Libraries are held in high esteem by the public, higher than any other public institution. Users are satisfied, and even non-users have praise, recognizing the cultural and educational contributions libraries make. But that can’t be taken for granted. The recent budget slashing at state and local levels in Michigan and other states show that no publicly funded institution – police, education or libraries – is safe. For libraries to maintain their support, they must reinforce and refresh ties with current users, and grab the attention of non-users by showing them something they may not have expected. The effort to do that with online tools is called Library 2.0.
The definitions of Library 2.0 range from the philosophical to the technical, but they have, in some form, these things in common:
Libraries must be where the users need them. For most users, the first time they encountered their library outside the bricks-and-mortar boundaries was then the library put its catalog online. What a convenience! Come home from the book club meeting at 9:15 Sunday night and put next month’s book on hold by 9:20. Reading a magazine or surfing the Web and you see a title you want to explore? Go find it. And if it’s in a branch at the other end of the county or farther, you’ll still find it, all while you are sitting at home or work. Suddenly, a vital part of the library is always available. Other Web services enhance the user’s relationship with the library, but access to the catalog is essential.
After that, library data bases became accessible. Then programming, tutorials, multimedia presentations, library information, all were on hand whenever the users needed them. As Web sites improved, users responded. At the Kent District Library, which I use most often, Web site visits more than doubled from 2005 to 2008, when the site received about 5,600 hits a day. In the same period, the number of items circulated increased 70 percent, while the number of library card holders actually dropped slightly. Clearly users are taking advantage of this constant access to the library’s collection.
Another “always there” element is online reference. With e-mail or instant messaging, reference services can be available no matter where the user is. They also can be available 24 hours a day if the library chooses, either through library staff or more likely, a consortium or outsourcing.
The increased use of mobile technology gives libraries another opportunity to be where the users are. Apple sold 7.4 million iPhones in the last quarter alone, and that’s just a portion of the mobile phone market. Libraries that plug into the mobile Web are going to preserve their connection to their most technologically sophisticated users.
Some proponents of Library 2.0 argue that a Web site is too static. Yes, it always is available, but the user still has to seek it out. Could the library follow you around and become, as Ken Chad and Paul Miller wrote in an early exploration of Library 2.0, “a pervasive library”? Browser add-ons such as LibX, which automatically indicates whether a publication that shows up on a Web page is in your favorite library, keep patrons linked to the library whenever their browser is running. RSS can keep users up to date on topics of interest. Social networks likewise can keep the library always close at hand if the patron chooses, with catalog searches such as WorldCat available as Facebook apps.
Libraries must give users a way to participate. In an online world where comments and user feedback is expected, libraries need to give users a voice. The tools can be as basic as a blog (don’t turn off the comments) or a wiki, which allows patron contributions. Allow users to post reviews. Let them show a Virtual Bookshelf. Ask readers their opinions on what materials they would like, what they think of the programs, what online additions they would like to see. The model should not a suggestion box, where comments are slipped in the slot to be opened in private at a later time. What users expect is a conversation in which the library and other users can react and respond.
Social networking offers other opportunities for participation. Facebook and MySpace groups are an effective way to build communities of users. Twitter can reach out to patrons instantly. Bookmarking sites such as Delicious let users share favorite sites. Flickr and YouTube are popular forums for sharing photos and videos that libraries can use to get out information and that patrons can use to respond. In all of these technologies, the object is to give the patron a voice in the library – to make it their library.
Libraries must evaluate their programs and be open to change. The Web has always been dynamic, but thanks to the rise of the open-source movement, new ideas have never sprung up faster and customization has never been easier. Librarians must always be looking for new trends, new software, or unconventional uses of old software.
Yet while technology is the tool that makes Library 2.0 work, it is not an end in itself. The goal is not to have the longest list of Web applications or the hottest new social networking tool; the goal is to serve the users. A library with a more affluent and educated audience may need to stay on the cutting edge to hold patrons’ attention. Another library may find that its basic Web page/blog/wiki is thriving, while its effort to build a Second Life community is sputtering. Cool isn’t always the best way to go.
Finally, don’t make assumptions about what your audience wants. A researcher looking at the use of Library 2.0 tools in an academic library expected students to appreciate the library’s entry into social networking sites associated with their generation. But the students said they wanted Web 2.0 tools built into the library’s Web page or Blackboard, rather than have the library integrate itself into public social networking tools. In other words, the students said, “Stay out of our space.”
Maybe the library can be too pervasive.
Can Library 2.0 software really create a connection between the user and the library?
What is the most important service a library can provide for the remote user?
Does Library 2.0 weaken the bond between users and the physical library? If so, is that an acceptable trade-off?
Best practices for social software in libraries.(Chapter 8) (2007). Library Technology Reports, 43(5), 67(68).
Breeding, M. (2008). Content, Community and Visibility: a winning combination. Computers in Libraries, 28 Number 4, 26-28.
Burhanna, K. J., Seeholzer, J., & Salem Jr, J. (2009). No Natives Here: A Focus Group Study of Student Perceptions of Web 2.0 and the Academic Library. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(6), 523-532.
Chad, K., and Miller, Paul (2005). Do libraries matter? The rise of Library 2.0.
. Kent District Library 2008 Fact Book (2009).
What is the mobile web?(Chapter 1) (2008). Library Technology Reports, 44(5), 5(5).