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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > October 2009

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Vol. 29 No. 9 — October 2009
FEATURE
Making Web 2.0 Work—From ‘Librarian Habilis’ to ‘Librarian Sapiens’
by Milica Cvetkovic

As we look back at the World Wide Web of 1996, there can be no doubt that today’s web is better and more useful.

Hyperlinking webpages and bookmarking were two of the most important aspects of the Web 1.0 world. Soon, though, usability and sharing became very high priorities, and Web 2.0 evolved. Information published in the Web 2.0 world traveled like wildfire, and Web 2.0 became a synonym for cutting edge.

Now things are again evolving dramatically. At the DEMO 2009 conference, the Web 2.0 buzz had almost disappeared. Over the past few months a new term—Web 3.0—has been slowly catching people’s attention. We are not there yet, but Web 3.0 is being discussed quite often in the blogosphere and on technology sites.

Is now the time for Web 3.0 to be born? Despite the fact that I strongly believe in the coming of Web 3.0, I am afraid that the time is not yet right for this transition.

Web 2.0 Challenges

The key here is that the true problems of Web 2.0 are not well-understood by the majority of the public yet. So we still need to think about the opportunities presented by Web 2.0 and Library 2.0, as well as the challenges they present and how to confront them. These are topics of great importance at Matica Srpska Library, where I am a librarian in the cataloging and bibliography department.

Setting goals — Why do Library 2.0 services so often fail to have the expected impact? In my opinion, the most important reason is that the services have not been tied to the library’s strategic goals. Web 2.0 technologies should be planned with these strategic goals in mind, and this has not happened at a lot of libraries.Before you even begin engaging with a Web 2.0 project, whether you are an application creator or user, clearly conceive and state your goals. You can (and probably will) add more later, but put first things first. Build a feature at a time. Complete a step at a time. Having clear goals from the outset will allow you to assess the technology’s success at a later date.

An example of a lack of strategic planning can frequently be seen in blogs. Some libraries created blogs just because they thought that every library must have one. Other libraries created blogs just because the staff—or even just one staff member—was really excited about the idea of having a blog. Neither is a good reason to implement a new technology.

We first need to understand the needs of our patrons and then implement whatever technology will best meet those needs.

The time issue — The fact that a lot of library staff members simply aren’t given time to work on their Web 2.0 projects certainly doesn’t help the introduction and effective use of Web 2.0 technologies. Duties that are fixed in our job—duties such as cataloging, collection development, computer support, coordination, appointments, and a number of noncataloging duties—keep us busy, and blogs, wikis, etc., are often seen as “unessential.” This is a complaint I’ve heard from a number of colleagues.

The ease-of-use issue — Finally, one of the major reasons so many libraries are using Web 2.0 technologies is that the technologies are just so easy to get started with—which is, at the same time, one of the biggest problems in implementing those technologies. It takes just a few minutes to start a blog, a wiki, or a MySpace page. But keeping all those technologies going takes significantly more time and effort: Blogs need posts, wikis need content, and MySpace pages need updates.

A Web 2.0 Checklist

Before you abandon a project, try to figure out why your Web 2.0 technology isn’t having the impact you’d hoped for.

1. Maybe it’s something your patrons aren’t using. Are you sure they are aware that it exists? If the answer is no, then you should definitely try doing more marketing. Many of us associate marketing with for-profit institutions, but you needn’t feel any ethical qualms. After all, we are not trying to convince people to buy anything, only to make them aware of free information available to them.

2. The problem may exist with the product itself. Take blogs as an example: Are you making it too difficult for patrons to comment on your blog? Or maybe your blog posts are simply boring?

3. Is training the issue? Are staff members comfortable with the new technology? Offer staff training for the technology. Of course, it is probably naive to expect everyone to be willing to enthusiastically accept a major new technological development. So rather than waiting to gain general acceptance, an alternative approach is to start by supporting those staff members who are already interested in the technology.

4. Some staff members may find implementing new technologies a bit risky. Well, it would certainly be a mistake to expect innovation to be completely risk-free. Rather, any potential risks should be assessed. There will surely be a balance between the risks associated with trying out an innovative service and the risks of doing nothing.

