Guest Post: Library 2.0: Pandemic or Panacea? by Anthony Andros

Anthony Andros wrote this paper for LIS701 at Dominican in Fall 2006. He agreed to post an shorter version here. 

Library 2.0: Pandemic or Panacea?

An Exploration of Old Wine in a New Bottle
by: Anthony Andros

T.S. Eliot said that, “Television…is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.” Technology has indeed found a way to influence civilization in both positive and negative ways. Why is it that twenty-first century Americans have innumerable technologies and novelties to conserve time and effort, yet we all seem to be rushing from place to place feeling one step behind? Today, the process of digitization can be found in such diverse functions as communication, medicine, warfare, transportation, arts and entertainment, cooking, etc. Of all the industries, fields, and institutions incorporating technology, one in particular has been one of the most resistant to embrace this new current – libraries.

The reason for such reluctance may be simple. Libraries are perhaps the most beloved and sacred institutions found throughout the world, not religious or political in nature. Understanding our history as human beings is largely owed to the preservation, organization, and dissemination of the written word. Additionally, today’s library, specifically the public library, is built on a foundation of nonprofit ideals maintaining a very authentic and driven purpose. No other goals should supercede the facilitation of a community’s needs and wants in the areas of education, culture, and entertainment.

One such ‘movement’ which has been introduced in today’s library discussion, specifically the public library, is labeled as Library 2.0 a “new model for library service,” where the library is much more user-centered. (Casey and Savastinuk, Library Journal) Technologies in all formats have been at the heart of controversy when attempting to provide patrons with the latest tools such as blogs, chat rooms, podcasting, social software, wikis, and RSS feeds. Much resistance thwarts new technology, particularly when attempting to create a more user-centered library.

Michael Casey is widely recognized as the individual who coined the term “Library 2.0.” It can be found on his Weblog, LibraryCrunch, posted on September 26, 2005 at 11:38am. (http://www.librarycrunch.com/2005/09/) The label Web 2.0 had since been established, but Casey’s new term has gained much attention and merit in little over one year. The definition of Library 2.0 from which this discussion will draw, is from an article written by Casey and Laura Savastinuk:

The heart of Library 2.0 is user-centered change. It is a model for library service that encourages constant and purposeful change, inviting user participation in the creation of both the physical and the virtual services they want, supported by consistently evaluating services. It also attempts to reach new users and better serve current ones through improved customer-driven offerings. Each component is a step toward better serving our users; however, it is through the combined implementation of all of these that we can reach Library 2.0. (Casey, Library Journal)

The combination of a more user-centered library and the concomitant technology has been viewed by some as a threat to what has generally been a conservative institution over the centuries. Particularly within public libraries, many librarians, administrations, and communities abhor the notion of creating a more democratic environment for their staff, not to mention their patrons!

Despite of the wonderful technological inventions and innovations, we must remember that it is people who are at the heart of all library functions. Michael Stephens offers his perspective on one important principle that naturally and directly follows from Library 2.0 to Librarian 2.0: “the Library is human.” (http://www.oclc.org/nextspace/002/3.htm) This is a very simple, but powerful statement that is a necessary reminder to librarians when technologies and policies impede growth, and turn libraries into impersonal, stagnant, and bureaucratic institutions. It must be this “human” quality of a library that helps to create a more anchored and finite definition of Library 2.0. Such an element will help its’ advocates and skeptics alike to understand it on the most fundamental level.

Library 2.0 is defined by perpetual action and adaptation, and may never be codified as a definitive philosophy; and there may never be a “Library 2.0.for Dummies.” However, it is inconsequential because the success and authenticity of Library 2.0 lies in the hands of the people. It is one’s attitude in planning and implementing services that will define the value of a user’s experience. It is unfortunate that these critics concern themselves with semantics, while those who are on the so-called bandwagon are working in the spirit of creativity and communication.

Rather than a rebellion, Library 2.0 should be perceived more as a rebirth of the commitment to better serve the patron in this new era permeated by technology. One must bear in mind the very delicate stage in which the United States is socially. We are at the crossroads where the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials, are all trying to navigate the same information world through many different levels of experience and understanding.

Library 2.0 is not to be exclusively aimed at those who are already tech savvy. Today’s library can be very intimidating for a senior citizen, for example, who longs for the library he or she once knew where there were the sounds of pages turning and not mice clicking. We must also be sensitive to the adults or young adults, who we may assume that they can flawlessly operate everything in the library. We cannot afford to allow people to enter a public library feeling intimidated or inferior, when they only have a fax to send or photocopy to make and do not know how. If we remember Michael Stephens’ suggestion of viewing libraries as human, we can better serve the entire spectrum of patrons who walk in the door. Found in his Weblog, Tame The Web, he also lends the notion of leading with one’s heart in deciding what and how to implement certain services that would benefit the user the most.

To take this idea one step further, a library considering a Library 2.0 approach would demand that all staff members have some direct, first-hand experience with every single service offered. For example, every library director should be placed inside the patron’s shoes to fully understand the user’s experience of their own library. Such an invaluable perspective will undoubtedly be gained through this process revealing many things that need improvement and refinement.

Finally, we must remind ourselves that among other things, librarians are facilitators of information services for the human being. Library 2.0 is simply a malleable, people-centered approach to the interaction between patrons and staff with available resources, services, programs, and technology.

The World Wide Web has a proud history of proving people wrong in that the impossible can become reality with so much curious obsession and alacrity in discovering the wonders of such a powerful enterprise. It may in fact be this perception of relinquishing power that instills fear into many public libraries across the country. One general fear is that the Web is an open access application of the Internet, which does not have any singular body of control or authority. In this sense, the Web is similar to Library 2.0 in its attempt to keep the public library, well….. public!

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4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Library 2.0: Pandemic or Panacea? by Anthony Andros”

  1. One of the problems with this “Library 2.0″ stance is that, to argue with it, to argue with the position or tactics of a 2.0 proponent is to quibble over language. To say: “It is unfortunate that these critics concern themselves with semantics, while those who are on the so-called bandwagon are working in the spirit of creativity and communication,” is to foreclose discussion: if you argue, you are categorically not working in the spirit of creativity or communication–you are with me 100%, or you are against me. Very Bush 2.0. If Library 2.0 is an argument–and it is: a discussion with so-called traditional methodology–then Andros tries to make his case by shutting down his “opponents.” This mode of discussion cannot help but create dissenters since even those who are healthily skeptical–those who say, “prove the efficacy, offer alternatives”–end up being lumped here.

    In this instance, and in others, Library 2.0 seems unable to countenance any dissent. Which could well doom it to the stagnation it has claimed for “traditional” libraries. I suggest that innovators should engage in active discussions with the people who question them and that they be prepared to defend themselves with more than “you just don’t get it,” “it’s a generational thing,” or “you are quibbling over semantics.” All good arguments involve concrete examples and more than an emotional appeal to “this is what the users want.” If the innovator can come up with nothing better, the innovator is merely pushing his or her own agenda. On the other hand, a substantial argument will help both groups to learn and grow.

  2. I was also struck by the sentence Dale Prince quotes (and eloquently discusses) above. Since “these critics” has no antecedent, I won’t take it personally; certainly, I’ve never had people suggest that my work isn’t “in the spirit of creativity and communication.” So I guess “these critics” applies to people I’m not even aware of.

    This is an abbreviated version of a 2006 paper. Maybe the sense of dismissing any disagreement is the result of that abbreviation or age. Otherwise, I’ll just say “What Dale Prince says.”

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