Vast Active Library and Information Science blog. From a recent library science graduate in Wellington, New Zealand. A focus on reference and current awareness tools and issues, especially free, web-based resources.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Library 2.0  
Walt Crawford's Cites & Insights 6:2 is an extensive (26, 000 words!) overview and critique of the concepts behind Library 2.0, and what Walt calls "Library 2.0" ("the movement or bandwagon"). It seems comprehensive, though I'm reading it without much knowledge of the issues (I've had limited internet access for much of the past few months). It's definitely worth reading if you have a few spare hours, and want to get a good overview of the topic, or to find out who has been talking about it.

Jenny Levine, writing on the ALA Techsource Blog, discusses what's new about Library 2.0. She provides a good, clear definition, but then (to my mind) doesn't really back it up. The definition:

"For me, "Library 2.0" is not just about making your content easier to use online or getting feedback from your users. It's about letting others use granular pieces of our content where they want, when they want, how they want, automatically, specifically online (although users can then also mash our content however they want in the physical world, too). Read that over a second time and you'll see that it is a very new concept for libraries."

OK, good. I can see the appeal of this, and I can see how it's different from things that libraries have done before. I'm not sure if, in itself, it deserves a name like Library 2.0. There have surely been other, more significant, paradigm shifts in library history (move from closed to open stacks; the notion of the public library; the notion of lending libraries; invention of cataloguing and classification schemes - I don't know, I'm not a library historian). The name Library 2.0 implies to me that this is a clean break with the past - there's everything that has gone before, and there's this. Jenny writes "If you want to think small and look at L2 through the lens of only what we have done in the past, then yes it is nothing new". It's maybe not her intention, but this sentence seems to imply that "what we have done in the past" is "small". I don't think it is. I'm actually proud of what libraries have achieved in the past.

But generally, I appreciate Jenny's arguments in the first part of her post. Library 2.0 is about re-using and re-mixing content, allowing users access to our resources as they wish. It's a conversation, like the Cluetrain Manifesto says [Jenny doesn't mention Cluetrain, but others have, and the connection seems obvious to me].

But what does this mean?

"If you take a step back and look at what all of those tools and technologies could mean for a library's online presence, you can't help but be optimistic about what L2 can do for us IN THE SPACES WHERE OUR USERS ARE. Again, a very new concept."

I don't get this. I'm sorry. What's new about going where our users are? Having a bookmobile, or a marae-based service is going where your users are. Does it need a new label? Yes, I realise we have users (or potential users) who are most comfortable online. Yes, we should be taking advantage of new tools to serve them wherever they are most comfortable. I don't see how this is different from adopting new technologies like phone or email (or postal mail!) to serve users. I also don't see why online services are being promoted so heavily by Library 2.0 proponents, when something like a third of Americans have still never used the internet (and probably a similar percentage for other Western countries). Some of my co-workers struggle with Word or email [and these are professional people who are a heck of a lot smarter than I am]. Where are they in this picture?

"So pieces of the big picture include things like constant change, making the library user-centered, and encouraging user participation—but there's a lot more to it than that. There's also disintermediation of content as well as shifting your services to where your users are. When L2 opponents say that libraries have been doing these things all along, they're right—IF they're talking about doing it within the library's four walls. However, they've failed to understand that we don't do this online .....Show me an example of librarians doing a great job of fighting censorship online where the content can be reused elsewhere, users contribute, and the content is user-centered."

It's obvious that libraries haven't historically done such things online. How long has "online" existed? Graphical web browsing is only 12 years old, after all. In most cases, it seems logical that we should be moving online, though again I don't see the need for a manifesto in order to do so. Think having a library blog is a good idea? Set up a blog, then. And I don't see why we necessarily have to be online - why is it important that librarians are fighting censorship online, per se?

Finally, I'm a little surprised at the use of terms like "opponents". Both Steven Cohen and Meredith Wolfwater make the same point in the comments to that post. [edit: Meredith has also posted a very good response to Jenny's article]. I'm sceptical (as should be obvious) about the idea of/need for "Library 2.0" as a movement. That doesn't mean I'm opposed to it, just that I don't see what it offers that's additional to what some librarians (notably Jenny herself) have been saying for years.

And I think that's about all I've got to say. I'm going to carry on trying to adapt (some)[1] of the Web 2.0/Library 2.0 tools to my work environment, but I don't think I'll be signing up for the movement anytime soon.

[1] Wikis, re-mixed RSS feeds,, social bookmarking/collaborative tagging (at the enterprise level, if possible), IM are all things that I've been exploring, or thinking about exploring.


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