11 reasons why Library 2.0 exists and matters

I’ve had my head buried in an Exchange server migration this past week, so when I surfaced Friday and caught up on the glut of unread posts in my aggregator, I was intrigued by the volume of Library 2.0 chatter. I was also struck by what appears to be a well-mannered backlash against Library 2.0–the label and the the concept.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know I believe L2 is a vital and very real movement. You’ll also know that I think it is an ever-changing amalgam of ideas, dreams, and visions. It’s also very much only an abstraction to some at this point. Stephen Cohen supposes that Library 2.0 doesn’t exist, Meredith Farkas agrees, Jessamyn suggests that it’s not that big a deal. Laura Crossett seems skeptical and asks if it’s just a club for rich libraries.

I want to share why I believe the L2 movement exists, why it is very unique and why it’s not something that’s already been done. I’ll start by re-quoting Sarah Houghton’s (LiB) definition of L2, which has been used as the de facto standard since Michael Stephens simply said he liked it.

“Library 2.0 simply means making your library’s space (virtual and physical) more interactive, collaborative, and driven by community needs. Examples of where to start include blogs, gaming nights for teens, and collaborative photo sites. The basic drive is to get people back into the library by making the library relevant to what they want and need in their daily lives…to make the library a destination and not an afterthought.”

I like Sarah’s definition a lot because it does a good job of drawing L2 out of the purely ideological realm, but it’s a definition that exists in a contextual vacuum. For the purpose of this post, let’s keep in mind that the most important part of her definition is “making the library relevant”.

L2 is partially a response to a Post-Google world

Google’s impact on the way we do business has already created profound changes in usage patterns at our libraries. As Google continues to pursue their digitization strategy, libraries will feel increasing pressure to provide services that both compliment and diverge from Google. The frantic search to find our niche is only beginning. Google’s rise to an information uber-gateway is a very real delineation: we’re already using terms like pre-Google and post-Google. While post-Google doesn’t mean L2, the need to find purpose or relevancy (as Sarah suggests) in a time when it’s impossible to compete with Google is a driving force behind L2. It’s clearly something that hasn’t happened before.

L2 requires internal reorganization

Library 2.0 presents us with a series of requirements that necessitate some measure of restructuring within our organizations. Whether it’s shifting money around a budget for a coder instead of another reference librarian, or reevaluating the mission of a particular department, some things have to change in order to accommodate the types of changes we’re talking about. That’s not to say that previous paradigm shifts haven’t brought organizational change. The type of change L2 requires involves shifting focus from departments who previously bore the brunt of the public face of librarianship. For example, your IT departments (if you had one) were traditionally support mechanisms that kept the cogs turning behind the scenes. Increasingly, they are becoming an important part of the decision-making process and have more influence over how the public perceives your organization. As such, the type of people you hire into those position changes because the requirements are very different. L2 is going to require a great deal of inter-departmental integration. In order to be adept at navigating L2 waters, the old fiefdoms need to disappear. L2 requires drastic and sweeping changes to our internal cultures and will require some form of institutional enlightenment.

L2 requires a fundamental change in a library’s mission

It behooves us to look at our mission through an L2 lens. Are things out of focus? Does your organization’s mission allow L2 to happen or is it too narrow, too restricting? It’s possible to “Give them what they want” with ‘L1′, but then, how many is “they”? Is “they” the dwindling elderly population, the soon-to-retire baby-boomers? We can still provide the same level of service to that segment while drastically changing the role libraries play in the lives of our younger constituents. It’s obvious that the Millenials have very little interest in the “traditional” library. There are many reasons for that. Lee Rainie has some great insights on the subject. A fundamental change in what we think our purpose is is necessary to engage our future tax-payers.

L2 requires a fundamental change in how we handle “authority”

Many of the changes Web 2.0 has ushered in, borne on the winds of Google results, cuts to the heart of a cantankerous authority issue that needs to be resolved. L2 raises serious questions over what is authoritative and what is non-authoritative. If we are going to play host to non-authoritative content (which it is when it comes from our patrons), then how do we designate that? L2 ushers in an era where this becomes something libraries need to do. There is a lot of fantastic non-authoritative data–we just need to get off our high horses and decide to make it available. The matter of how to mark it as non-authoritative is still pending, of course.

