Both pieces of this essay have been troublesome, but within this issue’s context (incidents and sideshows) maybe less so. I’ve tended to stay away from “Library 2.0” since last Fall—but the discussions have continued and seemingly heated up over the last couple of months. I’m seeing history rewriting along the lines of “Nobody ever said…” and other strawman claims. I’m also seeing interesting and thoughtful discussions, sometimes arising from confrontational beginnings and moving toward useful ends. Part of me, particularly given my current work situation, wants to pull my head in and ignore the whole thing—particularly because I believe it is a sideshow in the larger context of making good libraries even better.
If I was smart enough to do the sensible thing, I’d probably be rich or at least richer. Most of what follows is indeed about Library 2.0 and related discussions—but it’s different in tone and intent than my original notes. I’m not planning to nail “Nobody ever said that…” and “strawman” claims, at least not yet: After all, librarians with attention spans longer than squirrels and any sort of searching skills should have little trouble dealing with those claims and locating the supposed strawmen. Heck, Cites & Insights 6:2 (citesandinsights.info/civ6i2.pdf) will suffice in some cases. I’m not trying to build a coherent picture of the “sides” in this set of discussion, partly because there aren’t really clearcut sides (except to those who attempt to exclude the middle). What I’m doing here is noting some interesting comments that seem worth repeating and thinking about, with my own commentary as appropriate, along with one-paragraph notes that can point you to two sets of conversations that I’m not commenting on at any length.
Then there’s an essay I wrote several months ago and held to see what developed. Nothing has, and I’m including it here because, as a loyal long-term ALA member, it still bothers me.
First a few words about “getting it.” When you say, “You just don’t get it,” you’re foreclosing discussion and asserting there’s only one right answer. “You just don’t get it” is not equivalent to “You haven’t tried this” or “You aren’t aware of the reasons for this” or other assertions of ignorance.
Asserting ignorance (that is, lack of information on a specific topic) is value-neutral. I’m ignorant of the syntax of C++ and the details of how pieces of XML fit together, and I’ll freely admit that. If I needed to know either one, I’d learn. To get closer to library discussions, I’m ignorant of the differences between AACRII and RDA. So far, that hasn’t mattered to me, so I haven’t attempted to learn. If you tell me I’m not aware of the reasons for RDA, I’ll agree—and if you give me a reason to care, I’ll listen to the reasons and maybe try to learn more.
I can’t imagine anyone telling me “You just don’t get RDA.” So far, nobody’s responded to my decision that Twitter doesn’t work for me by saying “You just don’t get Twitter”—but people come very close to that with, for example, Second Life. First there’s the assertion that you can’t say anything negative about Second Life until you’ve tried it. Then, when you’ve tried it and found it wanting, the response is that you haven’t tried it enough—where “enough” appears to be however long it takes you to decide it’s wonderful. More likely, however, the comment will be “You just don’t get Second Life.” At which point discussion comes to an end, since the only real rejoinder is “Oh, I get it—I just don’t want it.”
“Just don’t get it” is automatically confrontational. I don’t believe it has any place in a discussion of “Library 2.0” or social networks or social software or the need for all (or most) libraries to do X, whatever X happens to be. If there are good arguments, make them. If people don’t understand what’s going on, educate them. But if you think “just don’t get it” is either an argument or non-confrontational, well, what can I say: You just don’t get it.
Start with Jeff Scott, the public manager who posts at Gather no dust (gathernodust.blogspot.com). In “The distance between here and 2.0” (June 14, 2007), he notes how easy it is to become overloaded “with so many 2.0 products coming out and so many people talking about how great they are.”
On the other end, you have librarians frustrated that libraries are not moving fast enough. Some people seem to be always unsatisfied.
From an administrator's position, I would prefer someone else take the lead I can follow rather than go it alone. The problem is that if we try something drastic with our budget or staff, and it goes badly, then it can affect the general progress. Allowing someone else to experiment and explore is what is great about blogs. Look at someone else, how are they doing it, how are they implementing it…
You need to always explore options, then, once tested by another, simply adapt your system. You risk nothing and gain everything. You don't become typecast as a "bleeding edge person" and you don't get burned out by trying to keep that image up. Too many bloggers are trying to capture the bright and shiny so that they can be the first. It never works. Someone is always faster, goes on less sleep, and knows more tricks than you. Don't try to be that person, be you. Find what is useful and leave the rest, it is the only way to survive in this changing world.
The post includes a hand-drawn line with “Hell no, I won’t go” at the left end, “2.0 Fanatics Bright and Shiny” at the right—and “You need to be here” just a little to the right of center. Terry Dawson liked the graphic and hopes he’s in the middle, but adds a comment that’s all too true: “It's characteristic that people who are closer to the ends of the scale will see people in the middle as being on the other end.”
