Update: Defining Library 2.0: Is it More than Technology?

Before Holiday break, I posted a list of ten L2 Events of 2005, strictly my opinion and very much a “brain dump.” Steve Lawson, librarian blogger from See Also commented:

“I think that “Rock the Shelves” and the Gaming Symposium are fantastic, but I’m not sure how they fit the L2 meme. I have been thinking of L2 as the library version of Web 2.0: lightweight, social computing applications to meet users’ needs when, where, and how they need it.
If we include innovative programs for young people like gaming and music, where do we draw the line? Is a poetry slam L2? Summer reading programs? Is the new coffee cart in my college library L2? I don’t mean that cynically–I’m really curious to hear what Michael and others think, and am willing to change my mind.”

Steve – Thanks for the comment. I totally understand your thinking. It’s confusing attaching a name to this huge thing we are discussing. I’m still trying to make sense of it all. Each time we encounter a good question or another viewpoint, the concept that carries this meme comes clearer to me.

I believe L2 is bigger than technology and bigger than just planning for fabulous library services. The biggest part in my thinking is the personal bit: librarians embracing change to become master of all information tools, digital and otherwise. A deep sea-change for some folks from the “we’ve always done it this way” mode to one of “Bring it on, baby, bring it on…” when encountering the wide ripples of change coming at us daily. This is the heart of L2 for me… Librarian 2.0. if you will. So it’s about tech and it’s about not huffing and puffing when a library wants to implement IM or DDR and it’s about the Coffee Cart if that makes a welcoming space all the more inviting for users and so on.

Maybe we should reinvent ourselves and our libraries.

And Steve, you asked what others think, so I reached out to some folks to comment, and invite anyone else to weigh in! Here’s what I have so far:

Michael Casey, Library Crunch:

I find it ironic that, as someone who loves technology and is desperate to see it better integrated into library operations, I find myself arguing over and over that Library 2.0 is not strictly a tech-driven philosophy. L2 is first and foremost an effort to reach out to those people who, for whatever reason, are not using the services libraries offer. Many Web 2.0 applications will assist us in this effort, but so will non-tech approaches. Teen concerts and gaming nights are but two small pieces in the L2 arsenal, but if they help us reach those non-users then they need to be included.

I’m constantly reminded that not all libraries have the same technological resources, work within the same political frameworks, or have the same financial abilities. If L2 is to be inclusive then it must offer services to a broad spectrum of libraries. If L2 is to be successful it cannot simply focus on the technology, it must use whatever tools are available to go after new users.

L2 is, to me, a service philosophy built upon three things; a willingness to change and try new things; a willingness to constantly re-evaluate our service offerings; and finally, a willingness to look outside our own world for solutions, be they technology-driven or not (this is where Web 2.0 fits in).

Stephen Abram, Stephen’s Lighthouse and author of “Web 2.0 – Huh?! Library 2.0, Librarian 2.0” in Information Outlook Online December 2005 (Login Required/Membership?)

While I think it’s good to have conversations about all the 2.0 issues and to try to get a working definition that’s useful, I think I like Michael’s wide cast better. It’s all about strategy. We’ve spent far too many years defining these web things in a narrow technologically-focused way. In some respects that takes our collective eyes off the ball – getting users in the door or to the site, delighting them, serving their real needs, improving the community, assisting the learner to learn, making a difference, etc. etc. Does it serve our professional and insitutional needs to take a narrower (almost geeky) definition of the 2.0 meme?

John Blyberg, blyberg.net:

L2 certainly extends beyond a purely technological field-of-view. Technology and Web 2.0, however, do seem to be the brightest stars in constellation of L2 ideas.

I’d say that it would be hard to argue that anything that challenges the traditional approach to conducting library business is not considered L2. At it’s heart, L2 is a fundamental and far-reaching shift in business strategy. So yes, coffee carts, gaming, “rocking the shelves”, any anything else new and exciting that is counterintuitive to the library stereotype should be considered Library 2.0.


Steve Lawson replies:

Thanks for putting together the all-star panel to respond to my comment. I’d also like a million dollars–can you get to work on that, Michael?

I think I’m more or less convinced that a broader definition of Library 2.0 is the proper way to go. I have been lucky, in that during my five years as a professional librarian, I have worked in libraries that
embraced change and collaboration. So to that extent, my entire career has been L2. Given these parameters, the director at my library is very L2, and I don’t think she is familiar with the term (yet). In the three years I have been at Colorado College, the library has found a new home for the student writing center, added a multimedia lab, added a coffee cart, and may be the new home for the IT help desk; all these changes with the goal
of providing help (or caffeine!) to students when and where they need it,even at the expense of giving up some space (always at a premium, of course).

I still think that viewing Library 2.0 through a Web 2.0 lens can be helpful, because I’m seeing many of those Web 2.0 design patterns (as put forth by Tim O’Reilly in What is Web 2.0) in these non-tech L2 projects: “users add value”; “the perpetual beta”; “cooperate, don’t control.” To me, those
patterns say “try out those new ideas now with real users. Leverage social activities you know that people already use and like, whether it is a free account on Flickr or spending $25 to set up a Dance Dance Revolution night.”

Some possible dangers to the more inclusive definition: If L2 just means “responding creatively to change,” some of the energy around the idea might dissipate as people say “we have always done that.” Too wide a definition also lends itself to parody: these new user-empowering
bookmarks are L2! Open stacks are L2! Michael’s anti-establishment hair is totally L2! 😉