This post is a public posting of a discussion paper I wrote about 14 months ago for my workplace – a local library service. It has been tweaked a bit since its first airing and has also been overtaken by events – notably the official launch of Civica’s Sorcer, mentioned below, which shows considerable promise of supporting some of the key ideas below. [Sorry, too new - no easily findable link on their site as at 1 March '10.] But I want to get these ideas out there more widely so I’m publishing this now, as is, so I can point people to it. Please note that I make no claim of being the first person to have any of these ideas; I’m fishing for similar thinkers as much as pushing my own ideas.

Library 2.0

(as opposed to library 1.0 with web 2.0 trimmings)

The distinction above is made because I have yet to see a library service which fully embraces the fundamental principle of web 2.0: user-created content.

Libraries are allowing users to enrich the content libraries provide, and are even beginning to allow for some of the social networking functionality of web 2.0 exemplars like Facebook, for instance with products like Civica’s Sorcer. But they are still only tinkering around the edges of traditional library infrastructure.

Libraries are places where culture and information are gathered, made easy to find, and shared. Previously, as with traditional publishing models, this has been a centre-out model where authoritative library staff describe material they have selected themselves. Library users must learn to use those descriptors as given in order to search a set of materials which they can only alter indirectly, through requests.

In a true “library 2.0” culture, library staff continue to select materials and describe what is available according to current standards, but we are not the only ones to do so. This means:

  • The public are able to not only add descriptors (folksonomies) to existing records, but to add new catalogue records and holdings. Library staff vet these entries to ensure quality and social standards are met (no typos or obscenities, no added material which breaches collection policies).
  • Collection policies and cataloguing standards are potentially more open to public discussion, and mechanisms for reporting on catalogue additions which were blocked (and the reasons for doing so) will be important.
  • Additional descriptors are not only consciously added, but are drawn from aggregate data which links search terms and what catalogue users end up borrowing.
  • The catalogue is able to distinguish between records and fields based on who catalogued them, and users are able to subscribe and unsubscribe from sources as they choose.
  • Catalogue listings are not limited to only “what is owned by and available in the library”, but are reconceived as “what is available to library members” – which might include items that are shared directly between members.
  • The library not only provides reading stock and facilities, it provides systems whereby inter-borrower sharing can take place – with or without personal contact between users (possibly using reservation shelves as delivery points).
  • To support users who do want to meet, the library creates spaces in which personal contact is safer (with mechanisms for interpersonal contact that do not require personal information to be revealed), and where users know they are empowered and supported to deal with unpleasant interactions. Access to library staff trained in dealing with such situations (and if required able to provide referrals to effective methods of redress, such as intervention orders) offers a safer environment for meeting others in the community, favourably altering the risk/reward calculations of participation in local life.
  • The library interlinks with existing systems that already do some of these things (such as LibraryThing, Freegan websites, etc) and makes it easy to import and export personal data for use in other services (library and other).
  • The social functionality offered by the library allows for people to form, join and manage book clubs and other common-interest groups. (Movie clubs, gaming groups, et cetera.)
  • Given that (in Australia at least) there is a close link between library services and local government areas, such interest groups might include local political groups, allowing for possible overlap with Council software functionality. This should be of particular interest to someone like Civica.
  • Libraries are places where people can publish their own works (print, electronic, and other) locally and which enable wider publication. In other words, the linkage between the members of the local community grows, and the link into the wider world of culture and information becomes two-way.
  • To this end, libraries provide or are at least connected to basic multi-purpose spaces, suitable for exhibition, performance, meetings and play, which the public can book.
  • Ideally, libraries also offer access to some sort of paper publishing facility – perhaps a print-on-demand service, which in addition to facilitating library users in publishing their own works, would also make hard-to-get items easier to obtain for the collection. This may be a service which is contracted out, or may become a core service.

These are only the most obvious changes implied by a thorough application of the 2.0 user-driven framework to library systems. Some further evolutions could include:

  • With the above shift in service focus, libraries may well become venues where local citizen media report to both local and wider audiences. This may or may not be desirable (as it will lead to politicization of the library beyond current levels), but it is a distinct possibility, and in cultures where the tradition of citizen journalism is strong (such as the USA) could be a major application for a true 2.0 library service.
  • Tourism applications may arise, with locals sharing insider knowledge of the area’s beauty spots or other enjoyable experiences with each other and outsiders.

The key point is that the expertise and resource base offered by a library community has the potential to do far more both within its local area and in linking (and especially publishing) its home area to the wider world.

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