Some libraries, some librarians, are in better shape to experiment than others. That varies depending on the experiment. Scott also says, correctly I believe, “Too often we hear how a library is doing something great, but not details on how they got there.” We need more detailed success stories, not along the lines of “We did this, and so should you” but “Here’s what we did, how we did it, why it worked for us”—so librarians can learn and see what does (and doesn’t) apply in their community, with their patrons and resources.
Are “Library 2.0” tools being sold as must-haves because they’re what the patrons use and expect? Are you sold on patrons becoming active participants in all aspects of library operations—and satisfied that if you build it they will come? It’s rarely that simple. Note that the median number of comments per blog in Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples over a three-month period in 2007 was zero: 134 of the blogs had no comments and only 93 had more than one.
A while back there was some back-and-forth about saying Yes to new ideas. Brian Mathews offers another tack in “Applied prototyping: designing for buy-in,” posted July 3, 2007 at Designing better libraries (dbl.lishost.org/blog/). Most of the post:
I’ve found [prototyping] to be a useful technique when presenting new ideas. It’s one thing to sit around in a committee and intellectualize, but it is very different when you have a model to work with.
I experienced this first hand when trying to launch a reference desk wiki. I presented the idea (with just words) at a meeting and received blank stares. A few months later I demonstrated a PB Wiki with actual content and received more enthusiasm. However it didn’t take off as I had hoped. People bought into the idea, but the follow through was absent. A year later I’m trying again, but this time ramping it up by trying to pull in several departments to raise the stature and value… Hopefully by providing a prototype it will communicate the purpose, and staff members will feel that they can contribute, rather than just saying here’s what we’re going to do now. We’re seeking a conversation rather than just issuing commands.
When I speak with librarians who are excited about new social technology, they often mention the roadblocks they encounter. The best advice I can give is to use prototyping. Build a proof-of-concept, test it with a few users, and then present it to the powers-that-be. Instead of giving them the chance to shoot down your idea, let them see it first hand, educate them about it, and show them see how it can be adapted. The secret is user needs—if you can demonstrate how your idea addresses a patron (or staff) need then you’ll have greater chance of success… Prototyping helps other people to understand your vision, but also forces you to figure it out more yourself.
Mathews extols leadership “that doesn’t always say YES or NO right away, but asks for more.” An effective prototype can provide more—and with some web tools, the prototype becomes the implementation.
Maybe this belongs in “generation generalizations” rather than Library 2.0, but I think there’s a distinct relationship. Wayne Bivens-Tatum posted “Thoughts on the millennials” at Academic librarian (blogs.princeton.edu/librarian/) on July 5, 2007. Excerpts:
My disagreement with…the Millennial rhetoric in general, is not that libraries shouldn’t change or adapt, and even adapt quickly, but that the revolutionary rhetoric goes too far. Some librarians talk about “reinventing” everything these days, but reinventing the library might be as foolish as reinventing the wheel.
We have an obligation to integrate today’s students into a culture of research and learning. Adapting ourselves to current communication styles is fine as long as we remember that. We should know our ends so we can choose our means. We should always ask ourselves what we lose by scrapping the way we have done things. A healthy attitude to change doesn’t involve reinventing everything every generation, but always reevaluating what we have and deciding whether to keep it, keeping the best and discarding the rest…
…Instead of reinventing ourselves completely to try to cater to [Millennials’] expectations of instant gratification, perhaps we should try instead to alter their unrealistic expectations. Scholarly research does not offer instant gratification… By including students in the culture of scholarship, we are instead offering them the lasting gratification of knowledge and skill that comes with mastering a topic, however small that topic may be…
The question isn’t necessarily whether we should attempt new ways to communicate with the Millennial students. Of course we should. The question is why. Why are we trying new ways to communicate with the current generation of college students? Is it just to deliver to them everything they think they want, or to integrate them into the tradition of research, scholarship, and thought?
Bivens-Tatum also objects to thinking of academic library users (especially students) as “customers”—and the “customer” stance is bothersome in public libraries as well, although in different ways. Where students are concerned, is it really reasonable to argue that academic libraries should give ‘em what they want under all circumstances, rather than being part of the educational experience?
Steven Chabot continues this discussion in his July 12, 2007 post at Subject/object (subjectobject.net), “The library: Where we’ve come from, where we are going, and what drives us.” Very brief excerpts from a post worth reading on its own (and with its links):
Some [proposed library changes seem] almost completely unproblematic, such as promoting access to the Internet, and the unprecedented opportunities it presents both consuming , interacting and creating the information and knowledge which makes us grander human beings. Others, without a firm grasp of our concept of the library, can be more questionable, such as the conversion of the library into a cultural center for “Millennials” (quoting John Blyberg) with video games and rock concerts.
To suggest a “fundamental change in [the] library’s mission” (again quoting) is needed right away fails to raise the question that possibly the aesthetic of the “Millennials” is not sustainable if our culture is to be informed and empowered enough to ask the tough questions of those in power, both in government and elsewhere…
…I think that much discussion on the Internet lacks a sufficient look at where we have come from, and what it is that defines us. These are the dual problems of the history and philosophy of the library.
