The Public Library: A New Version

Library 2.0 is the latest buzzword among librarians with more than an average interest in IT and the Internet. But if one focuses on the social and information structures inherent in the concept, rather than on fashionable terminology such as Ajax, Wiki and Podcast, there are interesting implications also for library people who have no blog of their own.

Key terms here are two-way communication and user-participation. However, does Library 2.0 actually represent something new or is it only the latest glorification of the ideals of information and service embraced by many librarians for some time?

“Library 2.0″ originates from “Web 2.0″, which first took shape in connection with a brain-storming session between O’Reilly and MediaLive International in 2004. The first Web 2.0 conference was held in October that same year. In general the concept can be said to refer to the so-called “second generation” of web services allowing people to cooperate and share information on-line. The concept is still in a state of flux, however, and many prefer to define it by reference to the companies and products which best give expression to the ideals involved, such as Google Maps, Flickr.com, del.icio.us and Technorati.com.

In spite of its relative infancy, the concept has become the subject of considerable discussion, particularly among bloggers. Supporters refer to Web 2.0 as the new phase in the development of the Internet, while critics have written it off as so much hype, just a new name for established technology, an Internet bubble, etc.

Among those who do not reject the concept totally, discussion has mainly been a question of definition. Some have described Web 2.0 as consisting of specific technologies making possible new uses and new information structures, primarily based on desktop-like applications delivered over the web.

Others put forward a definition to include the new relationships and power structures gradually appearing as the technology comes into wider use. The term “social computing” is heard more often, either as part of the concept of Web 2.0 itself or as a result of it. Innovation is moving from a top-down model to a bottom-up model. Values are transferred from ownership to happenings. A new social structure is taking shape; one which places the power of definition with communities instead of with institutions.

Individual users, individual citizens make up their own minds as to which products they wish to purchase, what information they decide to make use of and what types of marketing they choose to accept. Interoperability and shared standards bring all these individuals together from the bottom up into communities, the blogosphere being at the moment the best-known of such phenomena. In this way the Internet becomes a global brain comprised of smaller groups of cells which both individually and collectively produce content and have their own psychology with corresponding informational and procedural structures. One result of this is Wikipedia. Allowing anybody and everybody to contribute as coauthors of a reference work demands a radical degree of trust; trust that the system is self-correcting and that any unsatisfactory nodes (i.e. people who make silly and irresponsible lexicon entries) are exposed to sanctions by the majority, whose first concern is that the product should contain only reliable information.

Library 2.0 rises
In 2005 a man by the name of Michael Casey put A and B together to launch the concept of Library 2.0 on his blog.

Where conferences are concerned, Library 2.0 was first mentioned on Internet Librarian as recently as in October that same year. According to Casey the library, and in particular the public library, is at the crossroads. Libraries must constantly be in a process of change with users playing an active, participating role. The transition is from being a supplier of information to becoming a communication partner.

In Library 2.0 services are continuously evaluated and updated in step with changing user requirements. The core of Library 2.0 is thus one of constant change, where information, expertise and resources are just as likely to come from users as from the library’s own shelves. This process demands an ability to make use at all times of whatever technology is most suitable to ensure mutual co-operation and dialogue.

Given efficient two-way communication, library services will be able to develop and improve quickly and continuously. In this process the user is participant, partner in dialogue, author and consultant, regardless of whether the product is physical or virtual. Many of the elements of Web 2.0, once they are transferred to the library sector, will help to achieve this dynamic state.

As was the case with Web 2.0, Casey’s contribution immediately sparked a discussion in the corresponding library blogosphere as to what the concept should actually entail. The initial definition of Library 2.0 incorporates even more clearly than Web 2.0 an image of social processes and the consequent structures rather than focusing on the underlying technology which makes these processes possible. It obviously embraces more than blogs,Wikis and toolbars as substitutes for library home pages. As such, meaning can be poured into the concept dependent on the individual debater’s agenda. Moreover, in spite of the fact that it has only existed for a short time, there are already those in the blogging world who have adopted Library 2.0 as an ideology and as a vision of a future where a combination of openness and new technology will make libraries better able to carry out the tasks allotted to them.

