The concept of “Library 2.0″ has been around long enough now that we’ve gone through all the stages and argued it to death, as noticed by Andy Woodworth in a post titled Deconstructing Library 2.0. That’s a good thing, and you should go read his thoughts on the subject.
No matter which side you of the debate you come down on, you can probably prove your case. Me? I agree with Andrew Burkhardt when he notes, “The time has come for libraries to be social on the web. Social is the new normal. It has become mainstream and people expect it. Library 2.0 is not dead, it has just become boring and commonplace. And to quote Clay Shirky, ‘Tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.’ ”
In his paper Participatory Networks: The Library As Conversation, Dave Lankes said that “libraries should focus on the phenomena made possible by the technology,” not the technology itself, which I think is a pretty good way of thinking about “Library 2.0.” Maybe that’s where we are now, which would be a great way to continue the discussion, hopefully without the moniker. I think several of us thought that’s what we were doing, but it didn’t come across that way.
The hard part, though, is that Library 2.0 doesn’t really replace anything. Like so many library services, the opportunities these new tools afford us are in addition to everything we’re already doing, which causes problems, because we don’t get additional resources to implement them. To serve as many of your users as possible, you have to be in as many of the places where they are as possible. That principle has been the philosophy behind this site from day one, eight years ago. That means being out in your community physically and digitally, and that’s one of the pieces of L2 that I think was never adequately explained.
We’re already pretty good at getting out from behind the physical reference desk. We know how to do it, and we know how we could do it better given more resources. I worry that this is less true in the online world, and that’s where I always hoped L2 would help. As much as I support, love, and advocate for user-centered planning and design, my big regret about the whole “movement” is that it hasn’t focused more on how L2 helps staff.
So that’s what I tend to concentrate my own presentations on — the practical ways in which these new tools can help you. I’ve been a big promoter of RSS since 2002, and I still don’t understand why libraries don’t use it more. Yes, one of the benefits of syndicating content is that your users can subscribe to it, but equally important for me is that it allows me as an organization to get my content off my website so that it’s more visible where my users are. Most importantly, it automates that process so that I don’t have to spend precious resources manually updating a multitude of sites, inevitably forgetting about one of them. The fact that I can syndicate lists of new materials from my OPAC anywhere without human intervention? Priceless.
Why should your library have a blog? There are many benefits, but my biggest reason is because it gets your current news and announcements in a syndicated format, the display of which you can automate anywhere. You can easily recycle your content to Twitter, Facebook, elsewhere on your website, and more. Talk about a great way to get out into your community — how about displaying your current news on the village, park district, school, or a department website without any ongoing effort on your part? That’s a huge win-win in my book. And as someone who manually generated archives for daily posts before there were “blogs,” let me just sing the praises of automatic archiving for a moment. If you’re not using a blog for press release-like information, do not pass go. There’s a better way that makes you more efficient and has all of these ancillary benefits with cherries on top.
Being able to offer inexpensive options for chat reference so that you can concentrate on implementation rather than budget? Win. Being able to embed that chat window on your website, in databases, on Facebook, etc., without a huge effort? Win times one million. Putting immediate, synchronous access to a librarian back into the catalog by embedding a chat window there? Win times infinity.
Having easy-to-use alternate announcement channels where you can also talk with and hear from your users (eg, Twitter)? Full of win. Same thing with social bookmarking (delicious — all of your library’s bookmarks in one place, searchable, embeddable), social pictures (Flickr, where you no longer have to worry about resizing images), wikis (cheap intranet possibilities), embeddable subject guides with syndication (LibGuides), and more. They all have the potential to make your job easier. How often does that happen?
So, Andy is right to ask questions about Library 2.0 and reflect about its impact, as are the commenters on his post. For me, though, one place L2 has failed is in making staff understand that these tools can offer big benefits for them, not just library users. If we’re adopting tools to make ourselves more efficient (which I think is the best way to evaluate implementation for staff), then that counts as success in my view. If it reaches new users, offers new services for existing members, or makes things better in general for users at the same time, then we’re really doing something right. That piece is more difficult to measure, which makes the L2 debate somewhat moot, since no one can really prove or disprove it. But when done well, Library 2.0 should help you in your job, too.
I hope we see more articles and presentations about that, instead of rehashing pointless and divisive debates about names, generations, and “sides.”