“Library 2.0”

Well, I agree with T. Scott Plutchak that “Library 2.0” is a mushy term. He writes:

My problem with the term is the same as ever — it is simply incoherent. People who use the term refer continually to the “Library 2.0 concept” but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what that “concept” is. Everyone who uses it has their own intention for it, and one knows that it has something to do with social networking software and with making libraries better, but is there really any more to it than that? It’s a very sloppy use of language, and I’m a firm believer in the concept that a sloppy use of language betrays sloppy thinking.

Totally in agreement over here in the peanut gallery!

…I’m hesitant to criticize those who have done the most to promote the term, because there’s no question that the work being done by people like Michael Stephens and Michael Casey is extremely important, and the ideas that they are promoting for how we can keep our organizations alive and vibrant and useful has added a great deal to the discussion of what we want our organizations to be and how we want to interact with our communities.

Amen and Hallelujah! Tell it, T. Scott!

[Casey and Savastinuk] define a Library 2.0 service as “Any service, physical or virtual, that successfully reaches users, is evaluated frequently, and makes use of customer input…”


It’s that last phrase that really sets my teeth on edge.

Really? Why does it set your teeth on edge?

If one has followed the management and organizational literature for the past fifty years or so, it is pretty clear that the phrase Casey and Savastinuk are using to define Library 2.0 services applies to the goal for every service for every organization.

I can’t agree with that. I think that every organization has paid lip service to this goal, while far too few have actually applied it with commitment and follow-through.

But by defining it as “Library 2.0” and as a new model, they necessarily place it in opposition to the old model, which must have been Library 1.0 and which, by the definition of 2.0, must have been a model of librarianship that was opposed to reaching users, evaluating services, and making use of customer input.

I think T. Scott Plutchak, like every reader, can infer what he likes from an article, but I don’t think Casey and Savastinuk implied that libraries have previously been opposed to reaching users or making use of customer input. I think they said that we should try to reach more users, to actively invite and facilitate customer input and have a stronger, clearer, more consistent conversation with our patrons.

They’re not saying what came before is bad, they’re saying we can do better. I mean, look at some of the things they say in their article (Emphases are mine):

  • …user-centered change…
  • encourages constant and purposeful change, inviting user participation…
  • …reach new users and better serve current ones through improved customer-driven offerings. Each component by itself is a step toward better serving our users…

These are great sentiments that we all should applaud.

Pluctchak continues:

It’s not enough to say that there are tools and ways of doing things that enable us to reach customers better now — by casting it as a new model, they are, intentionally or unintentially I’m not sure, suggesting that prior to the last couple of years, the model of librarianship was essentially anti-user and opposed to change. Clearly this is nonsense.

I agree that this is nonsense for two reasons:

First, Plutchak’s argument is essentially a straw man. T. Scott is calling nonsensical things that Casey and Savastinuk didn’t write or imply. Sure, that last sentence he quotes isn’t great, but put it in the context of the article and read it again. It simply isn’t reasonable to suggest that Casey and Savastinuk are calling all previous librarians anti-user.

Second, the model of librarianship hasn’t been anti-change and anti-user, but a hell of a lot of practices have been.

Few organizations embrace and manage change effectively, and few implement systems for constant, two-way communication with their patrons. It is unfortunate that anyone takes offense at this being pointed out. Pointing this out isn’t an insult to those who have not yet managed to overcome these challenges, it is the first step towards actually overcoming them.

Even if what Casey and Savastinuk write is just a rephrasing, update, or new flavor of what are absolutely old-school library beliefs, can we agree to be thrilled that they’re so passionate about it? Can we agree that there is nothing wrong with suggesting we should try harder?

If people are going to get bent out of shape every time someone says “we should be better,” how will any progress ever be made?

I am uncomfortable publicly disagreeing with T. Scott Plutchak, someone whose work I admire and who writes with more skill than I probably ever will, but the argument he makes isn’t fair to Casey and Savastinuk.

Libraries CAN do better, SHOULD do better, and WILL do better, and probably due in no small part to passionate people like Casey, Savastinuk and their contemporaries who constantly use mushy terms I am uneasy with, like “Library 2.0” and “social software.”

4 thoughts on ““Library 2.0”

  1. I’m commenting here because T. Scott Plutchak’s blog requires users to sign in before commenting, which doesn’t sound like a big deal but was enough of a barrier for me that it’s just easier to type in all of the boxes at once here.

    As much as I respect his writing and opinions. for me this is one way to represent “Library 2.0.” Is T. Scott’s philosophy user-centered and service-oriented? Of course. But his blogging software (or the way he has it configured, I’m not sure which) puts up a barrier to ease of use and goes against standard practices in this area.

    I think the call for Library 2.0 could, at a broad level, be characterized as being about making sure that libraries truly are providing the user-based services they’ve always espoused and haven’t just fallen into the trap of focusing services on what’s best for the budget, the staff, or the board. The other piece, of course, is a dedicated effort to use new technology tools that can help us serve patrons better and do our jobs better, as well as evaluating the potential for new services (like gaming).

    All of this wasn’t really what I originally wanted to comment on, though. One of T. Scott’s statements helped me realize where part of the problem might lie. He wrote:

    “But by defining it as ‘Library 2.0’ and as a new model, they necessarily place it in opposition to the old model, which must have been Library 1.0 and which, by the definition of 2.0, must have been a model of librarianship that was opposed to reaching users, evaluating services, and making use of customer input.”