What in fact are these tasks? Some people go so far as to prophesy a radical break with the Library 1.0 of today. Discussion is intense in the blog environment as to whether Library 2.0 should come about through evolutionary development or by direct revolution.

There are those who regard Web 2.0 with suspicion as a hype aimed at creating new enthusiasm for the Web and Web technology now that the wounds caused by the bursting of the IT-bubble have more or less healed.

It is equally possible to regard Library 2.0 simply as a resource for those who wish to replace today’s traditional library image with something ostensibly new and more modern. Technology and services that have already existed for some time are also incorporated into the concept and given a new, collective significance in the attempt to forecast a totally new future for libraries. To this extent Library 2.0 has become the “in” word for suppliers of library management systems who hope to position themselves as future service providers. It has also been adopted as a manifesto by those in libraries who wish to distance themselves and their identity from the traditional librarian’s role.

Same shit, new wrapping?
Library 2.0 has also been launched in Norway, mainly by library personnel active in the blog environment. The subject has been raised at seminars, tentative e-mail discussions have taken place and a prominent Norwegian blogger is even in the process of writing a book. Considering the speed with which the concept is spreading and also the enthusiastic response from certain individuals, it seems appropriate to recall previous buzzwords which are now somewhat exhausted but which to some extent are given a new lease of life in the Library 2.0 concept; terms such as “lifelong learning”, “the seamless library” and “the knowledge society” (kunnskapsallmenningen).

“Seamless”, for example, has been enthusiastically used in connection with various types of media, media collections, libraries, librarians, users and even society itself. In Library 2.0 one recognises immediately the same desire to break down all barriers. Previously the possibility of being able to return a book to the library of your choice was one aspect of seamlessness. Today this vision is part of Library 2.0. There is nothing new in the concept of libraries providing access to information whenever the user needs it, in any place and at any time. Now, however, the prospect is that by exploiting the latest technology libraries will become omnipresent and all-embracing.

Whereas seamlessness was previously exemplified by a common portal to all the collections in Norwegian libraries, technology has now gone one step further to a situation where different services can constantly be combined in newer and better ways. Portals are out. Mashups are in.

As in web 2.0 the emphasis is on the end-user and the formation of communities. Libraries are open and allembracing. Restrictions on user behaviour are removed, the user becoming a partner and a contributor to the work of the library. As stated earlier, radical trust is the basis for interaction with library users, now to be regarded as partners in co-operation. Instead of handing out one-way information as before, the library now participates in a dialogue. This can be exemplified by greater interactivity in the form of a Web presence offering users the possibility not only of making suggestions but of becoming active participants, contributors and communication partners in the day-to-day work of the library, both on the Web and in the physical world. The work of librarians is primarily directed outwards and is of a social nature both inside and outside the four walls of the library. Through blogging, cooperation and the creation of communities, the library wins a place as a conscious part of an active, local social group. By tagging library catalogues users contribute to the creation of so-called folksonomies, thereby challenging librarian tolerance at the most elementary level, namely classification and cataloguing.

But what is it, really?
Of the existing “library services” included in Library 2.0 those most often referred to are LibraryThing.com and Google’s digitalisation initiative, although neither are the work of libraries.

In Denmark, however, an initiative is well under way in cooperation with Google to make library content generally accessible through their search engine. In the Norwegian library sector there are nevertheless some large and small services available which, given a certain amount of goodwill and depending on who you ask, could be classified under the same flag. The foremost example is perhaps “Biblioteksvar”, where at the moment 39 libraries cooperate in order to provide the public with answers to their queries through chat rooms, e-mail or SMS.

