TLA Presentations: Library 2.0

April 27, 2007

After numerous interim postings and a number of other obligations, here’s the first analysis of sessions I attended at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference in San Antonio. Before I start, however, I realize that the politically correct thing to do is to post immediate impressions of sessions on one’s blog the same day, maybe a day after at the latest. I had hoped to make an attempt, and I had some time in the conference center to at least ponder some key points from the Library 2.0 session. Nevertheless, I needed to do other things that day, including some Texas Woman’s University SLIS Spring Forum activities as an alumnus, adjunct instructor, and spouse of a professor giving a session on Web 2.0. In addition, I tagged along for a dinner to celebrate a faculty member’s birthday. (We ended up at Iron Cactus, a contemprary Mexican restaurant and bar along San Antonio’s Riverwalk.) Diane and I got back to our room at 10, and we needed to rest up to haul stuff into the exhibit hall and attend a meeting the next morning. With the rather grueling schedule, I stopped at a small eatery at the Marriott hotel across the street both days to get Starbucks specialty drinks, both with extra espresso shots (something I never do). I did this once by myself, and once to meet with a friend and colleague I know through Diane.

Anyway, back to the session analysis… Amidst handling other concerns, such as meetings and Automation & Technology Round Table stuff in the exhibit hall, I managed to attend a few sessions. All of them focused on technology, and they could easily apply to academia. On Thursday morning, I attended “Library 2.0: User-Centric Technologies and Environments,” given by Jenny Levine and Michael Stephens. Levine’s and Stephens’ portions of the presentation are both available online, though I didn’t realize that both presentations weighed in at just over 150 slides. (Both are in PDF format, so please be patient with loading.) Somehow, I managed to condense their image-intensive presentations into two sides of a legal pad sheet. Let’s see how that went…

In the first portion of the presentation, Stephens identified some technology-related challenges facing libraries. In addition to the prospect of losing library staff with fresh ideas due to overthinking and overplanning, libraries generally have quite a bit of work to do in establishing online presences. Related to the latter issue, Stephens drew upon some findings in the OCLC report Perceptions of Libraries and Information Sources, which mentions that people don’t use library websites because they can’t find them or they don’t know of their existence. Most chillingly, however, many respondents to the OCLC study stated that other resources offer better information.

Fortunately, librarians can enhance what have to they offer by adopting Web 2.0 tools, as well as a “2.0” outlook. Although anyone can tack that suffix to just about anything to make it sound “hip,” it essentially refers to a give-and-take relationship between an organization and its users/customers/patrons. In the case of “Library 2.0,” this may mean changing a library’s website so that resembles (or maybe even is) a blog, with frequent updates about services and comments posted by registered users. Levine’s portion of the presentation pointed to Ann Arbor District Library’s website as a good example. She also mentioned how some libraries, such as the Hennepin County Library, offer ways for users to participate in an online setting similar to Amazon. Under its BookSpace tab, users can make and find reading recommendations in all genres. It seems interesting to note that the BookSpace tab appears more prominently than the catalog link. Does this indicate that BookSpace is more popular than the catalog, or is Hennepin trying to guide user behavior in that direction?

In addition to fostering increased user participation and visibility, “2.0” libraries also engage in so-called radical transparency. A recent article from Wired discusses this phenomenon as a new trend among a variety of organizations, which can gain trust and goodwill (as well as maybe more “business”) by showing that they have nothing to hide. Furthermore, organizations that engage in radical transparency allow their users/customers to participate in their organizational processes by employing Web 2.0 tools. In addition, users do whatever they need to do with fewer restrictions, such as hyper-protected passwords. Although anyone with privacy concerns might worry about this phenomenon, Levine described how many people actually don’t care as much about privacy as librarians might. To preface this issue, Levine read excerpts from a New Yorker article about the lack of concern younger people have with privacy. (In fact, I actually wrote a posting about that article a few months ago. I won’t repeat my thoughts here, so anyone who wishes to view my previous posting can consider it part of this one.)

