October 25, 2006

I hates dichotomies

As in the way Yosemite Sam always says "I hates rabbits."

Anyways, one of the things that I find constantly annoying about the whole Library 2.0 thing is how some (not all, not even many) advocates manage to turn everything into an either/or proposition rather than a more measured "and" approach. I find I often agree with the spirit of the message but am put-off by the wording and tone.

All this gets us to a post on the Free Range Librarain I read in the latest Carnival of the Infosciences.

The post is titled L1 vs. L2: Adapted from O'Reilly, getting it's inspiration from a famous essay from Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Books. The post is basically a list of old-school L1 concepts and their new-and-improved L2 concepts. My purpose here is to take the "or" out of Library 2.0 and talk a little about how we could talk about improving our libraries by talking about "and" -- adding not subtracting or replacing. A lot of these ideas have been around for a long time and are only just finding a new expression and manifestation with new technology.

So, from the FRL's dichotomies:

Closed stacks --> Open stacks

This is the only one I really think is a silly comparison, both literally and figuratively. When was the last time you went into a library with closed stacks? Not that often I bet. The implication that more traditional library spaces are, by definition, closed and inhospitable is not even worth refuting.

Collection development --> Library suggestion box
Don't most libraries already have a suggestion box? Don't most libraries already encourage their communities to make suggestions for the collection? Personally, I almost always buy items that are suggested, even (especially?) from undergrads who are at the front lines of information needs. Two minute ref desk interactions have sent me into buying flurries to fill gaps in the collection. On the other hand, I also use my professional judgement to make sure we have a solid just-in-case collection because we also need to be able to satisfy immediate needs, people that can't wait for just-in-time delivery, or for people that aren't sure what they want but need to browse and look at a bunch of things we already have. Notice how this paragraph hasn't used the word "book." You can't suggest something if you don't know what it is yet.

Preorganized ILS --> User tagging
What I really want is a preorganized ILS with user tagging. Only a relatively small portion of records will ever get a tag, so we're still going to need a taxonomy to support the folksonomy. I think the 80/20 rule will apply here -- 20% of the records will receive 80% of the user tags.

Walk-in services --> Globally available services
Yes, I agree. Both. But, we have to understand that the uses of our physical and virtual spaces are both important and not to ignore one in favour of the other.

“Read-only” catalog --> Amazon-style comments
See "Preorganized ILS --> User tagging" Same idea.

Print newsletter mailed out --> Team-built blog
It's a great idea to have a blog. On the other hand, if I were a public library I would also recognize that I have a very substantial audience that isn't as online as I'd like them to be, either by choice or necessity. We have to meet our communities where they are, not where we'd like them to be. We have to serve all our constituencies, not just the ones we think are the coolest or the ones we identify with the most.

Easy = dumb users --> Easy = smart systems
I think it's a good idea to have our systems as easy to use as possible, while still having a good range functionality. Hitting that sweet spot is really hard, and it's not like library systems are the only ones that have trouble finding it. The question here is why do we want our systems to be easy to use? Is it because we think our users are dumb? No, of course not and using the word "dumb" here is silly. Certainly, we understand that some of our users will be inexperienced with online systems so for them easy is better. We also understand that an "easy" system is harder to misunderstand or misinterpret, so fewer of our patrons will make mistakes in using it. Do we want our systems to be easy because the systems are also smart/cool/sexy/2.0/PHP/AJAX? I guess so, but I think that the old-school reasoning is sufficient to motivate us to make our systems easy to use.

Limited service options --> Broad range of options
Yes, I agree. I'm not sure what this has to do with Library 2.0, though.

Information as commodity --> Information as conversation
Some information is a commodity and some is a conversation; I don't think one kind is better than the other and I don't think it's impossible that the very same users can't be interested in both at different times. Some people may be exclusively interested in one or the other, and that's ok with me.

Monolithic applications --> Flexible, adaptive modules
Sure, this is part of the evolution of computer systems over the last 50-60 years. I'll blame the ILS vendors on this one, though.

Mission focus is output --> Mission focus is outcome
Not sure what this one means, but it sounds like we want our patrons to be happy and satisfied with their experience in our library spaces rather than just happy with the stuff we can lend them. Sure, I'll agree with that, noting that I don't think this is a new value.

Focus on bringing ‘em in --> Focus on finding the user
Reach out to under-represented patron groups, expand our potential patron base, go where the user is instead of relying on them to come to you. Sure, I'll go with that. Again, I don't think this concept is new -- book trucks have been around for a while, for example.

ILS is core operation --> User services are core
User services always have been and always will be at the core of library operations. Have all libraries and librarians completely and perfecting delivered on that core since the dawn of time? Of course not. Are there new services to add to the mix? Sure. But last I checked, most libraries have fairly limited resources so might be understandible (if unfortunatly) wary about experimenting with the newest and shiniest.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I've been secretly wanting to file this Library 2 stuff in the same circular file that I used for the 'knowledge management' fluff that caused such a stir in the 90's. I recently read an academic library strategic plan that declared that because the mission of the academic library has changed radically, we need to change everything that we are doing. I think we should build regular review of what we are doing into our planning, but the suggestion that our mission has changed radically has me scratching my head in puzzlement!

John Dupuis said...

Yes, anonymous, puzzlement. Sound and fury, signifying what we've been about as a profession all along.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

I just saw this after it was picked up in the LISNews roundup. Like anonymous, I thank you for posting this as well. I pretty much tune out when another L2 list that says "do this and get rid of the old school" comes out. A little moderation can be a good thing. At least, I think so.

John Dupuis said...

Thanks, Angel, I appreciate your comment. I too often think that the middle road is the best way to go forward rather than ignoring the past or denying the future. I also think that the vast majority of librarians out there really want to find a way to reinvent themselves and their libraries in a way that makes sense and is ultimately doable in the real world. A lot of the L2 hype is ultimately self-defeating. It just turns off anyone that hasn't already drunk the koolaid. I'm basically in agreement with the main points -- and I'm annoyed by the hype. Imagine how completely turned-off fence-sitters are?