Six days later, Chabot posted “The library 2.0 professional, and all the rest,” responding to posts elsewhere that question how professionals can still seem to hold an unwillingness to take on anything new. One of those posts (by Tyler Rousseau at Library garden) asks two provocative questions: “Why do we have professional librarians who refuse to keep up with the professional and technological requirements? How did we reach a point where the patrons’ needs were less important than the traditional way of doing things?”
I could poke at “the…technological requirements” as an apparently known and agreed list, but maybe I just don’t get it. I would also suggest that many patrons find their needs very well served by “the traditional way of doing things,” a “traditional way” that has been changing ever since libraries began. Chabot takes another tack. Most of Chabot’s response:
Of course we should always keep up with the times. Librarians have always been seen as the avant-garde of information technology (even beginning with the codex).
I think the real danger is to see technology as the complete solution…
Sometimes people just can’t have it cheap and easy. And the library has to keep promoting the hard and rewarding path and instruct (gasp!) patrons as to why that path is rewarding.
Going back to academic libraries—but also commenting on Rousseau’s questions—Laura Cohen uses a fairly broad brush in explaining “why the librarian profession has, as a whole, fallen behind the times.” Her post, Holding us back, appeared on July 13, 2007 at Library 2.0: An academic’s perspective (liblogs.albany. edu/library20/), offers these three answers (excerpted):
1. Our culture of optionalities…. While our choices as individual institutions bring strength to the profession, at some point a lack of coherent, profession-wide, aspirational standards is holding us back…
2. 2.0 is a great leap. I'm of the opinion that the leap from 0.0 to 1.0 was a less significant one than the leap from 1.0 to 2.0... We had total control. It was our material, our input, our world… I think it's much more difficult to let users into our spaces as active participants. Let them modify our Web pages? tag our catalog records? blog their opinions about us? mash up our content on other sites? This is a far more radical proposition than putting our content online and under our control.
3. The speed of change. Simply put, 2.0 has come along quite rapidly. This is hardly news, but it's worth thinking about. Can we cut ourselves some slack? Much of what we see as dominant now in the 2.0 world didn't exist just a few years ago. While we are a creative profession, we are not necessarily entrepreneurs…
I have a lot of trouble with this post. Cohen appears to call for uniform aspirations and goals, seems to assume that users are anxious to be in library spaces—and assumes a “dominance” of “2.0” things that I find unconvincing. As one who believes in locality and one who believes that most of us (most of the time) are not in a “2.0 world,” I probably can’t provide effective commentary on this post.
Cohen’s first answer here harks back to her May 24, 2007 post, “Our culture of optionalities.” While she pays lip service to “optionalities”—that is, paying attention to local needs—she also says they “can overtake us.”
Take two peer libraries with very similar profiles. Library A1 may decide to move ahead with creative initiatives while Library A2 may decide that the status quo is just fine. At some point, this discrepancy raises questions.
I can understand that local conditions shape outcomes. What I don't understand is why these factors are so dominant in our profession. Why do we have so much choice? Is this an ultimate good?
I wish that academic libraries in this country would come together and plot a strategy for the future - say, the next five years. (That's far enough ahead!) This is where, as I've said before, I look to ACRL standards. In part, this is because I don't see that inspiring examples, or individual initiative, or the lucky confluence of the right conditions, are enough to create the imperatives for change. Since blogging about this notion a few months ago, I've come to make the connection between the lack of focused, future-oriented, aspirational standards and the fact that we're floundering in a sea of optionalities.
I can't guarantee that better ACRL standards would entirely solve this problem. I can't guarantee that any such efforts would satisfy everyone. In fact, they would not. Try meeting the needs of those who are hot to implement a culture of 2.0, those who believe that integration should come first, those who advocate for social scholarship above all else, those who believe that scholarly communication, or digitization, or going where users are, or any number of priorities are the key. It would take a fair amount of courage to work on such an effort.
This is a case where I truly don’t get it. Cohen’s final sentence may provide a clue: “What else [other than ACRL standards] can fill the gap between our culture of optionality and a vigorous engagement with the future?”
How is it necessary or advisable for all academic libraries to be equally “vigorously engaged” with “the future”? Are academic libraries actually “floundering” because each library treats itself as part of a distinctive institution with distinctive needs and missions (and resources and patrons and…)? “The imperatives for change” seems to be a call for everyone to accept and implement some unstated change requirements. What requirements? To “implement a culture of 2.0” (where there is no agreement as to what “a culture of 2.0” is)?
I believe any serious attempt to create a single set of “imperative change” priorities for all academic libraries, especially a set coupled to “2.0,” could do serious damage to the libraries’ effectiveness within their institutions and, thus, to academic libraries as a whole—but, of course, I’m not an academic librarian. Fortunately, any such initiative seems about as likely to succeed as the National Library Agenda promoted by forces within ALA in late 2006. What? You say you haven’t heard about the National Library Agenda? There’s a reason for that… (See later in this essay.)