Radical transparency also ties in with the concept of trimming many of the rules laid down by libraries. During the presentation, Stephens mentioned a special pet peeve of his: rules against cell phone use. As he went through examples of prohibitive cell phone rules, I thought about my previous experiences with enforcing rules in general, which can come in handy for making sure that people can work quietly in a library. In my experience, I have had quite a few people come up and tell me that people were being too loud, with or without a cell phone. I either haul over to “shush” the offending party, or I tell the complainant that they can use our group study area (unless they come up to mention a noise problem in that part of the library).

Although rules offer consistency, they can run the risk of overriding good judgment. Furthermore, I’m sure that some librarians and library support staff have enforced rules that have upset “challenging” users, only to be overridden (or maybe even reprimanded) by higher-level staff seeking to mollify the user. Stephens offered a good solution, which easily covers the issue of cell phones and just about anything else. He suggests following an overarching set of guidelines known as Rules for the Loft:

      Respect yourself
      Respect others
      Respect the space

Under such guidelines, users don’t feel that any reasonable behavior is being monitored, and librarians don’t have to waste time playing cop to monitor non-infractions. As long as certain users don’t misinterpret “respect yourself,” common courtesy and common sense should prevail.

To create and maintain a “2.0” environment in libraries, Stephens offered several philosophical and practical suggestions:

    Turn the library into a “learning organization”

    In such an environment, staff receive encouragement to try new things that could improve or enhance services. Although self-directed learning is ideal, I think that administrators who are serious about turning libraries into “learning organizations” need to provide staff with the necessary time, tools, and financial support. After all, some staff might resent the prospect of having to spend their own “time and dime” on new gadgets that they might not know how to use. On the other hand, setting aside time for training during regular work hours might seem less daunting, and encouraging staff to “play” with various technologies will make learning seem less like some heavy obligation. After all, if staff are supposed to accomodate patrons having fun, why shouldn’t staff enjoy themselves as well?

    Since Web 2.0 applications are freely available to anyone with an Internet connection, it would cost little more than staff time for training. In fact, Helene Blowers of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County has even developed a Learning 2.0 program that libraries can adapt so that staff can learn more about those technologies.

    Trendspotting

    Stephens suggested that if a trend appears in major news publications like Time, Newsweek, and even more topic-specific “general audience” publications such as Wired, we should seriously consider paying attention to it. Even better if you happen to read regularly more “cutting edge” publications with specialized audiences. Of course, acting on every single trend and processing the implications for libraries is virtually impossible.

    Emerging technology group

    To ameliorate potential confusion related to trendspotting, an emerging technology group could consist of library staff designated to engage actively in determing what trends might impact libraries. To get a diversity of views related to such trends, staff from a number of departments could ascertain what seems important and report their opinions to the rest of the staff. Technology trends may receive the greatest emphasis, but other emerging societal trends marginally related to technology (or perhaps even not related at all) might also prove important eventually. Perhaps an “emerging trends group” would be more appropriate to look at things more holistically. (Even a “committee” might work, though we all know how those can go…)

    One could probably argue that such a group would kill “initiative” on the part of staff who want to learn on their own, because they might view members of that group as the ultimate authorities on emerging trends. It may go against the self-directed and participatory “2.0” spirit, but staff pressed for time might appreciate some guidance to figure out what might be important to know in order to do their jobs. Who better to provide it than staff already interested in keeping up and sharing their wisdom?

    Dream

    While learning about new technologies, also consider the possibilities for their use within the library. During her portion of the presentation, Levine mentioned a number of ways that various technologies could bring appropriate resources closer to a user’s “point of need,” and as well as ways that they could increase a library’s visibility or presence. Of course, this could include taking full advantage of a number of currently-available technologies (the usual suspects… instant messaging, text messaging from portable handheld devices, RSS feeds, blogs, Twitter, etc.). However, “dreaming” could also encompass technologies that don’t even exist yet. Even if librarians might not know how to develop such technologies, we might be able to figure out who could make them a reality.

Ultimately, I think the best way to integrate Web 2.0 and library services is to transcend the label. To some librarians and library staff (and even among members of the general public) who are happy with word processing applications, spreadsheets, Internet access, and e-mail, the very term “Web 2.0” sounds mystifying enough to obscure its practicality. It behooves those who have worked with Web 2.0 technologies to demystify the phenomenon by emphasizing the useful and fun aspects of working with its myriad manifestations.

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