Thursday, November 12, 2009

Don’t look now, but I think the library is following us

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).


kbankovich said...

The Library 2.0 movement may be weakening the bond between users and the library in the physical sense, but I don't think that it cancels out the utilization of the library itself. I also believe that the ease of Library 2.0 is what many of today's patrons want. Charles Becker lists some of the most prevalent behaviors in the millenial generation, two of which include expectant of instant service and instant gratification. My 20 year old son is often disappointed when he finds out that not all of his professors are using some sort of online academic communication like Blackboard or CTools.

Is it an acceptable trade-off? According to Lauren Pressley, author of "So You Want to be a Librarian", librarian 2.0 positions are on the rise. It is important that librarians not be threatened of new technology, but learn to use it to their advantage.

Amy Alcenius said...

I think the most importand online tool is still the good old OPAC. Nothing matches being able to see if a book is is and where before going into the library.

Amy Smola said...

Does Library 2.0 weaken the bond between users and the physical library? Yes, I believe it does. Yet this is not necessarily a bad thing. In the past, if you wanted information, you had to physically (walk, drive, take a bus) get to a library. Libraries have hours of operation, and their hours may not be convenient for you. Getting to the library could be a hassle, especially if you had to go multiple times. Now with technology, much of this can be alleviated. While the physical libraries are still there, so much of their information (and information from the world) is available online. (Assuming you have internet access at home), you can sit in the comfort of your own home and research for as long as you would like. You don't have to worry about fixing your hair or braving the icy roads to actually get to the library itself. Nor do you have to worry about what time the library opens or closes. You can sit at your computer with rollers in your hair at 2am and do all the research you want. Your search for information may not yield as good and quality information as what a librarian could have found for you. But for many users, the trade-off is worth it. Accessing information online definitely adheres to two of the definitions of Library 2.0: Libraries must be where the users need them, and Libraries must give users a way to participate. Online databases of information make these both possible for people.

DJ said...

I don't know what I would do without the 24 hour library. There are so many times that I am not sure when or at what time I will be able to complete assignments. Plus without having classes online I am not sure how I would be able to complete this degree with kids. Technology has helped me advance my career.

Steph said...

Can Library 2.0 software really create a connection between the user and the library?
I think it can make users more aware of what the library has to offer and perhaps increase the likelihood that the user would turn to the library for services that it would not have otherwise thought to seek out at the library or it would increase the chance the user would choose to help the library in some manner. For example, perhaps there is a book drive and they chose to donate books to the library rather than the salvation army after reading about the book drive on a blog.

What is the most important service a library can provide for the remote user?
I agree with a previous post that the most important service a library provides its users is still the OPAC. I think all of the additional Web 2.0 services are nice additions, but the core service is still the OPAC

Does Library 2.0 weaken the bond between users and the physical library? If so, is that an acceptable trade-off? I think it does in a sense weaken the bond, but I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Libraries, to me, are evolving institutions, perhaps evolving into something that looks more like a community center and less like a stiff, quiet library. I, for one, am okay with that change.

J Moses said...

Can Library 2.0 create a connection between the user and the library? In answer to this question, I do believe the answer is yes. The reasoning for this is simply based on my own past experience with messages generated from e-mail list. There are several organizations or businesses that send e-mails weekly to my account advertising that weeks special. I may ignore 9 out of 10 messages, however, that 1 time I do respond has been helpful and significant to my choice to stay connected with this organization. The same would be true of library services. Without the little reminder, I would likely forget these organizations all together. If the library were to send just a small blurb to me on a book or event, I may not always utilize the service, but that one time that I did, I would be thankful for the reminder.

What is the most important service the library can provide for a remote user? I think this would have to be the ability to conduct research 24/7. I'm sure many students fall into the same category as I do; working student with a family. This requires that I often do my school work when my family has gone to sleep. It's not the time when I want to pack up my books and head to the library. Having the tools to research from the comfort of my own home, has allowed me the opportunity to be a student and advance my education. Without remote access to this information, the time trade off with my family might make me reconsider additional schooling.

Does Library 2.0 weaken the bond between the library user and the physical library? If so, is the trade off worth it? Unfortunatley, I do think that the accessibility of information remotely has weakened the bond with the physical library. The need to physically attend a library has decreased. The advantage to this, however, is that the library has a wonderful opportunity in which to re-invent their image. From game nights to book clubs... it give the library and opportunity to foucus on other needs of the public... not just books as resources.

Tom Nowak said...

I agree with all of you who say that the new connections Library 2.0 creates outweigh, at least for me, the weaker bonds to the physical library. I'm more likely to use the library online because I'm more likely to find what I want. When I do use it, I often learn about services or programs I would never have known about if I hadn't been to the Web site. Research is easier online. I even pay my fines online.

My only concern is the library losing its sense of place in the community. In the small town where I grew up, the Carnegie library was by far the grandest structure in town. In the city where I live, the planning and building of a new library stirred interest that only would have been rivaled by building of a new school. And libraries are at the heart of so many communities' center. This physical presence, I believe, accounts for some share of the library's high standing in the community.

But as other commenters have pointed out, it is an evolution. The library can use its online outreach to promote its physical presence. Maybe there will be fewer people doing reserch and more people playing games or taking computer classes. But as long as the library is able to stay relevant to the community's educational, civic and social needs, people will find their way to it.

Jamie J. Baker, JD, MLIS said...

Look no further than our very own MLIS degree, which can now be obtained with never having actually set foot in a library-well, almost. The Library 2.0 movement is weakening the bond between users and the bricks and mortar building, but it may also be increasing the bond between the library's content and the user. Increased accessibilty does not always equate with increased use, however, and I do think that there is a loss if a patron feels that there is no need to actually come to the library because they can obtain all of the information that they need through the library's OPAC. Maneuvering online catalogs can sometimes be less than intuitive and having an information professional on hand to help is a huge draw.