L2 requires technological agility

While there are a lot of non-technical components to L2, the fact of the matter is that technology is L2’s impetus. I think this is where a lot of confusion comes in to play. L2 is not about technology, but technology is an important component of it. Hard budgetary decisions are going to have to be made: buy X books or do Y with technology Z? Remember, L2 is about being relevant. If your constituents, by and large, do not have PCs at home, then maybe a major goal should be to provide access at your facilities. Also, it’s not terribly costly to integrate social software in ways that Jenny Levine, Jessamyn West and Sarah Houghton have been suggesting for a long time now. It just takes energy, enthusiasm and a will to do it.

L2 challenges library orthodoxy on almost every level

Look at who the opponents of L2 ideas are. This is where we need to be pragmatic and let go of our emotional attachments to bygone notions of what “library” is. The level of self-questioning we’re seeing now is unprecedented and is representative of L2. In and of itself, questioning your library’s pedigree doesn’t not mean you’re “Library 2.0″, but a lot of what comprises L2 requires that you do so. Many of the problems we face are self-imposed–L2 assumes that we have solved them or are working hard to do so.

L2 requires a radical change in the way ILSs and vendors work

Little has changed in the way vendors and libraries work together and the ILS software we use reflects that. Discussions like the one I’ve been having with Talis’s Richard Walis highlight the fact that a lot of change is long overdue in both the vendor-library relationship and in the ILSs themselves. ILSs have not functionally changed much at all since their inception. We’ve reached a level of critical mass now, however, that will require vendors to open up their black boxes and let us in. This is not some small increment of change, but a complete overhaul in the relationship we have to this software and its vendors.

L2 both enables and requires libraries to work together

With the exception of inter-library-loan programs, very little inter-library cooperation has existed. L2 is going to require that libraries pool their resources in order to achieve their goals. This is not a new concept, but I think it’ll probably be vital to the enrichment of our systems and programs. Take for example the type of development collaboration that is starting to take place between developers at different organizations. We’re going to have to find a way to harness the “peer-to-peer” abstraction in ways that can benefit all of us. Individually, we can’t compete with giants like Google (nor would we want to). But collectively, we have the resources and societal placement to provide vital services that extend beyond our local communities. We have the opportunity to make a global impact.

L2 is actually happening

I differ with those that believe L2 is all theory and no action. I’m seeing a number of libraries taking the initiative right now. There are not just gaming conferences, there are actual gaming programs. Individuals are not just talking about their plans to use IM for virtual reference–they’re doing it now. Coffee shops are opening up in libraries, policies are being rewritten, facilities are being built to reflect some of these changes. I don’t buy that L2 is a passing fancy. In fact, L2 is partially an articulation of the action that is already happening.

L2 is revolutionary

More than anything else, the ideas that comprise L2 stand to bring revolutionary change to libraries, not simply adaptation to changing demands. Not even the initial introduction of ILSs compares to the conceptual, programmatic, cultural and physical changes that are bound to come about as a result of L2. Library 2.0 marks historical change.

L2 is essential for survival/pertinence

L2 is not an option. If we don’t acknowledge the weighty significance of L2, we will not just be running the risk of sliding into obscurity, we just wont be that important to society. We will become the functional equivalent of back-room storage full of green hanging-file-folder boxes.

I’ll admit (again) that “Library 2.0″ probably isn’t the best label. That assumes that everything that came before now was “Library 1.0″ (including Alexandria). That’s silly. I’d suggest, then, that the term was coined amidst a flurry of excitement, partially spurred by Web 2.0, but mostly by the promise of an exciting new era in modern librarianship. Instead of arguing over the efficacy of a label, look inward and evaluate your own institution’s efficacy.

So, finally, what is Library 2.0? Is it just a collection of ideas? Is it a movement? A revolution? Maybe a little bit of all those things, and more. It may not be the right label, but whatever IT is, it IS.

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