Maybe there should be ACRL standards for academic libraries. For those standards to include a set of imperatives for implementation of “Library 2.0” initiatives…well, next time someone says “Nobody ever said every academic library should…,” it’s worth pointing to this post and noting that you don’t need to use those precise words to say everyone should be doing something. “Standards” and “imperatives” and “a strategy” all add up to a situation in which any library not going along is explicitly viewed as defective.
T. Scott Plutchak speaks to these issues in “Avoiding the poles,” an August 30, 2007 post at T. Scott (tscott.typepad.com). He’s commenting on an Eric Schnell post from August 28, 2007, “CAUTION: Paradigm shift ahead” (ericschnell.blogspot.com) and finds himself “leery of proclamations of ‘paradigm shift.”
Scott notes (in part):
The difficulty in applying Kuhn's concept [of paradigm shift] to librarianship is that you have to actually be able to define the difference between the two paradigms. The dilemma that the 2.0 enthusiasts have is that not only have they been unable to come up with a coherent definition of Library 2.0, they've been even worse at defining Library 1.0. If you pick through the various postings and comments, you come up with something like "the traditional librarian is resistant to change, fears technology, and doesn't want to let the users have any control over their experience of the library." While there is no doubt that there have been librarians who fit that description, surely that has never been the paradigm of what a librarian is supposed to be! Librarians who fit that description aren't traditional librarians--they're just not very good librarians. Never have been.
Then we get to the heart of the matter—where Schnell is quoting John Blyberg, in another one of those statements handy to have when people say Library 2.0 advocates are non-confrontational:
Like two distinct brands of the same religion, librarians are drifting into two camps–those that believe libraries are in peril and those that don’t. Those who find themselves as a member of the former tend to feel that their libraries need to change in a number of fundamental ways in order to remain relevant. Those who identify with the latter group feel that good old-fashion librarianship is still what their users want or need. They’re the purists.
This is a neat case of excluding the middle. If you don’t believe “libraries are in peril” then you’re a “purist” who believes in “good old-fashioned librarianship.” All those who believe libraries should continue to change and should build from strength while also believing that libraries and their relevance are not in peril? We’re the excluded middle: If you’re not in one camp, you must be in the other.
I reject that notion. So, it appears, does Plutchak. But Schnell is indeed “a librarian inclined to think that libraries are at risk”—and his definition of the “two camps” excludes the middle:
We have the emergence of a new technology driven/focused definition of what a library is and is contrasted with the existing traditionalist definition highlighted by reference librarians sitting at desks. These are the two camps that John identifies.
Is there a coherent “technology driven/focused definition of what a library is”? Does it exclude traditional reference service (presumably augmented by IM reference and roaming reference as appropriate)? Schnell uses Kuhn’s “paradigm” concept, which views the camps as irreconcilable, and says that the next generation of “library scientists graduating from library school will be hardwired to naturally accept the technology driven/focused definition of a library.” I hope not. For that matter, most Library 2.0 advocates claim they’re interested in patron-centered, patron-driven libraries—not ones driven or focused by technology.
Getting back to Plutchak, he wonders (as do I) just what Blyberg’s “fundamental ways” that libraries need to change are—and “what it means to say that ‘libraries are in peril’?” Plutchak argues that libraries are less relevant than they were generations ago—but that doesn’t make them irrelevant.
I'm not really worried about libraries. There are so many examples of great, vibrant libraries of all types out there that it seems silly to me to go around proclaiming that the sky is falling unless we all embrace... what?
Plutchak proposes a fundamental shift, one I believe is more relevant to special libraries and some academic libraries than to public libraries: A shift away from the physical library as the primary locus of activity. That’s another discussion, one I leave to those more directly involved.
“The.effing.librarian” posted “What the hell is wrong with libraries? (Nothing.)” on August 31, 2007 (effinglibrarian.blogspot.com). I’d treat posts on this pseudonymous blog no more seriously than on any other such blog, but “effing” makes interesting points. “Effing” finds themselves irritated by the criticism that “Libraries are not intuitive,” pointing out that grocery stores and department stores aren’t intuitive either—but, as with good libraries, they have signage and people figure it out. “People are not completely stupid. To say that libraries need to change to become more like bookstores or Amazon just says to me that you think people are too stupid to figure out libraries.”
Sure effing may be overstating the situation; that’s what pseudonymous bloggers do. Effing’s examples are sound enough—for example, shopping for fish at a supermarket:
Guess what, the grocery store doesn't put fresh fish near the canned fish or near the frozen fish just because it's all fish. Customers learn where to look and they remember. We just need to do a better job of teaching them where and how to look.
