IFLA SL Newsletter

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Library 2.0: It’s Not About the Books

By Christopher Harris
New York

It is always a risk in the library world to say that it is not about the books. So, to use a less emotionally charged example, let us propose that the $100 laptop project, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), is not about the computer either. In both of these cases, the books and the computers are just tools. Books are a storage technology that we have used for a few thousand years to hold information. Computers are a more recent example of a tool we created to improve our processing capabilities. Neither of these technologies really does anything for us. The magic is in how we use them.

Library 2.0 is that kind of magic. The basic idea behind Library 2.0 is the development of a new perspective that can help us provide a higher level of services by focusing on our patrons. The movement was initially built around concept of Web 2.0 as discussed by Tim O’Reilly in a 2005 article, “What is Web 2.0” http://tinyurl.com/743r5. Libraries began talking about harnessing patron intelligence, using data, and developing new software on an open release cycle. Library 2.0 is really about harnessing the new technologies to focus our development activities on patron engagement. Just like the OLPC project proposes to use a computer as a tool for social change by promoting connectivity and education, Library 2.0 brings radical change to our organizations by creating new conversations around information.

So what does this look like in a real world library? Using the expanded powers of computers and the web, we can now do things with books (and the information they hold) that we were unable to accomplish previously. Some examples of this include tagging books to provide additional metadata, developing a social network around books, and even extracting the stories and information from books into new storage technologies for broader access. By adopting tags to supplement (not supplant) traditional subject cataloging, for example, libraries can provide additional points of entry into their collections that can accommodate unique cultural elements. These tools allow even remote libraries to become full participants in the global information network. This is especially true since many of the tools that make up Library 2.0 are being developed using open source technologies.

The Web 2.0 movement has brought about the development of many new free and/or open source technologies that libraries can use to provide enhanced services. The cost for developing or piloting a new program for possible adoption is no longer measured by hard currency, but by soft resources. What is it worth to your organization in terms of time to make a new project work? If, for example, your library wants to prioritize facilitating user discussions about books they are reading, it can be done if you are willing to redirect time that may now be spent on other tasks. Are there programs that are hanging on because they have “always been there” but are no longer drawing participation? Or are there tasks that could be automated or streamlined to generate additional staff time?

This isn’t to say that time is the only cost associated with Library 2.0 – but rather that it can be the only cost. Most of these technologies are designed to run on a web server and so will work best when run in an online, hosted environment. This, however, starts to cost money. When looking at these new Web 2.0 technologies, the one thing to remember is that it will either cost time or money. The less time you want to spend on something, the more money you will need to spend. Luckily, the opposite is also true. If you want to get started with a new project, you can do so with very little money by investing additional time. Don’t have a web server where you can host a new book discussion website? Not a problem. Using a free, open source web server package like Xampp [http://www.apachefriends.org/en/xampp.html] you can turn any computer into a personal webserver. While this program is not recommended for use in an online environment, if you have a local library network or even a few connected computers you can create your own internal library webspace using Xampp.

Why create a webspace? Is it really that essential for Library 2.0? I believe that it is. Digital spaces – whether built on a blog, wiki, or other tool – are different than physical spaces we have in our libraries. By starting a conversation on a blog or a wiki, even one running on a local computer using a program like Xampp, allows the users to interact in a dynamic environment. While this can be simulated on paper, using the computer allows multiple conversations to take place, and more importantly to grow and develop over time. Being involved in a local webspace also prepares library user for participation in the global information space. By writing on a local book discussion blog, a patron is learning the skills that will allow him or her to create a public blog to spread cultural awareness. Knowing how to edit an internal library wiki means that a user is able to contribute to the growth of knowledge by contributing, editing, or even translating entries on Wikipedia.

While a digital divide separating those with broadband access in their homes from those without, libraries can leverage Library 2.0 ideas and tools to build a more meaningful bridge over this divide. Instead of just providing occasional access, libraries can provide tools and support to make sure that the occasional access is meaningful. By engaging patrons in the creation of a webspaces as opposed to the mere consumption of them, libraries are preparing users to take on a more meaningful role in the global information network. As networks and connectivity spread through mobile technologies and programs like the OLPC project, libraries around the world need to be prepared to guide their patrons through this new information space. Open source technologies allow libraries to start small, building a local space that can grow over time to meld with the larger online world. By moving beyond the technology, be it a book or a computer, Library 2.0 can use any available tools to focus on creating a user-centered library experience. Because in the end, it’s not about the books but about growing human capacity.


July 2, 2007 - Posted by | 6. Issue 44, 7. Theme 44, USA, Web 2.0


  1. I am very fond on everthing 2.0 i believe it is absolutely unrealistic if you were to tell me this would exist a few years back… and I save regularly to the SlideShare library 2.0 group.
    Teacher librarians 2.0 are a critical element in the successful implementation of digital learning strategies in schools. I believe that the implementation of digital learning is an extremely important factor within schools today seeing as everything is transforming in tech digi forms.

    Thanks for this interesting post and links.

    Comment by online writing jobs com | January 18, 2009 | Reply

  2. Пост доброжелательный, позитивный и очень интересный.
    Наши дети предпочитают пользоваться информацией из Интернета. И школьному библиотекарю нельзя отставать от них в освоении Интернет-пространства. И если материальная база школьных библиотек оставляет желать лучшего, то социальные сервисы и инструменты Web 2.0 позволяют значительно расширить область библиотечной деятельности:ссылки на проверенные доброкачественные Интернет-ресурсы (полнотекстовые электронные библиотеки, Интернет-журналы для детей, сохранившие лучшие традиции печатных аналогов);вопросы, замечания и пожелания библиотекарю в режиме online; общение и сотрудничество с культурными центрами своего города; общение с коллегами в своей стране и за рубежом и многое-многое другое. И, безусловно, “рост человеческого потенциала” – это очень важно.

    Comment by Elena | January 7, 2011 | Reply

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