Where Do We Begin? A Library 2.0 Conversation with Michael Casey

By Michael Stephens | Michael Stephens, Librarian and Social Software GuruThe Library 2.0 (L2) discussion continues across the Biblioblogosphere. Meredith Farkas, in her thoughtful way, recently pondered this at Information Wants to be Free: “I’m still having trouble understanding exactly what library 2.0 looks like and how we reach library 2.0."

Making sense of the definitions flying about and pondering a pathway to L2 have been on my mind as well. In fact, I posted this at TTW a while ago, after working with Chicago Public Library at the SIR program. The post is actually based on a brief e-mail I composed to Sharon Wiseman, the director of staff development there.

The post at TTW prompted Rochelle to rejoice and cry, including:
    If I sound frustrated, I guess I'm a bit of a Veruca Salt about what I want to do in my daily work. As much as I love learning about Library and Web 2.0 and finding ways to make technology work for patrons and colleagues, I'm not sure that many (most) libraries are ready to take even the baby steps suggested by Michael. I'm sure you'll let me know if I'm mistaken (and I hope that I am).
Then came this thoughtful piece from The Gypsy Librarian:
    My initial reaction was "that seems nice, but it leaves things out." For instance, (Michael’s) suggestion of sending folks to places like the Gaming Symposium, while idealistic, may not be very practical in terms of funding. My case is a perfect example. If I told my library director that I wanted to form a "think tank" for technology issues and send three other people and me to a few symposia and conferences like Michael suggests, my director would probably flash me a very nice smile and diplomatically tell me that there's no money for that. Pure and simple. That's just one example.
These discussions lead me to ask “Where do we begin?" The best way would be to give Michael Casey a call and have a sit-down and discuss what comes next for pointing librarians toward L2. If I had my way, it’d be at his Starbucks, but for now, we’ll sit here in our own cyber-Starbucks location and chat.

Michael Stephens: My first thought, Michael, is that I do get Angel’s point about travel; what I should have said is that if you can’t swing travel, make a point to read the great coverage of the Gaming Symposium, and prepare a short debrief for a strategic planning meeting in your own library. A small library might add a Gamecube or two and go from there, while a larger system might dive in like my own library.

My point, though, is library conferences are becoming rather plugged in. Most conferences we might attend with a tech slant will probably be blogged and wiki’ed and flickr’ed, so there’s just staff time devoted to reading and digesting the coverage. Web seminars might be useful as well. These are starting points within reach.

Michael Casey, librarian and author of the LibraryCrunch Blog Michael Casey: Oh, I agree. I’ve been impressed with the blogging that’s come out of some of the recent conferences, and I think any library could sit down and look through the lively discussion in the blogosphere and come up with some great ways to move toward L2. If you can’t send people to the conference, then at least assign some members of your Emerging Technology Committee to review the info that comes out of that conference and find ways to implement some of the more attractive ideas. I would really hope that even a small library could gather together a few talented staff members to look at new technologies and the possible role they could play in our service offerings.

Funding issues are also part of the whole L2 equation—every library has a different starting point, and every library has different capabilities when finances are considered. Being able to effectively use your limited resources is critical to Library 2.0. Finding out what will bring in new users and then constantly re-evaluating those services is crucial.

MS: Absolutely. That’s the basis of my take on technology planning and spending users’ money the right way. I cannot imagine a director or administrator that would not want to devote some staff time to an Emerging Technology Committee. It’s a perfect way to start looking at things, aggregating all of the info coming out, and making recommendations. How forward thinking is that? Wouldn’t the board or other governing body be happy that the library was looking toward the future instead of the way things have always been done?

MC: I’d think any board would be thrilled the library was trying to increase its user base and, therefore, the number of happy and satisfied taxpayers! Anytime we can draw in more users, through either our physical or virtual doors, we’re going to increase our political capital.

Dealing with directors and boards reminds me that most of our battles are not with the user but with our own people. Users are often far more likely to embrace new ideas and new offerings than our own administrators!

MS: Right…our users are the ones using some of the Web tools and sites we all are talking about. Look at what’s happening with sites like Yahoo 360 and MySpace. Maybe the boards and administrators need a good taste of some social software and some pondering time outside of the Worry Tank. Maybe they should also attend a gaming session at a library to see a little bit of the future.