Effing isn’t the only one to object to Amazon or bookstores as a model for ease of finding:
People say they like Amazon because they find what they want. That's a freaking lie. You don't find what you want, but you find something that's close enough. It's just that most people don't know what they want, so they're satisfied with the results from an Amazon search. Unless I have an ISBN or other identifying number, I'm rarely able to find what I want on the first try.
Bookstores want you to buy something—as they should, being businesses. Getting you rapidly to the thing you originally wanted? Not so much.
When libraries adopt online catalogs that mimic online retailers, which are keyword and recommendation based and less accurate, then they risk losing one of those cornerstone characteristics of the profession: authority. And then the point of cataloging things accurately no longer means shit.
Overstatement? Maybe. Libraries in peril? Maybe not.
Ryan Deschamps offered a provocative suggestion in an August 15, 2007 post at The other librarian (otherlibrarian.wordpress.com): “We asked for 2.0 libraries and we got 2.0 librarians.” He looks back to a September 1, 2006 Library Journal article—nearly a year after the “movement” began—and offers some perspectives, well worth reading on their own. Excerpts:
My sense is that the prominence of the Library 2.0 moniker has plateaued and we are about to see put it in with nostalgia-inducing sayings such as “groovy” and “smashing.” I see the obsolescence of the phrase as an indicator of success. Sure, it was hype. But as hype it did exactly what it was supposed to do: raise awareness of a problem and get people thinking about possible solutions…
The success of library 2.0, as is to be expected, has been mixed. That was kind of the point anyway. Library 2.0 was, in part, a way of seeing success in failure—we had to learn to play, take risks, fail, and learn from the process. In short, the library 2.0 movement was not really about changing libraries, but changing librarians. Librarians needed our time in the sun, and now that we are getting our time. Now that we are popular, hopefully we will see that we need to clean our houses before we invite people in…
…I’ve seen many examples of people who looked beyond the time, space and resources of their workplace to offer better services to clients. Lots of librarians I have met started blogs and shared notes for conferences. Lots of librarians plugged their noses to try things like Second Life, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole range of other Web 2.0 tools…
There’s no doubt that Library 2.0 got librarians to learn about themselves and the world of information they live in. But, considering the “user focus” that supposedly went with Library 2.0, did our brains translate into actual services?
Libraries are moving slowly on comments or tags in catalog front-ends…and he explains why. Web 2.0 services? “The interesting part of [libraries using Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, etc.] is the fine line between library services and library promotions. If we put an RSS feed on a MySpace page, is that service or a promotion of a traditional service.” He thinks it’s good either way: “there is a lot of benefit to engaging these services to help boost library usage, particularly among young people.”
Then there’s globalization—the promotion of “library” rather than “your local library.” Is that a good thing? I’m skeptical—and I’m not sure where Deschamps stands. A little more:
Library 2.0 has produced some minor benefits to library services, but hardly the radical change of model that was proposed in the article about a year ago. The changes that have occurred, in my view, are hardly noticeable to the average customer because, for the most part, the actual changes in services are merely logical extensions to what libraries have done all along.
So, can we call Library 2.0 a lukewarm success? A failure? A waste of time and resources? To do so would be to misunderstand libraries on the whole. Libraries are largely democratic institutions and as democratic institutions they should change not with the rapid pace of technology, but with the slower pace of society. Library 2.0 should happen when Society 2.0 develops—and that means once we have a majority of converted folks. That puts libraries on the “late adopter” part of the adoption curve, to the chagrin of many a library 2.0 advocate I am sure.
This doesn’t mean that librarians should be on the “late adopter” side of the curve, however. The largest benefit of Library 2.0 has been a radical change in the core service that libraries offer—namely, librarians (and by “librarians,” I mean anyone who works in a library).
Deschamps thinks “Library 2.0 has done a lot for the library world”—not through institutions but through “a steadily increasing change of heart in librarians on the whole. Harp on hype all you want—Library 2.0 needed to happen and the world is better off because of it.”
Jennifer Macauley tends to agree with Deschamps in an August 15, 2007 Life as I know it post (scruffynerf.wordpress.com), saying in part:
For me, the most important part of library 2.0 has been the discussions that have taken place around it. It has made me work to view the library and its services from a different angle, to take a step outside of my comfort zone and to challenge my previously held thoughts and beliefs. Has it created significant changes in the way that I do things? Honestly, no. It has altered the ways in which I think about end goals of my projects - but not necessarily changed the projects themselves. To me, this means that I agree with Ryan about the importance of library 2.0.
There’s a caveat: Macauley “would not elevate [Library 2.0] above other, earlier trends in librarianship—ripe with their own buzzwords that made the rounds of library literature and conferences.”
Laura Cohen disagrees, in a strongly-worded August 29, 2007 Library 2.0: An academic’s perspective post “Academic libraries and 2.0.” Cohen says she’s not seeing “thoughts about what makes Library 2.0 different for academic libraries than other types of libraries”—and uses Deschamps’ thesis as a case in point. First, she dismisses the value of “librarian 2.0”: “If librarians have changed and their institutions have not, what have we really accomplished?” Then she says Deschamps’ perspective is “not workable in an academic library setting.”
