Library 2.0: The road ahead

It does seems somewhat arbitrary that a term like “Library 2.0″ can be coined, snatched up, and tossed about like a hacky-sack at Burning Man. I agree that it’s not quite the right label, but to be honest, I really don’t care–if we’re arguing over semantics, we’ve been derailed. So as I use the term “Library 2.0″ (L2), bear in mind that it’s only a way for me to refer to a collective of ideas.

Essentially, those of us who are familiar with the term “Library 2.0″ all assemble in the same theoretical nebulae when we read and talk about it, and that’s good enough for me. For the moment. But there is the real danger of getting mired in discussions like ‘what does it mean to be Library 2.0ish’. That’s why I think we ought to have a series of clear objectives that forge a path toward L2. I’ve put together a list of components that, for me, define a strategic vision for L2 in terms of general statements, questions that need to be asked, ideas that need to be drawn up, and unknowns that need to be discovered. It’s important for me to do this for myself because any time I’m in “dev mode” I need to have an ideological framework to work with.

Ongoing discussion: What is Library 2.0?
This is where most of the current L2 discussion seems to be centered, and for good reason. Why pursue something if you don’t know what it is, or whether it even exists? I love the current discussion because, despite everyone’s differing perceptions of L2, there is a common denominator emerging that defines some interesting boundaries for the term. Naturally, a concise definition of “Library 2.0″ is not going to happen–it’d be a house built on sand. Assuming that ongoing discussion is part of L2’s foundation seems to be the pragmatic thing to do. Pursuing any subsequent action should acknowledge that L2 has a core set of ideologies that are interpreted differently by many.

What are our current impediments?
I’ve talked a lot about the culpability of vendors when it comes to stifling innovation. I think the nature of vendor-library relationship is perhaps the largest battle we’re going to fight on this winding road and I predict a casualty, or two, among vendors who refuse to make way. Many vendors are still building SUVs in a hybrid world.

But vendors are not the only impediments to L2. It might be worthwhile to look a little closer to home. Your largest obstacles may lie within your own organizations. Perhaps you need to finally have that sit-down with your IT department. Maybe some of the changes heralded by L2 are threats to the old-timers. I have a feeling that many of you read about L2 and think to yourself, “it’d be nice to take our library in that direction, but..”. Finding solutions or workarounds to those caveats needs to be an important part of the collective discussion.

A perfect example, that has been discussed a little, is the fact that many librarians wish they had coders to implement their ideas. It’s a good example because having coders is the dividing line between the have’s and the have-not’s. At this point, it’s inevitable, but in the long term, that is an unacceptable disparity. For now, however, it’s the libraries with coders that have the burden and responsibility to build the prototypes for next-generation online services.

How do we overcome those impediments?
Librarians are smart people and I have faith that no impediment will go unaddressed. Of course, different problems have different degrees of complexity, but discussing and brainstorming possible solutions is the first step in dealing with any setback.

I previously mentioned that vendors are a large part of the problem, therefore it stands to reason that vendors need to be a large part of the solution. We need to be able to use the correct language when we draft RFPs or talk to their support teams. I drafted the ILS Customer Bill-of-Rights for two reasons. First, I wanted to give other libraries a very basic set of demands to present to their vendors. If vendors hear it enough, they might just crack the tiller over a degree or two and chart a new course. Second, I wanted to throw down the gauntlet with vendors themselves and, hopefully, open up a discourse with them. Of course, Talis is the only vendor to respond so far, and they are the only vendor to publicly acknowledge the existence, let alone the importance of L2. I think L2 scares the pants off most of the others.

It’s important to demand change not only from your vendors, but from anyone else who is stifling your library’s progress. Share your ideas and success stories so the rest of us can see how you overcame adversity. Also, share an analysis of your failures because those are just as important when it comes to making futures decisions and laying plans. Ironically, in the Web 2.0 world, being open and honest about your failures tends to bolster your credibility.

Who is going to facilitate this change?
You, for one. But before L2 can enter the mainstream, we’re going to need an “official voice” that endorses L2 from both a technology and human perspective. Once this happens, it’ll be easier for everyone to bring L2 up in an organization and make headway when it comes to implementation and, especially, buy-in. Of course, ALA comes to mind, but multiple voices of less authority can suffice, depending on context. For now, the debate over how much L2 matters is pertinent, but at some point it becomes farcical to defend the merits of L2 philosophy. An official ratification of L2 as a label would certainly shake loose some acceptance within organizations as well as put pressure on vendors to turn their sights toward L2. If you can, lobby for L2, spread the good news!

What, precisely do we want to offer?
I think we are at the point now where we need to be discussing, in detail, what types of features and services we want to offer under the auspices of L2. Tag cloud mock-ups, prototypes, RSS feeds, collaborative development, memes, and library blogs all serve as hard evidence of a life after Library 1.0. Aside from all that, however, so much focus is on ubiquitous web 2.0 sites like flickr and delicious. Events like Internet Librarian and the Code4Lib conference will undoubtedly serve as periodical collective brainstorming sessions, but what would be great is a clearinghouse of off-the-wall ideas for the practical application of Web 2.0 in the library setting. There are a few of us in the library-coder community who could certainly draw from that pool to create some interesting prototype services and applications.

Ultimately, what are we trying to achieve?
Every now and then, stop and ask yourself why this is all so important. Maintain perspective on your goals. For my part, I’d like to see L2 reach a ‘critical mass’ within the next two years. That’s an ambitious time-line by any standards when it comes to libraries, but think about the fact that the sooner we start harnessing the intelligence of our communities, the sooner we will be creating a living record of our time. Doesn’t that cut to the very core of our mission as libraries? What you want to achieve personally and what you want for your institution need to be aligned so that you can set a clear agenda for yourself as you begin tackling your projects.

L2 is not a fad.
Despite what some people may say about L2, it is not a passing fancy bandied about by a few hypertechno-literate librarians. L2 is part of an evolution that is taking place worldwide–a movement in which the threshold between technology and individuality is giving way. Those two seemingly disparate concepts are starting to bleed together, creating the emergence of a new culture. We can be a part of it, or we can be relics. As libraries, I think we have a unique moral obligation to usher our communities into it.

Bear in mind, this post is a brain-dump of questions and ideas that orbit L2 in my head. I’m certainly no authority on the future of L2, but I do have strong convictions about it and, therefore, my interpretation of L2 may reflect that. My desire is to build interesting, useful, and immersive tools for our users. A simple goal with a very complex path.

Michael Stephens pointed me in the direction of this month’s SirsiDynix OneSource in which Stephen Abram takes a look at Library 2.0. Bear in mind that even though only Talis has engaged in public discussion, other vendors are quietly listening and developing strategies behind the scenes. What we don’t want, is a mud-slinging contest between vendors. They certainly don’t want that either, so expect most of them to inch in slowly and quietly.

It’s also worth noting that Sirsi actually does comply fairly well to the ILS Customer Bill-of-Rights, which is not an endorsement since I have no hands-on experience with their ILS, just a statement of fact. Any SirsiDynix customers want to review their API?

About this entry