The Internet is no longer simply a static supplier of information. It has changed into a ‘community’ with enormous possibilities for communication and interaction. Ex- pressions such as ‘Web 2.0’ and ‘the social web’ bear witness to a greater focus on cooperation and sharing among today’s users of the Internet.
Internet-based library services for young people Anybody can publish on the Internet and flexible services encouraging participation and interaction have become popular, especially with young people. If libraries are to continue to play an important role in today’s information society, they must keep pace with development and learn from these popular Internet services. But one should be quite clear as to why any particular service is of use and prepared to adapt it to the individual library and its users.
Several surveys, including one carried out in 2006, show that young people are among those who make least use of libraries, while at the same time being among the most frequent and active users of Internet services. One way to make them more active library users would be to introduce Internet services already familiar to them. Some libraries have attractive and userfriendly websites designed with young people in mind, but generally library websites seem old-fashioned because they simply present information to a passive viewer. Libraries should to a greater extent offer new services on their websites in order to create a more interactive and inclusive initiative aimed at the younger generation. They would benefit from taking advantage of developments such as blogging, wikis, social networking and digital reference services in order to attract young people.
A blog can be a personal homepage in diary form, a presentation of new specialist material or a news and information letter for an organisation or institution. Library staff would benefit greatly from being active bloggers. Blogs can be used to distribute news, present library material and advertise special arrangements.
Publicising by means of blogs creates a greater feeling of actuality and also offers the possibility of channelling subjects into thematically differing blogs, such as one blog presenting new books for young people, another pictures and film from relevant library arrangements and a third aimed at librarians dealing with adolescent library users on a daily basis.
The library should also assist in improving the blogging abilities of young visitors. This can be achieved by giving advice on how to set up and publish a blog and how to improve the quality of the material, including what is regarded as good ‘netiquette’, copyright considerations and writing for the Internet. Blogging offers libraries a unique opportunity to achieve closer contact with youngsters.
The commentary feature makes it possible for everybody to voice an opinion on what a library publishes, and young people can be encouraged to publish their own texts in the blogs. Writing competitions or the creation of web editing groups with different areas of interest can help to give youngsters a greater sense of ownership with regard to the library’s homepages and can also attract new users.
Wikis are user-controlled information databases, where anybody can edit the text and add whatever they feel is relevant. There are many ways wikis can be used in a library context. A wiki can be a collection of reviews of the library’s books, offering the public reading tips and advice. Wikis can function as manuals to teach users how best to take advantage of what the library has to offer, including other Internet initiatives such as blogging and digital reference services. In different areas wikis can also serve as knowledge databases focusing either on narrower, local matters or on general subjects, depending on function and context. A good example is a wiki which gathers information on local history.
A wiki established in cooperation with various educational institutions is certain to create sufficient content to be of interest to the general public. Collaboration with schools would ensure that the majority of students are made aware of the library’s range of services. Experience shows that the quality of the material published on wikis by young people is better than their previous efforts at writing. The excitement of tackling the act of writing in a new way has a positive effect. There is also evidence to suggest a strong motivation in the knowledge that the texts are being read by a real, live public.
Digital reference services
Digital reference services have gradually become quite common. They are often voluntary initiatives where several libraries cooperate to answer questions by chat, e-mail and sms. In both Norway and Sweden services of this type are available under the title of ‘Ask the Library’ and have become very popular among children and young people.
Reference services based on chat rooms work particularly well with youngsters, since this form of communication is already familiar to them through Instant Messaging (IM). IM is a way for two or more people to converse via the Internet. The conversation takes place in real time, making use of a client programme, such as Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger or AOL Instant Messenger. Communication by IM has rapidly become one of the most popular forms of contact among the younger generation. It should therefore be just as natural for a library to be accessible through IM as by e-mail.
IM is easy to work with and requires a minimum of training for newcomers, be they librarians or library users. It is also completely free. IM can be locally oriented and used to answer concrete questions about library services and collections, whereas digital reference services are better suited to answering questions on general subjects. Since most young people are already familiar with the technology, Instant Messaging has the potential to be widely used and can consequently help to lower the threshold between them and the library.
Social networking on the Internet consists of meeting places where one can create a profile, setting out information about oneself and often adding one’s own films, music, pictures, etc. It is possible to exchange messages and to comment on the profiles of others. Some of the most popular networks, such as MySpace and YouTube have millions of users.
Libraries could take advantage of social networking to promote themselves and their services. MySpace is suitable for posting news and obtaining feedback, while YouTube could be used to show films of library arrangements. Libraries can also set up their own social networks. Reaktor is a Norwegian site operated by the Deichman Library, where it is possible to publish homemade films, photographs, animation, music, comic strips, illustrations and texts. In this way social networking becomes a tool which the library can use to encourage cooperation and creativity among young people.
A world of possibilities
In addition to all the above and in order to make their websites more attractive to young people, libraries can also make use of podcasting, folksonomies, (systems where users themselves determine subject classification) and video diaries. They should, however, not aim to adopt all the new, popular services on the Internet simply to prove that they can ‘move with the times’.What they need is a clear vision as to why they choose to take into use any of these services and be prepared to adapt it to the individual library and its users.
Barn og bibliotek: http://www.bibliotek barn.blogspot.com/
Stuff for Teens: http://www.bartles ville.lib.ok.us/blog/teens/
The Butler University Libraries’ Reference Wiki:
Spørg Olivia: www.sporgolivia.dk
Fråga biblioteket: http://www.eref.se/
Hennepin County Library on MySpace:
http://www.minreaktor.no/ YouTube: http://www.youtube.com
This article is based on a bachelor thesis Library 2.0 – What social aspects of Web 2.0 can libraries put into use in order to make their web-sites more interactive and attractive to young people? (Oslo University College, Faculty of Journalism, Library and Information Science, 2006)
Frank Robert Nybråten
Bachelor of Library and Information Science
franknybraten AT gmail.com
Jonas Svartberg Arntzen
Bachelor of Library and Information Science
IT-librarian, Drammen Public Library
jonas AT hoyfilm.com
Translated by Eric Deverill