Cohen asserts that academic libraries should be early adopters of “Library 2.0” as part of their educational mission:
The roles of academic librarians include, very importantly, educational and leadership roles. These roles can be manifested formally, in teachable moments, and also by the library environment itself. It's our mission to support students and faculty in their academic pursuits. This means seeking out and supporting the profound changes in the way research and scholarship are pursued in a rapidly-evolving 2.0 culture. In order to accomplish this, we librarians and our institutions need to move along together.
After enumerating some librarian roles, she says:
All of this argues for early adoption of Library 2.0 in academic libraries. As Society 2.0 (Ryan's term) emerges—and it's doing exactly that—we need to be ahead of the curve for our faculty and students. Society 2.0 is becoming their world, and they need to engage in it now.
I would argue with “and it’s doing exactly that,” except that I haven’t the vaguest idea what “Society 2.0” would be. In any case, Cohen’s explicitly arguing that academic librarians need to be “ahead of [users].” Yes, good educators should prepare students for “the future,” but Cohen’s prescription assumes a known and certain “2.0 world” as the future. Cohen provides five examples of “next steps” that will “shift paradigms to a much greater degree”—and I’ll quote the first of the steps in its entirety:
Foundational 2.0 Web spaces. By foundational, I mean that the sites are based on 2.0, rather than 2.0 being tacked on to existing 1.0 spaces. Such spaces would be participatory, conversational, wikified, blogified, visualized, data aggregated, contextually helpful, relevancy ranked, faceted searchable, and taggable, among other things.
I honestly don’t understand this. I don’t get the concept of “spaces” except as they support some aspect of the library’s mission. Nor do I see how an existing service enhanced with social-software capabilities is fundamentally inferior to—or even different from—something “based on 2.0” from the beginning. I’m sorely in need of examples.
Cohen’s posts in this section seem confrontational and impatient. She seems to be urging all academic libraries to sign on to an ambitious national agenda and to be out front of the academy itself in moving toward a “2.0 society” (whatever that might be). With that in mind, I found her September 6, 2007 post “A good meeting” particularly interesting. She cites some responses of middle managers at her library to proposals for fairly sweeping “2.0” initiatives:
Users aren't asking us for 2.0 types of things.
RSS as a means of information updates is a problem because we're having issues with support. Lots of users don't know how to deal with feeds.
Our students wouldn't blog if I didn't require them to contribute to my course blog.
Facebook is what students care about now, not blogging or anything else, and I've heard that students don't even want us there.
What’s particularly interesting is Cohen’s response. Not “they just don’t get it,” but this:
While these kinds of remarks might come across as skepticism about 2.0, I saw them as reflecting something else on the part of these managers: an interest in serving users well, and in putting their always-limited time into things that matter.
She suggests examples of 2.0 technologies that could improve services to users. Without arguing specifics, some of the examples are reasonable on their merits: As ways to improve a library using available techniques, not as ways to sneak 2.0 into the library. And then there’s this:
I mentioned that we're in the very early years of figuring out best practices in using 2.0 tools. If something isn't quite working out right now, then experimentation with different strategies might bring about better results. Eventually, maybe something should be dropped—this is what experimentation is all about.
While I’ll suggest that best strategies for improving library service to patrons might not always involve 2.0 tools—the goal should be “best practices for good library service” rather than “best practices in using 2.0 tools”—I find this fascinating because Cohen recognizes this is not a settled or well-defined landscape.
Good librarians stay informed on new possibilities. Good librarians look for ways to improve patron involvement and service, using whatever tools are available—and look for interesting new tools based on apparent needs and possibilities. Does that make them Librarians 2.0? I dunno.
Joshua M. Neff posted “Library 18.104.22.168” on August 21, 2007 at the goblin in the library (www.goblin-cartoons. com). He shows surprise at the resurgence of Library 2.0 discussions:
It’s a funny ol’ world, isn’t it? Just when you think an idea has run its course or become so commonplace that it’s nearly invisible, it comes back into the spotlight, like John Travolta.
He adds an articulate and interesting discussion of what he thinks Library 2.0 is (at least as of August 21, 2007)—and uses Darlene Fichter’s equation for Library 2.0: “Library 2.0 = (books’n stuff + people + radical trust) x participation.” Interesting—and other than “radical trust” (a tricky term), it raises the question of whether something is Library 2.0 if most patrons aren’t really interested in participating. Is it enough to offer participation if that offer goes mostly unaccepted?
Neff does not think Library 2.0 inherently involves new technologies: “I think a library can use new technologies and tools (like blogs, wikis, IM, SMS) to achieve ‘2.0-ness,’ but only if those tools are the right tools for the job.” That job, as Neff sees it? “The library as an interactive, user-friendly platform; an architecture of participation that encourages users to add value to the library as they use it; social networking; perpetual beta.” If you define “perpetual beta” as “open to continuous improvement” rather than “untested and may crash at any moment,” I agree.
