As libraries synchronize their services to the Web 2.0 world, there are some issues we as a profession need to reconsider in light of changing user expectations. Librarians have traditionally held a gatekeeper role for information, which meant being gatekeepers for such things as authority and patron privacy. Since fall 2005, we’ve been re-examining what I’ve called “the four C’s”—collaboration, community, commons, and conversation. The discussions have been fruitful, moving from theory to practice as evidenced by the many examples in this issue of Library Technology Reports and its predecessor, “Web 2.0 & Libraries: Best Practices for Social Software.”
Now that we can better understand the implications for these practices, where do we go next? To continue the alliterative theme, for libraries the last year has seen new issues and tools arise around participation, privacy, point of need, and most of all, presence (“the four P’s”). These concepts form the foundation of the intersection of modern library services and Web 2.0, and they will force us to recast our services to be more like those in the rest of the online world.
- Participation—As long-time Internet users expect to be able to contact a company’s customer service via e-mail or even live chat, new (and especially younger) users’ expectations are evolving to expect direct interaction with Web sites. Rather than just sending an e-mail off into the ether for a possible one-to-one exchange, users are coming to expect the ability to contribute feedback and comments directly on a site in order to engage in conversations. How will libraries respond, given their traditional gatekeeper role?
- Privacy—In order to participate in various social sites, the emerging reality is that users have to give up some personal privacy to connect with others online and to participate in these interactive sites. Hundreds of millions of users regularly divulge information that they never would have in the physical world, just for the chance to find others with like interests. Regardless of whether librarians approve of this trend or not, the truth is that we will have to adjust the entry points we provide to patron information and interaction to allow individual users to make choices about their own privacy, rather than forcing our choices upon them. In fact, this might be a golden opportunity for libraries to teach patrons how to manage their online privacy and identities to be smart and productive digital citizens. This can happen, though, only if we acknowledge that patrons may actually want to make some of their library data public or use it in ways we may not expect or condone.
- Point of need—As information overload continues to grow and users spend more time on social networks online, how libraries fit their services into our users’ work flow—rather than forcing them to conform to ours—becomes a pressing question. More and more, we will need to consider how we can adapt our services to be at the user’s point of need when they need us, where they already are.
- Presence—Perhaps the most important issue of all, and certainly the one that ties all of these others together, is the concept of presence. Libraries traditionally excel at presence in the physical world, but have yet to implement it well online. In this context,presence has multiple meanings. The first is literally just having an online presence that allows for patron participation (e.g., blogs with open comments), choice for level of privacy (e.g., letting users display RSS feeds of their patron data), and being available at the point of need (e.g., via RSS, Google gadgets, etc.). Luckily, new tools, many of them free or low-cost, have appeared that help us rethink and adapt library services to these new expectations.
However, libraries are struggling with a second type of presence, namely how to provide online the humanity, vibrancy, and expertise that infuses our physical presence. Again, we’ve seen libraries exploit tools such as blogs and online video successfully to help with this.
As these tools go mainstream, the next challenge for libraries will be an entirely new type of presence online, that of actually being “there” in the moment, whether that moment is synchronous or asynchronous. Twitter is an excellent example of this concept, allowing multiple communication methods, which have traditionally been separate, to be mashed together into a stream of “presence” with and for one’s designated circle of contacts. It’s a combination of “I’m online now” information provided by instant messaging’s status indicators and the intimacy of feeling a human being on the other end of the connection. It’s not something libraries have addressed in the past, but the concept of presence is growing in the online world, and libraries will need to consider how to respond.
Introduction: Participation in a 2.0 World
Participatory. Open. Playful. Transparent. Make these part of your motto, your vision, and build services and staff with them in mind. My hat is off to the libraries that create teams—made up of employees from all levels—for planning, that allow staff members to blog about those plans, and that take time to experiment and play with new technologies and tell their users exactly what they are up to. We can’t control every little thing that happens in our libraries, and really, should we even want to?
Welcome to “Web 2.0 & Libraries, Part 2: Trends and Technologies.” In this issue, we’ll revisit some of the social tools presented in “Web 2.0 & Libraries: Best Practices for Social Software,” address some trends guiding social technology in libraries, take a look at some newer tools, and cover some best practices for using 2.0 tools in your library.
“Some see Web 2.0 as hype and hyperbole. Others can see beyond the buzzword to a set of ever-evolving tools that can benefit online citizens.”2 That passage from the introduction of “Web 2.0 & Libraries: Best Practices for Social Software” sums up the promise of the social Web that I see for libraries: online spaces that bring people together with personal connections and the information they need, guided by a skillful librarian.
Time and technologies have not stopped in the twelve months since the last report. We’ve seen tools such as Twitter, Meebo, and Ning receive notice and discussion—as well as use in the library world. We’ve seen projects such as Scriblio and the Social OPAC add 2.0 goodness to the library catalog. And we’ve seen the advent of a number of books, articles, and conference presentations devoted to bringing a social component to the virtual library.
If our users are now experiencing a living, social Web, shouldn’t they find librarians waiting for them? Involved. Savvy. Creating conversations. Building community. I urge the groups I speak to not to be afraid of these tools and to look for ways to incorporate them into their work flow and professional lives.
The best thing any librarian can do is to learn more about these tools and how they figure into our professional lives and our libraries. Learning to learn and taking time to play will benefit not only our libraries and our library users, but us as well.
|1.||Stephens, Michael. , “The Culture of Trust: One Year in the Life of Library 2.0,”. ALA TechSource blog, Sept. 29, 2006, www.techsource.ala.org/blog/2006/09/the-culture-of-trust-one-year-in-the-life-of-library-20.html (accessed July 10, 2007).|
|2.||Stephens, Michael. “Web 2.0 & Libraries: Best Practices for Social Software,”Library Technology Reports 2006 July/Aug;42(4)|
|3.||Roush, Wade. , “Social Machines: Computing Means Connecting,” Technology Review. 2005 Aug. available online at www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/14664/?a=f (accessed July 10, 2007).|
This issue of Library Technology Reports is based on issues, trends, and technologies explored at my Tame the Web blog, my work with the students and faculty of Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and the Social Tools and Libraries Roadshow, a workshop I’ve co-presented with Jenny Levine for over two years. Our content, like the Web, changes continually, but the message stays the same: conversation, collaboration, commons, and community. From Holland, England, and Canada and back again—thank you, Jenny!
I also want to thank some folks who offered support and assistance while I was writing this report: Peter Bromberg, John and Louise Berry, Casey Bisson, John Blyberg, Meg Canada, Michael Casey, Kyle Cook, Kathryn Deiss, Jenny Ellis, Jennifer Graham, Sarah Houghton, David Lee King, Teresa Koltzenburg, Lee LaBlanc, Judi Lauber, Glenn Peterson, Karen Schneider, Scott Smith, and all the librarians who participated via e-mail and IM interviews.
I also need to thank Dominican GSLIS students Brian Want, for his help with the bibliographies and reading lists, and Sherry Baehr, for her incredible presentation on LibraryThing in LIS753. All of the students and faculty at Dominican GSLIS never cease to inspire me to think about the bright future of libraries.
Special thanks as well to the librarians who make up the biblioblogosphere and share themselves, their thoughts, and their experiences with all who care to read, as well as to those folks who took time for interviews for this work. I appreciate your voices.
What I saw there was a group of librarians in the midst of change—in the midst of recognizing how the world had shifted and exploring what libraries might do to extend their presence into this world. I want to thank all who participated and shared for the enlightenment and exposure to incredible innovation. That day figures greatly into this issue of Library Technology Reports.