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What Is New about Library 2.0

Submitted by Jenny Levine on January 9, 2006 - 1:10am

I've been fascinated by the conversations taking place about Library 2.0, because even just a year ago it seemed unthinkable we would be at the point at which we have a name for the next generation of online library services. And yet, here we are.

Unfortunately for me, other commitments have kept me offline for much of the last few months, so I've missed the details of those discussions. Still, I feel compelled to weigh in on some of the more recent questions about the concept, with caveat apologies if some of this has already been highlighted elsewhere and I just haven't seen it.

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.

Traditionally, we've locked up our resources behind passwords and barcodes, keeping things in catalogs and databases no one else can access except by coming to our sites to do manual searches. Even our digitization and local history projects are like this, not to mention our knowledge and expertise.

Have we always solicited feedback from our users? Sure, but not online, other than as a one-way form that sends the comments to one person. This and this are VERY new and VERY different from what librarians did before 2005. In my presentations, I highlight how libraries are using these tools to replicate the connections, services, vibrancy, and knowledge base we already do so well within our buildings. But when you go look at our Web sites and Web services, you see very little of this, and you have to come our URLs to do it.

In the meantime, while we were busy burying and hiding our content and resources, the rest of the world decided to share—openly. As a result, libraries are not in that mix and we're not where the users are. Complete strangers do very cool things with Google Maps, A9, etc., because they have open APIs (programming interfaces) that let them. Libraries don't.

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; however, if you look around at what is happening on the rest of the Internet, you'll see there's been a very different shift, and new services that create a sense of community and make connections have arisen, which has, in turn, created new expectations on the part of users. Look no further than the August 2005 Technology Review article, Social Machines, for proof. L2 is about doing the same thing with libraries ONLINE.

I've said before that 2005 was the year libraries finally "got it," because we now have tools that help level the playing field, and even small libraries with few resources can participate. As was pointed out in numerous blog posts and presentations this year, any library can blog, wiki, offer RSS feeds (at least of headlines, and now we're finally working on vendors to provide other content in feeds), instant message, podcast, Flickr, etc. 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.

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 (well, most of us don't—a few leading libraries have finally started).

For example, Steven Cohen wrote:

Again, stuff librarians have been talking about for decades. How is this anything new? Constant change: What about fighting censorship, freedom to read initiatives, the entire YA concept, renting cassette tapes, CDs, software, DVDs, or buying 15 copies of the latest best-seller? Tell me that these concepts have nothing to do with any of the 3 Casey ideas. I can come up with many more examples from library history that fit his ideas. It would seem to me that libraries have always been dealing with the idea of constant change (the 'perpetual beta'), being user-driven and trying to being in new users. [Library Stuff]

Steven has a point, but only if you apply his examples in the physical world. In the online world, it's very different. 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. The problem is that librarians just haven't thought like this (in all fairness, most of the world didn't until the last year or two), but now we need to really start applying these concepts to our online services, and that's where "Library 2.0" comes in.

Is technology a big piece of it? Sure, because you can't do things online without it. Does that make it all about technology? Heck no. Does that negate it? Heck no. Just like Web 2.0 is about technology AND people, so is Library 2.0.

The easiest way to illustrate this is to look at the sidebars on many different blogs. On the sidebar of mine, I can display my most current Flickr picture with just a snippet of code. The picture lives on their server, but I can reuse it however I please on my site. Take that into the library world and look at Edward Vielmetti's site where he's displaying the RSS feed of what he has on hold at his library. Can I do that with any content from your library? Most likely I can't, and again, that's where "Library 2.0" comes in.

A few months ago someone asked me, "Can you have Library 2.0 without Librarian 2.0?" My answer was no, you can't, because while L2 is driven by technology, ultimately it's about what people (in this case librarians and library users) do with the technology. I think that's why Michael Casey focuses on reaching out to new users (in this case, online users); inviting customer participation online (and displaying it there, not just soliciting it); and relying on constant change (online) as three foundations of the movement.

Personally, I find that L2 opponents tend not to work at an actual library, so I have to think that some of their confusion and fear about the concept is they don't know what a struggle it is for a modern-day practitioner to have to try to create L2 on her own, as an addition to the five other hats she's already wearing. Her only hope to do any of the things implied in these discussions is L2 as a wider movement across the profession. Those librarians who do have some (if not all of) the involvement in maintaining the library's online services and Web presence do tend to pick up on the concept faster.

