The Conceptual Librarian

June 10, 2008

Libraries 2.0 – the perpetual experiment

Filed under: Uncategorized — conceptlib @ 4:39 pm
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Librarians are confronted by a smörgåsbord of innovative and/or wacky inventions on the web – all vying for our consideration.

Many concepts are bandied about: social networking, convergence, anything prefixed by the letter “e” or suffixed by “2.0”.

Over the past few weeks we’ve delved into a wide variety of software offerings and through practical experience have come to certain conclusions about their value to our libraries (i.e. our users).

What we really have to come to terms with is the notion that suddenly the library has become a networked global entity.

The key to Libraries 2.0 is communication.

Things have certainly changed since the card catalog.

Picture this. Now you do all your searching from home. Type in a subject heading (aka to library boffins “metadata” or to the Web 2.0 set a “tag”) and immediately receive a Library Thing style display of books. Once you’ve judged your book by its cover, click on it for further details. Perhaps there is an Amazon.com style facility to “search inside” so you can check the contents and index pages. Look at reader reviews and ratings.

Tick the boxes for books only located in your favorite branch and are on the shelf at the moment and you’ve got a powerful filtering tool.

Then check out the things other library patrons with similar interests found “Delicious” and you’re well on your way to a robust well rounded library experience.

The librarians’ challenge is to decide on which Web 2.0 style tools to integrate into the library website.

The second, perhaps greater challenge is to wrest control of the library website away from the IT department, whose agenda has little to do with yours.

The other battle will be with the suits in the marketing department who are terrified about contaminating the corporate brand in a social networking environment that is beyond their control.

If the use of these third party technologies means that you relinquish copyright and are prone to a bombardment of advertising, they have a point. Instead of migrating your reputable brand to a rebel MySpace site, do your testing there, then approach the tie clad pen pushers in administration to purchase the necessary software. Plenty of it is open source so it is free anyway.

Today’s library needs staff with programming skills so you aren’t placed at the bottom of the waiting list in the IT pecking order.

Perhaps a separate server (costing peanuts) is required to keep any interaction with a hacker happy public at absolute arms length from the Institute’s precious crown jewels ($$$).

The other point to make is that every element of your site that solicits contributions from users, be it a review function in the catalog or a blog, must be moderated to ensure it complies with the current political correctness. This will avoid embarrassment and/or litigation. Maniacs who cry censorship can be advised to establish their own blogs.

The medium is not necessarily the message. Website design and content must abandon the retrograde ivory tower approach and right from the home page “give ’em what they want.” Sure the nitty gritty (e.g. rules and regulations) needs to be there, somewhere, perhaps as an appendix, but that’s not what this new technology is designed for.

For example would a podcast by the library manager giving a lively recital of the collection development policy leave today’s savvy web surfers spellbound?

Vision impaired students who cannot read the policy on the website can have it read to them by their computer as long as your site complies with the WW3 consortium’s Accessibility Guidelines.

It may be necessary to assign one staff member to take charge of the library’s digital media activities. Once you start posting content it’s not just a matter of filming, editing, compressing and uploading. Someone needs to manage copyright. Release forms must be filled out.

As a government organization you can’t adopt the cavalier YouTube approach of uploading whatever you like and damn the torpedoes. When it comes to litigation, unlike a penniless skater boy blogger, the library is a sitting target.

But forget the multi million dollar compensation threats from the big record and movie companies. The internet isn’t a so called “legal minefield” as long as you follow a few basic principles which you should be aware of anyway from years of monitoring the 10% for research photocopying rules.

Many libraries have already implemented a lot of these technologies. Pressure on the library management system vendors to beef up graphics, facilitate convergence through seamless federated search engines, etc – with a facility to store and remember searches and offer suggestions in a “my library” area – needs to be stepped up. After all we are paying through the nose for these systems. Nifty little asides like Rolio have their moment in the sun until your established library management system absorbs their ideas.

The funny thing is, although a lot of these things we have looked at over the past weeks are new to me, I feel like I’m talking about the past and that 3.0 is already upon us.

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