Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Library 2.0 audio blog recap

In case you don't want to listen to my lurvely audio posts, here's a recap.

Firstly, I want to make clear that I believe Library 2.0 is absolutely vital to the survival of libraries around the world. Libraries have always changed as society changed; to take the most basic of examples, we don't rent reel-to-reel movies anymore but we do have DVDs. In many ways, Library 2.0 is no different. A bigger step for some of us, yes, but still a step that today's culture (and tomorrow's, presumably) insists that we take.

The articles from OCLC were generally very good, and did a good job explaining what the vision for Library 2.0 really is. I do have one little semantic quibble and one major reservation about 2.0 as they presented it, though.

My quibble is one that Helene alluded to in her introduction to this exercise when she said, "Others within the profession have asserted that libraries have always been 2.0; collaborative, customer friendly and welcoming." If Web 2.0 means "the read-write web," where users post comments that then become part of the webpage's content, it follows that part of Library 2.0 is "the read-write library."

That, we've always been. A simple example: you recommend a book to someone. She comes back and tells you she hated it. You recommend the same book to someone else. He also hates it. You may recommend it a third time, but you'll likely include the warning that not everyone will like it and it isn't to everyone's taste. You have absorbed the feedback from the first two readers and used it as part of your presentation to the third reader. That's what librarians and library staff do: evaluate something (a book, a reference source, etc.), use it or recommend it, gather new information and opinions about it, revaluate it, and so on, continuously.

Our technology, however, could use a bit of catching up with what we humans do so well. A library catalog with tags? Great. Or how about "favorite users" who post lists of what they read so I can find someone with matching tastes? Or at least a book recommendation engine as good as the one at

On to my more serious reservation. In the "Away from Icebergs" article, Rick Anderson says, We need to focus our efforts not on teaching research skills but on eliminating the barriers that exist between patrons and the information they need, so they can spend as little time as possible wrestling with lousy search interfaces and as much time as possible actually reading and learning. ... But if our services can’t be used without training, then it’s the services that need to be fixed—not our patrons. One-button commands, such as Flickr’s “Blog This,” and easy-to-use programs like Google Page Creator, offer promising models for this kind of user-centric service.

I'm not sure what kind of computer users Mr. Anderson is used to seeing in his Reno, Nev. library. But the ones we see in Virtual Village often don't understand what a webpage is, much less a blog, and one-click services do them no good until they learn how to click. The read-write web is beyond them, as they are just now learning about the web in general These users still need a great deal of training; many of them aren't ready for Library 1.0 yet, and will be utterly baffled by 2.0. As Michael Golrick says in his Thoughts from a Library Administrator blog, "So many of the technology solutions included in the discussions of Library 2.0 completely disenfranchise those who are on the wrong side of the Digital Divide."

And there's another group of computer users we see who, although they could learn to do things on their own, prefer not to. Some lack the confidence and want someone on staff to stand beside them as they work so they don't "break the computer" (which I tell them they probably couldn't do with a steel-toed boot.) They are the nervous ones, who will always need our help.

There are also the flat-out lazy ones who see no reason to do something if they can get someone else to do it for them. I don't like sounding so negative about them but I don't know how else to describe them.

These two groups are the ones who don't want to make their own computer reservations through EnvisionWare, who want us to walk to their computers with them and type in the card number (we don't, but they wish we did), who never even think of looking at our map to figure out where their assigned computers are. They are either not ready to be empowered, or do not want to be empowered (because empowerment carries with it some responsibility for your own actions?). Are we saying we don't want these passive computer users anymore?

I know, actually, that we're not overtly saying that. But I do worry that our staffing levels will be so changed by Library 2.0 expectations that we will not be able to provide the kind of service they need or desire. (A part of me says that's fine, especially in the case of the capable but unwilling, but another part squawks that Virtual Village sees a lot of these people every day and they are a part of our user base.)

I said I had a reservation about Library 2.0. On second thought, it's not really a reservation, just a caution that we can't forget the users who aren't 2.0 ready.

One more thing that's been on my mind about Library 2.0 is that it invalidates our traditional method of judging a library's success: circulation numbers and door count. If library users don't even have to come to our building to use our services because they are online, these measures are no longer valid. They no longer present a descriptive picture of how well we are serving the community.

Even the statistics that we gather quarterly about reference activity cease to have meaning if our goal is to have that information available to our users so that they don't have to ask us for help. I feel like we're being pulled in two directions: while we're working so hard to build Library 2.0, I still sense a lot of pressure to maintain or increase our door count and circ numbers.

1 comment:

Michael A. Golrick said...

Thanks for helping to validate my concerns. At the same time that I am worried about those who are not ready for Library 2.0, I know we need to deliver Library 2.0 services to those who demand them. That is only going to increase the stress for front-line librarians and thinking administrators for some time to come.

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