As this discussion is playing out, John Blyberg posts a “brain dump" of insight about L2. It’s full of even more points for discussion. It looks like a lot of us are pondering the roadmap for how libraries can change. Blyberg mention impediments—and the vendors as one. I can’t help but think our biggest impediment is ourselves. Are some librarians acting as roadblocks for change in libraries? Are some librarians roadblocking L2?

MC: Well, I agree when John says “if we’re arguing over semantics, we’ve been derailed." I hope we can see L2 as a path toward change, toward improvement of services. If we try to overdefine it, we’ll never get out of the gate. In some ways, yes, I do think we are our own worst enemies. We get stuck in ruts, providing the same services to the same groups of people, without looking beyond our world to the masses that do yet not use our services. I often speak of reaching for that "Long Tail," the concept of trying to drive toward the large numbers that don't even think of the library as a resource to be used. If we cannot break out of that mold, that way of thinking, then we will never progress.

MS: It is about the Long Tail and the encouragement of the heart isn’t it? Wherever a library user’s heart takes them is where the librarian should be—in person or online. That scares some librarians. It’s different than just organizing materials and hoping no one disturbs them.

This type of policy sets libraries back a hundred years. I love the comment trail on that picture, including, “When I finally got to be the boss in my own library (small academic library) the first thing I did was to invite people into the library WITH THEIR COFFEE! Sensation! Happy people, some who said they had not set their feet in the library for 10 years."

Do we want happy people in the library? I think so.

Librarians: take a walk around your library now. What rules are you enforcing that are outdated or place barriers between users and information? IM on public PCs? User holds from anywhere via a snazzy Web interface? Hope so! A comfy chair, good lighting, and some current magazines to thumb through while it snows? Oh yeah! Coffee or tea? Yes, please.

I think a big part of L2 is examining our rules and procedures for library-made impediments to users getting to information as well letting go of micromanaging everything to death (a la Abram at CPL).

How are libraries currently perceived? Take a look at OCLC’s new document, including this section on “The Library Brand." I know L2 will not just be about books or libraries as boxes of books, but about a wide range of services and access points, dependent on the community of users the library supports. Branding for our libraries and ourselves! What might L2’s branding look like?

MC: This OCLC report is fantastic—it really highlights some of the things many of us have been talking about for some time. What is a library today? It’s certainly not simply a collection of books—I think we passed that mile marker many years ago. Respondents to the OCLC study overwhelmingly said that “information"—most often free information—was the key thing they thought of when confronted with the idea of a library.

What was a bit disquieting about the OCLC study were the negative associations that younger people make with library staff—this is an area where, I hope, our efforts to reach out to teens and younger adults will really pay off. Embracing the change needed to go after this group should pay dividends.

MS: So much is coming together in my mind right now: OCLC’s Perceptions, the Gaming Symposium, working with CPL, and following the discourse here. They all feed into the idea of L2. The idea of the library as a spot for kids to race and dance and for young people to record podcasts and develop digital videos just like the great directors and seek their own forms of entertainment to their hearts' content...it makes me very happy. I love the content creation part, and Jessmyn's mention of it here.

MC: Interesting was the appearance of “entertainment" as one of the main purposes of the library in OCLC’s new report—directly after the holy trinity of books/information/research. Entertainment is where we have a lot of catch-up to do, and this is where we really need to harness the knowledge and input of our customers in order to craft quality services our communities want. If this means changing some services we once considered fundamental, so be it. What matters is that we serve our mission, not that we continue outdated services.

MS: Entertainment! That’s the piece that so belongs to the heart as well. And there’s something for everyone in the Long Tail.

Michael, where do we go from here?

I hate to sound like a broken record but I’m going to suggest taking this question to your community. Talk to your users, look at your community, go out to those people who do not use your library, and ask them why they’re not using such a great and free resource. Are there barriers to bringing those people into the library? If so, how can they be torn down?

Look at your services—are you allocating valuable resources in inefficient ways? Library 2.0 is more than integrating new technologies into your library—although that is a wonderful part of L2. It’s about taking the time to examine all you’re doing and finding out what we can do to welcome an entirely new group of users into our wonderful libraries.

Michael, I want to thank you for inviting me to participate in this great discussion. I’m really excited about Library 2.0, but even more, I’m excited by the level of discourse taking place at conferences and online. Libraries are very well positioned right now to take advantage of some unique opportunities, both in the way of technology and in services. To quote you, Michael, “What a wonderful time to be a librarian!"

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