tours, newsy updates, and professional education. My personal favorites are the adorable and useful “pawedcasts” produced by the California Summer Reading program. (Speaking of cute, curse you, Michael Porter, for introducing me to Cute Overload—I'm now seriously addicted! But imagine contributing a "cute" library animal to this site, too.)

Perhaps my nadir was attending a fascinating presentation on the Second Life Library, a library component within a virtual-reality world, during which my piggy old desktop computer crashed twice. I concluded I need to work on my First Life a while before tripping the light fantastic. That ruled out MySpace and FaceBook, as well—it just seemed more than I could handle right now. But all three of these places offer opportunities for librarians to reach users where they are, change their perceptions about libraries, and provide services virtually. The sheer number of users should be persuasive: as of May 2006, MySpace had more than 86 million accounts. To paraphrase Willy Sutton, one reason to set up a MySpace account for your library is because that's where the users are.

Despite the obstacles I encountered, I call my experience an unqualified success. First, there was Flickr. In theory, Flickr is a technology I was already using, albeit only occasionally. Yet Michael's class had an interesting effect on me. I felt emboldened to use Flickr more. (Maybe teaching about a technology rationalizes it for us?) I began adding contacts, and that meant contacts began adding me. I subscribed to each RSS feed for my contacts, set up Flickr groups, and began commenting on my contacts' photos—so they began commenting on mine. I met people on Flickr just because they had seen a picture I had posted—say, of a miniature rose or, a set I created called 'Big Cars in Compact Spaces.'

I only slowed down with Flickr when my two-year-old camera began stroking out, and to give you the depth of my interest in Flickr, my solution was to buy a new camera. (May your way be swift and safe, UPS Person!)

Then I took a tip from the libraries that have set up Flickr accounts to showcase their library services and set one up for MPOW, which we will use to show off some of the goodies in our forthcoming store. But my triumphal moment was when a library buddy requested help for her library's Flickr account, and I successfully troubleshot the problem—I, who could not remember how to log in to my Flickr account before Michael's class!

Furthermore, the other technologies Michael Porter (except, perhaps, are vibrant with possibilities for the library services I help deliver. I'm planning to put a podcast on the LITA blog, just for "proof of concept," as we say when we mean "Show and Tell." I'm still digesting what all these technologies mean and learning ancillary skills needed to make them work better, such as how to write a script for podcasting and how to edit videotape. But I am aware of these technologies in ways that make it far more likely I'll use them sooner or later beyond the consumption level—or at least know how and when to advocate for their use in library services—at the very least, one bite at a time.
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