    I’m fascinated by this assertion, because it never occurred to me that one had to be in direct opposition to the other just by the mere proposition. While I don’t think this is a generational issue per se, I do find this to be a very Boomer perspective, that if something isn’t “A,” then it is “B.” It’s a linear thought process of zeros and ones, on and off. Maybe it’s more an administrative perspective, someone who has to deal with budgets and the like…I don’t know.

    But it’s very different from the approach that I and many others with whom I have talked use in thinking about and discussing Library 2.0. For us, Library 2.0 is more of a mashup of Library 1.0 concepts with newer ones. It would never have occurred to us to say that simply defining something as new would automatically make it diametrically opposed to something old. For me, it’s more of a continuum, with revolutions and evolutions to be sure, but not oppositions. Yes, I can advocate against pieces of something, but that doesn’t mean I’m automatically opposed to the whole thing or that something I propose is meant to denigrate it.

    I’ve had this happen with a certain other blogger, too, where I say one thing and he assumes it means I am denigrating the other side of it, even though I never said/wrote that. Perhaps it is the way we approach these topics that is different, not necessarily our opinions or philosophies (in the case of T. Scott).

    So I wonder if it’s better to approach this whole debate by resetting it and reframing discussion of the term “Library 2.0” as a continuum (or whatever word best describes it) rather than as an either/or? Maybe if we could begin again with that basic tenet, fewer teeth would grind and we could concentrate on what L2 means now and for the future, rather than the past.

  2. Jenny, I don’t think it’s a generational issue – because I certainly agree with T. Scott’s quote that you cite in your comment. I too feel that “by defining it as ‘Library 2.0′ and as a new model, they necessarily place it in opposition to the old model” and I’m under 35. Of course, that does make me older than the millennials – so perhaps that is the generation to which you are referring.

    My teeth especially grind over the extreme (to my view) focus on technology in some of the Library 2.0 literature that I have read. I have been a systems librarian (among other things) for my whole career so this might seem surprising – but I’ve also worked in areas where the vast majority of patrons either cannot or will not use a lot of Library 1.0 technology, let alone Library 2.0 technology. These are the poor, the disabled (someone please point out an accessible Web or Library 2.0 tool?), and those happy in the analog world. Everything that I have ever done at my various jobs was designed to somehow be useful to them – but where are they in a lot of Library 2.0 technology? There is much talk about being user-centric in Library 2.0… but I sometimes get the uneasy feeling that this is only for users who like Flickr or iPods or YouTube.

  3. Geekchic, I was trying to say that it’s not that black and white as generational. That’s why I wondered if it was related more to people who have to deal with budgets, policy, etc., where their lens is this-or-that (as opposed to this-and-that).

    Reading T. Scott’s post made me realize that the this-or-that perspective is the default for some people. I’m not judging it, just realizing it for myself. Likewise, I think it’s important for people like T. Scott to realize that there are people like me whose default is this-and-that.

    Statements like “by defining it as ‘Library 2.0′ and as a new model, they necessarily place it in opposition to the old model” don’t take the this-and-that perspective into account (emphasis mine).

    You wrote, “My teeth especially grind over the extreme (to my view) focus on technology in some of the Library 2.0 literature that I have read.”

    Sure, just like my teeth grind when I read the other extreme that dismisses L2 out-of-hand without any discussion because “it’s nothing new.” There will always be extremes in any discussion. That doesn’t make the discussion any less valuable or important, and your best bet is to explore the middle and ignore the fringes.

    Just like there will always be some patrons who can’t or don’t want to use L2 technologies. I’m sure there were folks that didn’t want to use typewriters, copiers, word processors, and even card catalogs. In addition, libraries provide a host of services that are aimed at a minority of users or a small group. Large print books, Braille books, story hour, book discussion groups, “how to use a mouse” classes, just to name a few. Again, those services are no less valuable if they provide an important service to those patrons that use them.

    In fact, there are librarians who will testify to the fact that there are poor, disabled, disadvantaged, and “happy in the analog world” patrons who *only* use L2 technologies in the library because there is nowhere else for them to do so.

    Maybe these services are indeed aimed at the users who like Flickr or iPods or YouTube, but who exactly are those paperback romance novels aimed at? That program on the latest art show at the local museum? That seriously expensive scientific journal that only one professor uses?

    I think you see more of a focus on technology in the Library 2.0 discussions because 1) there are new technologies of potential value to libraries and our users (contrasted with fewer new physical services), 2) we already have a pretty good idea of how to serve those users that come into our buildings, less so with users of our online sites/resources, and 3) so many of the L2 technologies can be tested or implemented for little or no cost (which is very new for libraries). In that context, it makes sense that most of the talk would center on technology.

    If you’d like to see the discussion change a little, I encourage you to start a conversation about physical L2 services. Propose some changes in user-centered physical services. I think it would be most interesting.

    Finally, off the top of my head, I know there are accessible templates for WordPress and other blogging software. I think instant messaging can be accessible. There is software that will read RSS feeds to you. Since it’s not just L2 tools that are not accessible, though, it’s a little unfair to single them out. Heck, many library websites originally built in the 1990s are Web 1.0 and aren’t accessible. I think as these tools become more mainstream, we’ll see accessibility standards applied to them more broadly.

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