Providers of library management systems have collaborated in the production of a joint library card to be used in all libraries throughout the country. To an ever-increasing degree system providers are also introducing self-service borrowing facilities and additional services in connection with catalogues, such as the possibility for users to submit their own book reviews or to obtain lists of the most recently borrowed and popular books.

A mobile library tours the southern Sami language areas on both sides of the Norwegian-Swedish border, offering a cultural meeting-place and providing multimedia presentations, exhibitions, theatre and literature. The Norwegian Consumer Council has trained librarians throughout the country in the special area of consumer information. Many libraries bring books out to the homes of people who have difficulty in getting to a library. In some places librarians deliver books and information to local health clinics. “Seniorsurf” is a national programme designed to introduce senior citizens to the mysteries of the Internet. Other programmes, like Deichman library’s Digital Workshop and Reaktor attract users to the challenge of becoming active producers of content.

However, in spite of the fact that all of these services individually might fulfil certain aspects of the Library 2.0 concept, there is still something lacking. Somehow in the larger picture of Norwegian libraries, seamlessness does not quite work. Perhaps it is that communication, cooperation and extroversion are not the strongest features of the Norwegian library sector.

The individual elements need a framework, an ideology to inspire enthusiasm and create among people an awareness of the whole picture. Though we don’t really know what Library 2.0 is yet, can it prove to be the answer?

Web 2.0 might entail

  • The transition of websites from isolated information silos to sources of content and functionality, thus becoming a computing platform serving web applications to end users
  • A social phenomenon referring to an approach to creating and distributing Web content itself, characterized by open communication, decentralization of authority, freedom to share and re-use, and “the market as a conversation”
  • A more organized and categorized content, with a far more developed deep linking web architecture
  • A shift in economic value of the web, possibly surpassing that of the dot com boom of the late 1990s
  • A marketing term to differentiate new web businesses from those of the dot com boom, which due to the bust now seem discredited
  • The resurgence of excitement around the possibilities of innovative web applications and services that gained a lot of momentum around mid 2005.

Library 2.0 might entail

  • Browser + Web 2.0 Applications + Connectivity = Full-featured OPAC
  • Harness the library user in both design and implementation of services
  • Library users should be able to craft and modify library provided services
  • Companies wanting to do business with public or academic libraries should not be creating proprietary software; Library 2.0 is not a closed concept.
  • Constant change is replacing the older model of upgrade cycles
  • Beta is forever (services are never “finished”, but in constant development)
  • Harvest and integrate ideas and products from peripheral fields into library service models
  • Continue to examine and improve services and be willing to replace them at any time with newer and better services.
  • Library 2.0 is a disruptive idea
  • Rigidity breeds failure
  • Harness the long tail
(Source: Wikipedia.org )

Learn the terminology

Ajax – Asynchronous JavaScript and XML for web development

Blogosphere – the collective term encompassing all weblogs or blogs as a community or social network.

Chat – an internet chat room or instant messaging system

Folksonomy – a collaboratively generated, open-ended labelling system that enables Internet users to categorize content such as Web pages, online photographs, and Web links. The freely chosen labels – called tags – help to improve search engine’s effectiveness because content is categorized using a familiar, accessible, and shared vocabulary

IM – instant messaging

The long tail – the colloquial name for a feature of statistical distributions, whereas a high-frequency or highamplitude population is followed by a low-frequency or low-amplitude population which gradually “tails off”. Used in business models to denote that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough. Mashup – a website or web application that uses content from more than one source to create a completely new service.

Podcast – the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programs or music videos, over the Internet using either the RSS or Atom syndication formats

RSS – Really Simple Syndication, a form of web syndication used by news websites and weblogs

Social computing – the use of social software, a growing trend in ICT usage of tools that support social interaction and communication.

Social networks – a social structure made of nodes which are generally individuals or organizations

Wiki – type of website that allows users to add, remove, or otherwise edit all content

(Source: Wikipedia.org)

Translated by Eric Deverill Portrait by Chris Eriksen

Senior Engineer ABM-utvikling and Journalist "Bok og bibliotek".