The next section is much longer and deserves to be read on its own. Neff admits “Library 2.0” is to some extent “just a buzzword for what libraries have always done,” where “always” equates to most of the 20th century. The details and possibilities are changing, as he notes—I could not have done this publication in 1990, and couldn’t be collecting quotes directly from blogs in 1998.
Neff does not think Library 2.0 is “some sort of ‘state of being’ that one reaches.” Instead, “I think Library 2.0 is what libraries have been for a while now, but acknowledging and being excited about the fact that the times they are a’changin’.” A sentiment with which I agree, expressed in words used by Bob Dylan fortythree years ago.
The “virtual librarian” commented “on 2.0ness” at virtually a librarian (blog.virtuallyalibrarian.com) on August 12, 2007. Noting comments by John Blyberg and David Lee King, “virtual” is part of what I’d consider the growing middle ground:
The technology is not the end; rather, it's the means to the end. In my work, providing and promoting online services is the end. 2.0 technologies are one set of tools I can use to facilitate this. But it's no good implementing the tools for the sake of playing with technology (not in a service delivery context, anyway - I certainly play for play's sake in my own time). The tool has got to fit the job… It's no good saying "Twitter is cool. Let's start tweeting", if we have no real need to Tweet.
David Lee King's spectrum is interesting, but it's kind of like, to get over to the 'enlightened' side, you need to tick the boxes--get a flickr account, start an IM service, get a library blog... I'm just concerned that sometimes we're (I'm?) ticking the boxes for the sake of ticking the boxes. That we're getting 2.0 because it's the thing to do, not because it's what we need to do to deliver robust, responsive, needed services. I think we should choose carefully from the swag of 2.0 tools those that will help us in meeting the end towards which we're working, rather than those that we can kinda sorta use if we try really hard.
Note to self: define the end, then pick the tool. And don't get (too) caught up in the shininess.
Ryan Deschamps offers a different perspective of “Library 2.0” in “My interpretation of Library 2.0 in strategic terms,” posted at The other librarian on June 6, 2007. He wanted a definition that focused on strategy rather than theory and buzzwords and arrived at this set of five (with the third modified based on the rest of the post):
1. Understand social aspects of the web (Web 2.0), and exploit them to build community.
2. Emphasize innovation over elbow grease.
3. Don’t let institutional barriers get in the way.
4. Favor the wisdom of diverse, independent and decentralized “crowds” over the authority of elites.
5. Empathize (obsessively) with the user’s experience, and invite their participation.
If I would argue with anything here, it would be #4: I think librarians should favor a blend of authority and crowd “wisdom”—taxonomy and folksonomy, if you will. Otherwise, it’s an interesting approach that is indeed relatively free of buzzwords (although the “wisdom of crowds” is a buzzphrase).
I had two other piles of printouts here that could easily occupy another five or six print pages of quotes and commentary—two or three pages on David Lee King’s “Library 2.0 spectrum” and ensuing comments and posts, another three or four pages on posts by the Annoyed librarian and reactions to those posts.
I’m not going to go through either of them except to note a few pointers—for different reasons. In the case of David Lee King, what started out as a slightly confrontational piece (particularly with “Luddite” and a book at one end of a spectrum or vector) became an interesting multipart conversation generating considerably more light than heat, almost a model of what discussion and disagreement should be in the liblog community. In the case of Annoyed…well, while he/she/they/it do[es] raise some interesting and provocative points at times, the posts function more as a sideshow than to move serious (or even lighthearted) discussion forward.
Start with “Am I a 2.0 librarian and the Library 2.0 spectrum” (August 1, 2007, david lee king www. davidleeking.com) and “Library 2.0 spectrum thingie—asking for your input” (August 2, 2007, same blog). Make sure you read the comments and some of the other posts, and don’t miss either Steve Lawson’s “Writing and talking about librarian 2.0” (August 3, 2007, See also…, stevelawson.name/seealso/ ) or John Blyberg’s “The information experience” (August 9, 2007, blyberg.net, www.blyberg.net) and the comments on those posts. Then go back to David Lee King’s blog for “Library 2.0 ripples—another go at the graph” (August 24) and “Question for you guys/gals about the newness of Library 2.0” (August 30, 2007). I’ve left out some intermediate steps and many reactions—and despite David Lee King’s continued use of “customer” for patron, I have to say his “Library 2.0 ripples” graphic is really interesting.
