Four Little Octets

There would be no Library 2.0 without the internet.*

* Restrictions Apply

To let everyone else in on what I’m talking about, Alan Gray and I had a discussion the other day over lunch about the nature of L2. I was trying to make the point that L2 is not all about technology, that a library can be Library 2.0 and unplugged, if it so chose. Alan feels that it is all about technology. The snark portion of the disagreement went something like this:

Me: “If the power goes out, we can still be 2.0.”

Alan: “That’s because everyone’s laptops and cell phones have batteries.”


Transformative RealmsHe’s correct, of course, but so am I. We’re both approaching the same center from different vectors. As it turns out, this is a relatively unexplored finer point on the mercurial nature of Library 2.0. The topic was briefly broached by several people at one point, but never fully expounded. But it’s an important one in that it gives us a frame of reference in which to consider the types of services we are (or are not) offering in our libraries. It’s vital to understand why Library 2.0 is meaningful to us and if it is only because we’re in the midst of an intense preoccupation with its foundational technologies then that’s not terribly healthy. If, on the other hand, the 2.0 hive has cemented anything of true value into our collective ideology, then we have an obligation to apply it in our work. I believe it has.

Back in March, 2006, I put this image together and I have to confess that after posting it I thought I should have added “People” as one if its principle elements. But now I’m glad I didn’t isolate the human component in its own category. People are infused through all of these realms in too many ways to count–and not necessarily those that might immediately spring to mind. You may remember that during that time, the term “Library 2.0″ itself was under scrutiny, as well as the uncertain complexion of the very thing it sought to describe. In hind-sight, it appears that the people I’m talking about here were, by debating the existence of Library 2.0, becoming some of its initial architects. One of the paradoxes of the 2.0 world is that it is essentially a socialist system based on wholesale, acute individualism. The many unique voices talking about Library 2.0 have served to expand its meaning and sharpen its borders.

Interestingly, a mere one year later, most of us who talk about this stuff are talking about it as though it’s been around forever. Of course, it hasn’t and the debate really never resolved gracefully. Those that accepted it to begin with simply continue to, and many who were skeptical have come on-board with the anticipation that precedes a long, slow gulp of barium. Last week, Walt Crawford mentioned that he might revisit his well-known Library 2.0 Cites & Insights issue. I hope he does because this discussion is far from over and I’m very interested to hear his take on things these days. When he last took me to task, he pointed out that I was suggesting that ‘anything different is”Library 2.0″‘. Admittedly, that stung a little at the time because it was, in essence, what I had said and it was a flimsy assertion. But that’s blogging for ya.

So now I’m asserting that there would be no Library 2.0 without the internet. More specifically, that the internet was a prerequisite for what we now agree to call Library 2.0. Like an awkward adolescent, however, L2 will inevitably experiment with independence from its high-tech bloodline. Ultimately, if the power goes out and the laptop batteries die, we will be left with a profoundly different library. Certainly the one we hope to build here in Darien will reflect a set of attitudes that are less constrained by convention and more motivated by collaboration, empowerment, and hospitality. The first two of those virtues clearly come from Web 2.0, while the third reflects commitment to what many call Business 2.0.

We can transform our libraries in a number of ways, as evidenced by Leslie Burger’s transformation track at ALA this past June. But what I’m interested in here is how the internet has changed our profession, and what its legacy will be. There will come a day when libraries and networked technology are so closely associated that the very term “library” will be synonymous with “online” just as it is with “books”. As Jessamyn is quoted in the recent NYT article, librarianship is becoming “a techie profession.” For newcomers to the industry, that train has left the station–it is a techie profession. In the near future, new librarians will need to be technologists. At the very least, they’ll need to be able to participate in an information-centric community that requires all the disparate parts of the library to come together in a seamless fashion. The very best librarians will be able to cultivate those systems. We’re germinating an information ecosystem that is just now begining to sprout and it’s the next generation of information professionals who are going to bear witness to the full bloom. They’re also going to inherit what we do right now and play steward to it well into their professional lives.

And at the heart of it all resides the Network–an albatross to some, a blessing to others. The Network is four little octets, a new domain, a new human experience. And we’re dumping shit into it at a phenomenal rate without any thought as to where it will end up, how useful it is, how accurate it is. Typical human behavior. Yet its value cannot be overstated. The internet has a penchant for compartmentalizing its minutia in ways that make it seem sentient. There are gems to be found.

There is a lot of sludge too and that is overwhelming to the uninitiated. I’m reminded of Wordsworth’s Prelude where he describes the serendipity of finding a rowboat that he climbs in to and paddles toward the looming cliffs. As he approaches, a dark peak rises up before him and blocks out the stars causing a darkness that fills him with dread. For many, accepting this new world is akin to his journey back from that darkness because it is so different: it’s simultaneously huge, incorporeal, and iconoclastic. Libraries are the first stars to reappear in that night sky. We’ll help guide them through that wilderness. That is what Library 2.0 does–with our technology, our spaces, and with everything we offer. Without Library 2.0 there is only dead reckoning for too many people.

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