As John Blyberg says, we shouldn't get derailed on the semantics of this. Is it really worth arguing about whether this is new or not or driven by technology or not when we could actually be implementing this stuff? I don't think so, and frankly that's one reason I won't spend much more time on those discussions. In general, I'd rather help libraries do all of this than talk about who invented it, how far it goes back, or discuss whether or not enough librarians know about it. If other people want to have those discussions, more power to them. I worry that kind of tangent has been detrimental to blogging, RSS, and a whole host of other technology- and physical-world related concepts, not just "Library 2.0," and I'd hate to see that happen here, too.

Technorati tags: library 2.0, Web 2.0, library20, Library 2

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Comments (8)

Jenny, I think this is a

Jenny, I think this is a great article. I strongly agree with so many of the points that you have made. I blogged my thoughts in SLP posting New Library.

Excellent and thoughtful

Excellent and thoughtful points, Mark - thanks. You're right that blog posts don't really afford the space for nuance. My guess is that this is one reason Walt Crawford continues C&I as a (much longer form) PDF. However, it's really difficult to have a conversation with a PDF, so I think posts like Meredith's most recent one on (Let's Make Libraries Better) help continue and clarify conversation (with the recognition that both formats serve a purpose). And while I haven't been able to follow as much of the L2 discussion as I would like, I think the cross-blog conversations (including comments) are definitely adding clarification and to some degree, at least a little nuance.

Regarding my statement that ''the rest of the world decided to share—openly' and your point that pieces of the internet don't share openly, this is indeed true. It's not an all or nothing proposition. But for the first time, we're seeing movements like Creative Commons and we have a large segment of a generation of kids who are growing up with the expectation that they can take information and data from one place, put it over there, mash it up with other stuff, and create something new.

My point, which I know you understood, is that libraries are nowhere to be found in that mix, with local history collections that tend to be public domain being the most obvious place we could start outside of the catalog. I also think there has to be a way to harness our expertise and do a better job of adding that to the mix. While it's true that many of our vendors have copyright issues with distributing whole works, they are far more open to 'snippets' or headlines. In the long run, it's better for them to get those bits and pieces out there in order to get more users into their databases/services, which keeps libraries paying for them. Witness what has happened with ProQuest, where they now encourage librarians and users to display headlines from keyword RSS feeds anywhere and everywhere. It's a win-win for every party involved.

So while you rightly point out that I'm referring to a more limited amount of content than my rhetoric makes it appear, I really want us to think about what we *could* make available in parallel channels, for users to use however they need to use it, wherever they are. After all, once we had an idea of what we wanted, we just had to start asking vendors like ProQuest and SirsiDynix and they responded. (Other vendors... not so much yet.)

I actually think our profession has problems with nuance in a lot of areas, but it's a good point. Thanks for helping me (hopefully) add some.

Jenny, I don't think you

Jenny, I don't think you intentionally meant to make the following claim, but I think it is implicit in many other 'supporters' of L2, and it needs some serious nuancing:

'the rest of the world decided to share-openly'

You made a similar claim one or or two more times in this post. The examples you use to support this claim do (probably) support it, but not without possible issues.

Again, I am not accusing you of intentional generalization. It is most likely an artifact of human communication. You simply cannot write out every one of your underlying assumptions and bits of contextual knowledge in the space allotted, but this is a gross oversimplification.

In the case of our bibliographic data and some other bits of information, it is our data. But much of what our libraries have is not our data, and the copyright holders aren't about to let us let our users mash it up.

'if you look around at what is happening on the rest of the Internet'

Yes, look around. Napster, Grokster, Supreme Court, RIAA, MPAA, law suits. The rest of the Internet is not some open play ground for the creative among us.

Parts of it are, just like some of the stuff in the library or its systems could be. But much is not in either the library or the Internet.

So I am assuming that you mean something more limited than your (and others) rhetoric makes it appear.

I'm neither a supporter nor a resister of L2. I'm with Walt when it comes to the bandwagon of L2, but I'd also love to see some of this succeed when and where appropriate.

But we need a little nuance in the discussion, and I don't really think the blogosphere allows for much nuance. Why? I don't really know, but it is a shame if we of all people (library folk) can't make it happen.

