Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Thing 15: Library 2.0

I've read several of these articles--and many others--about Library 2.0.

I think the name is a bit silly, as it seems to imply that libraries before social software were in testing mode or something.

Here's what I think: social software is now enabling large libraries to do what smaller libraries could do before.

That is, it's easier for customers to exchange information and ideas with each other online in a city than it is to meet people face to face.

Taking tagging and customer-generated book reviews, for example. We do need to break out of the limits imposed by vendors (as Queens Library is doing) to allow something that resembles Amazon.com. However, there's nothing new about this concept at all.

The brilliant library director, Jean Harrington, of the Public Library of Enid and Garfield County (now deceased) introduced these ideas in Enid, Oklahoma in the 1960s. And she can't have been the first person to think of this. In fact I know these ideas were common in Oklahoma libraries by the 1950s. And again, being from Oklahoma I know that this must have started years earlier somewhere else.

Here's how she did it (and how we still did it when I worked there 20 years later). We clipped a review from a journal or magazine and glued it into the back of the book. The review was found when (or shortly after) the book was ordered, so it was there in the order file. Then, we glued in a form asking customers to rate the book and make comments in the front. There you have it, reviews and tagging before there was even a thought of having a computer in the library. (Well, many people had thought of computers in libraries, but not in public libraries in rural Oklahoma.)

There's really nothing diffent about the basic concept. Software and the Internet just make this much easier to manage.

(The Enid Library also had a wonderful collection of scripts and Miss Harrington would write to Broadway producers, actors, and playrights for comments about current plays. Many would answer and their letters would be used for displays. To be sure, these were simpler times, but it was a big deal for someone in Enid to know this play was recommended by, say, Angela Lansbury!)

It''s becoming easier and increasingly important for libraries to "add value". That can be a helpful display, a reader's advisory comment, a booklist, social tagging, reviews in the catalog, or many other things. Information and recreation is readily available--the public library was never the only source of either, but the marketplace of ideas at least seems more crowded.

Another concept behind Library 2.0 that is important, I think, is that customer are no longer interested in library "automation" as an end. They don't care that the library has computers; that's taken for granted. They're looking for systems that work together and that users don't have to understand. In a word: seamless.

We have a long way to go in this regard as a profession. Take one simple example. A customer wants to read a particular book and it is not in the closest library. Currently, the customer must do one thing if another Queens Library owns the book, something else if it is to be requested by Interlibrary Loan, and something else again if the customer wants to suggest that the library purchase the book. That's not seamless at all (nor is it uncommon--that is, this is a public library issue, not only a Queens Library issue).

When libraries used paper catalogs, it took some time to teach customers how to use them, but it didn't even look easy! Besides, the only other similar thing was a department store catalog (who else waited in anticipation every year for the Sears "Wish Book"?). And that was only similar in concept; I don't think it felt that similar to most people.

Now, searching a library catalog doesn't seem that different from searching with Google or using an online retail outlet--for customer who use those things.

And that leads me to my last point: not everyone is willing and able to use computers successfully. I feel sure of this, because I grew up without a telephone at a time when most everyone was assumed to have one!


P.S. I was speaking with a group of designers last week (I have several friends in the design industry) about library catalogs. They expressed frustrations that all library staff have heard. But when I asked "What if a library designed a catalog with a disply that looked like the creamy catalog cards, with Courier font, and laid out something like a catalog card...and what if those cards "flipped" by when you did a search? Would you like that? Interestingly all said they would--especially if there was a very faint sound of cards flipping. Crazy? Probably. But.....maybe not!)

3 comments:

hood_and_hat said...

I hate the way most library catalogs display. I think your P.S. is brilliant.

Dale said...

Thanks!

Jenn said...

i love the enid stories! and i would totally swoon over a catalog display like that. did you see the picture of the "library catalog card quilt" that was floating around online recently?