You could just ignore her/them/it/him, but I’m not sure this pseudonymous blogger (or team) is a solitary voice. I’d suggest starting with “A librarian’s anti-2.0 manifesto” at Annoyed librarian [henceforth “AL”] (August 20, 2007, annoyedlibrarian.blogspot.com), continue with at least Meredith Farkas’ “Divisions, dogma, and just doing a good job” (August 22, 2007, Information wants to be free [meredith.wolfwater.com/ wordpress/]) and probably some other reactions. Then back to AL for “The cult of twopointopia” (August 27, 2007) and Ryan Deschamps’ “’Welease Wibrarian tWopoint Oooo” (August 29, 2007, The other librarian) if not other reactions. Back again to Al for “An alternative voice in librarianship” (August 30, 2007)—and then at least to David Lee King’s “The Annoyed Librarian is annoyed with me” (August 30, 2007), Meredith Farkas’ “Do we need a translator here?” (August 30, 2007), Roy Tennant’s “Voices of reason” (August 30, 2007, www.libraryjournal.com/ blog/), “virtual librarian”’s “’the sound of a holy war’: on twopointopia” (August 31, 2007), and Jason Griffey’s “Twopointopians” (September 3, 2007, Pattern recognition [www.jasongriffey.net/wp/]). Maybe finish up—for now—with a very different post: Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s “The Juvenal of librarianship” at Academic librarian (September 4, 2007). Or you could skip the whole thing as a sideshow. Any comment from me would be superfluous.
This January 11, 2007 document from ALA president Leslie Burger to ALA unit managers is troublesome—for me, at least, as a somewhat loyal (and very long-term) ALA member but one who doesn’t buy into every ALA practice or “national agendas” as inherently positive. The cover document asks “ALA units as well as the broader library community to help shape this Agenda by reviewing this draft document and sending me a summary of your feedback”—essentially calling on divisions and the like to add this item to their Midwinter 2007 agenda. The draft document itself, a five-page PDF, is at wikis.ala.org/nationallibraryagenda/ images/f/f4/Discussion_Draft_MW_2007_final_1-11-07.pdf. That’s part of a wiki for the agenda.
Here are the six major elements of the draft agenda, each supported by some text and a group of bulleted agenda items:
• Libraries preserve the past and provide a bridge to the future.
• Libraries build and strengthen communities.
• Libraries support lifelong learning.
• Libraries create information and technology literate communities.
• Libraries encourage economic development.
• Libraries support democracy.
How can I oppose any of those? I can’t and don’t. Nor do I argue with many of the bulleted items or the draft statement headed “The American Public Deserves:” It’s feel-good and pretty much on the money.
So what’s the problem? Two words: process and National.
The process is classic ALA, particularly at the presidential initiative level: An invitational summit with Important People gathered to develop the agenda. Preceded, to be sure, by lots of conversation—but developed in an essentially closed meeting.
Then the president calls on divisions and other units to pay attention—to favor her agenda over their own. Then there’s a call for feedback. And then it gets treated as a National Agenda.
Maybe it’s because I’ve rarely (if ever) been invited to Invitational Summits, but they bother me as a way to set policy—particularly for an association like ALA. I don’t see a call for divisions to ratify or modify the agenda—the first question Burger asks is “Are you willing to support the concept of a broadly stated National Library Agenda that can be translated into action at the local, state and federal levels?” followed by one about specific priorities and a third: “What actions would your unit/division take to address these Agenda items?” The train’s leaving the station: Will you be on board, and how much fare will you pay?
Then there’s National. Here I admit to being an ALA heretic. I’m never going to be ALA president, but when I was LITA vp/president, I was unwilling to set forth a LITA Agenda, a single direction that all units within the division should support. I’ve seen that tried—cases where all programs were supposed to relate to the division’s agenda for the year—and it’s usually had one of three effects:
• Utter failure for the president but success for the division, as committees and interest groups organize programs that meet their needs and the needs of the library community, not a leader’s agenda.
• Pseudo-success as diverse programs carry titles and descriptions suggesting a connection to the overall agenda, even though the suggestion is mostly window dressing.
• “Success” as many programs do indeed follow the agenda—and the division has a weaker and less generally relevant set of programs as a result.
I was lucky. The ALA VP for my class had no pretensions of grandeur: She knew damn well that divisions weren’t going to bend their own programs and agendas to her overarching vision, and didn’t try to push it.
Beyond the Annual Conference itself, National Library Agendas bother me because American libraries are so intensely local at their best. If a national agenda is general enough not to interfere with that localization, it’s a set of nice statements that don’t amount to much. If it’s action-oriented then it must (to some extent) interfere with local decisions.
I may be entirely wrong here. It’s hard to tell how things are going from the wiki itself, except that it may be too open or too lightly monitored: It’s been heavily spammed, very heavily spammed, and there doesn’t seem to be much of any “discussion” other than spam. (A few months later, I see that the only apparent change to the wiki is that Jenny Levine has removed the spam.)
I may be wasting energy expressing any concern about the National Library Agenda other than my usual grump about invitational summits handing down The Message. From what I can see in blogs, Technorati, Ask, Google and what’s not spam on the wiki, the extent of discussion on the agenda since ALA Midwinter is strikingly close to zero. I’d hate to say “What if you threw a Summit and nobody cared?” but that sure seems to be what’s happening here.
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