Meredith, I'm sorry you saw

Meredith, I'm sorry you saw this post as being a line in the sand, because it certainly isn't. I was referring more to in-person discussions I've had, although Steven Cohen did actually say to me in October that he was 'confused' by the term 'Library 2.0,' which made sense to me because he has never had to deal with the issues that you have encountered as a webmaster with few resources at your disposal. The people I talk to who work on websites and online catalogs tend to look at L2-ish services and say, 'Heck, yes.' I never said that someone who doesn't work on a library's website or in a library doesn't get the concept, just that they can have a more difficult time grasping it. They can also have a more difficult time understanding how to get a library from L1 to L2, something that you yourself (in your Labels post) noted would be very difficult

without concrete examples for most librarians in general.

Cross-training has always been an issue in libraries, and it's particularly difficult to cross-train in the area of technology and web services. By default, directors tend to have a more difficult time grasping technology issues than the IT team, so they're going to have a harder time grasping L2. It's a generalization, but I'm willing to call it a given (with the obvious caveat that there are always exceptions). I certainly don't understand what catalogers need to become more efficient and hit the next generation of their tools. I didn't single out any one person or library in my post, although I did dispute one thing Steven said that I disagreed with, so I'm not sure why you're seeing this as a line in the sand or as a personal attack (on you or someone else). Often L2 opponents don't want to see change in general, which has been a hot topic in the last year, so I see this as an extension of that.

Steven, I often alternate between female and male pronouns in my posts; I just didn't get a second pronoun in this one. There are more

female librarians, so I usually start with 'she' and then move to 'he.' Not sure why that's an issue for you, but I don't want the discussion to

get derailed by the implication that I used a pronoun for a specific reason. Are you really counting the ratio of males-to-females talking about

Library 2.0? If so, I hope you'll post your data and how you've gathered it - could be very interesting.

Also, I think your art analogy actually works quite well here. You can indeed teach art all you want, but if you never create it, then you're not likely to understand the issues artists actually face when staring at a blank canvas. You can be very articulate about art, but you don't know the day-to-day reality of someone trying to actually create it. Note, too, that I didn't say you can't comprehend or decipher it, just that you'll have a more difficult time grasping what those people go through, especially when they're struggling with something like creative blocks. That's the parallel I see to the L2 discussion.

Thanks to both of you for the comments - let's keep moving forward with the nuts and bolts!

Ack! And it takes my 3

Ack! And it takes my 3 paragraphs and mushes them into one (Cool! I'm like William T. Vollmann without proper grammar!)

Meredith: I too found

Meredith: I too found Jenny's comment to be a bit, well, unJenny-like. I had the same thought when I read that paragraph (WHAT?!). I'm neither afraid nor confused about the concept of L2 I know what the concept is, I just don't buy it.

Then again, my criticism isn't as real or valid as yours because I don't work on the online presence in a library (which I don't buy at all - it's like telling a teacher who has studied art for years that they can't possibly comprehend/decipher painting because they have never put brush to canvas)

I also don't understand why Jenny uses 'her' in only that part of the post. I've been reading her blog for years and it has always been gender neutral. Why the sudden bias towards females. If you look closely the male/female ratio discussing L2 is close to 50-50.

BTW, your comment form is a

BTW, your comment form is a bit wonky. If I try to put in my e-mail and blog URL, it freaks out, so all I could put was my name.

'Personally, I find that L2

'Personally, I find that L2 opponents tend not to work at an actual library, so I have to think that some of their confusion and fear about the concept is they don't know what a struggle it is for a modern-day practitioner to have to try to create L2 on her own, as an addition to the five other hats she's already wearing.'


Coming from someone who has criticized Library 2.0 and IS a librarian and DOES wear many hats in her job and IS in charge of her library's Web presence, I can tell you that many people who work in libraries have criticized Library 2.0. And many of them are neither confused or afraid of the concept. Calling me or anyone else a Library 2.0 'opponent' seems like a 'you're either with us or you're against us' stance (a la Bush). All people are doing is asking questions and criticizing what they see people writing about L2. I haven't ever seen someone in the blogosphere write that they think that social software, improving usability, encouraging change, and being user-focused are bad ideas. Isn't L2 about sharing information and ideas? If so, then this kind of questioning should be encouraged. And who exactly afraid of the concept? Well, if Library 2.0 is about drawing a line in the sand and saying that you're either a 2.0 Librarian or you're not, then maybe I am afraid of it.

Getting personal is not the way to go with this dialogue and it takes away from some of the very legitimate points you make.