5. Finally, have you ever tried the tools yourself? If not, then it’s definitely time to leave some of your own footprints. It is easier to convince others when you yourself have found the value in a technology.

Web 2.0 and the Problem of Privacy

Web 2.0 websites are, with some exceptions, based primarily on sharing information but sharing information in a specific way: Essentially, they are about seeing and being seen, with most offering users a degree of control over how their personal information is shared with other users.

Libraries are based on sharing information also but in a quite different way: They ­are a place for reading—which is, by definition, private. Privacy is a central, core value of libraries. In accordance with our conceptualization of the privacy of the act of reading, libraries have traditionally treated the privacy of readers as sacred. On the other hand, the features of Web 2.0 applications that make them so useful and fun all depend on users sharing private information with the site owners. This presents a problem for librarians who are interested in offering Library 2.0 services but who respect privacy and other ethical issues.

Many users share these concerns about their privacy in theory but think little of sharing highly personal information on social networking sites in practice. Their decisions concerning privacy on blogs and social networking websites are motivated largely by an interest in sharing information, being seen, forming friendships, etc. So in considering how a reader’s privacy is compromised by the library offering Library 2.0 services, we should be aware of the fact that the place of privacy in our culture is changing. In many ways our privacy is diminishing, but many people (no matter what age they are) seem not too concerned about it.

Still, we should not be too quick to accept the idea that privacy is a concern that technological change can leave behind. Library 2.0 is about participation, but it is voluntary participation. We need to remember to allow our patrons varying and flexible degrees of openness.

Effective Social Networking

Before MySpace and Facebook, there was no one site that captured the attention of so many people (of all ages), and whether we like it or not, our patrons overwhelmingly use them. As librarians, we should at least try to figure out what roles the library can play in our patrons’ online social worlds (which often can be quite confusing).

I wonder how they would welcome librarians posting comments on their profiles.

A lot of libraries have started building a presence on Facebook and MySpace by creating profiles. And I honestly think this is a great idea. Unfortunately, most libraries are doing it extremely badly. Profiles that offer nothing but a picture of the library just look cheesy and offer no value to their patrons at all. There is nothing “cool” or useful about having a profile on these sites. It’s what you do with it that matters.

Just putting up a profile does not make the library “cool,” nor does it make the library or librarians more visible. Users are what give a service its value. If a service is not being used, it’s not Library 2.0; it’s nothing but a technology that is there for the sake of saying you have it.

There are ways of effectively using MySpace and Facebook. The first is to get feedback from patrons. Do your best to enable rapid change and feedback. The second is to create a gateway to information—a library portal within MySpace or Facebook. We can also make our Facebook or MySpace sites extensions of library websites, with links to catalogs, research guides, event calendars, etc.

A number of commercial applications have also appeared to help you promote your library content on Facebook. LibGuides, created by SpringShare, Inc., was one of the first applications developed for library use in Facebook. This unusually popular Web 2.0 content management and library knowledge sharing system is also integrated with Twitter. By integrating with many popular websites, Lib­Guides connects you with patrons wherever they are. All institutions using Lib­Guides are connected in a global content network spanning 750 libraries, with 12,500 librarians who have created 40,000 research and information guides. This collaboration and content sharing inevitably leads to significant time savings and, of course, to better quality of produced resources.

I think I’m coming around to the conclusion that if it’s where our patrons are, and if we want to provide them with the best service, we should definitely be there too. At least until the patrons tell us to leave them alone, and I haven’t heard of that happening yet.

Conclusion

Library 2.0 is about constantly improving yourself, your institution, and the way you reach out to your users. In this phase of evolution, we should definitely work to respond quickly to a quickly changing environment.

Library users are not going to change the system—instead they will look for other means of getting needed information. What will change, what is already changing, is the architecture of the library. Libraries will be with their users day and night, always available, always open, building electronic extensions into their users’ homes, their offices, airports, etc.

Web 3.0 is certainly coming but not in the way many people think at present. The time is not entirely right yet, though the transition has doubtlessly started.


Milica Cvetkovic is a librarian in the cataloging and bibliography department of the Matica Srpska Library, Novi Sad, Serbia. Her current areas of interest are Web 2.0 (and its implications for libraries) and web accessibility. Milica can be reached at milica.cvetkovic@ymail.com.

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