Web 2.0 – Becoming Library 2.0

Stephen Abram, VP of Innovation at SirsiDynix, closed out the 2006 LITA Forum on Sunday morning.

One of his first statistics was that libraries collectively ship and circulate more than Amazon.com every day. But we’re not like Amazon in a lot of other ways. We’ve decided we should be making decisions for our patrons, instead of letting them choose. Why don’t we have Amazon-style recommendation engines? We could at least give the user a choice of whether or not to keep their history private.

It all comes down to the user – we need to understand them better before we do something like charge in to fix the OPAC, convinced we know what is wrong with it.

Libraries do community better than Google – it’s our trump card, but only for now. We can’t cede that ground to the giants. Google Scholar has deals with about 200 database providers. What if they decide to parse your Gmail account and deliver scholarly articles targeted extremely specifically to you? In five years they’ll have 50 million books online to apply that methodology to as well.

Abram went on to talk about how students are going to use Google and the like heavily no matter what we do. We need to focus more on teaching them how to use the tools in Google well – advanced queries instead of just a couple words. We can also educate our high school and college age users about the reality of Google. How many students know just how extensively search engine optimizers manipulate the top Google hits on hot button issues?

Millennial users have higher IQs and more advanced brains, but ultimately believe their skills are more advanced than in reality. They’re format agnostic, and don’t want to have to deal with separate databases for their searches. Abram says we need to be constantly looking at realities like this, on a rolling five year planning horizon – who’s on their way to us?

And our future users really are changing – video games support a wide variety of learning styles beyond the traditional, and meanwhile sites like Facebook are allowing students to create a sustainable social network for life. Even if the definition of ‘friend’ on social network websites is different than what previous generations think of.

Abram showed an image of a giant swiss army knife with dozens of tools – no matter how useful each tool may be, you can’t tell what each one is until you unfold it. This applies to the tools in libraries as well, so we need to be more transparent to make up for it.

What we need to do is create an experience. Be the fabric of the community, not appended to it. To do this, we need radical trust – that’s what can create Library 2.0. But there’s no one step by step route to that destination. We will necessarily go through a process of trial and error. But don’t be afraid to experiment! It’s going to be required.

Ultimately, delivering information isn’t our job – it’s improving the quality of the questions.

To make these changes in how we deliver service and relate to our users, we’re going to need more time in the day. Productivity tools exist now to help us toward that goal, if we’re willing to take advantage of them. RFID and self service checkout, for example.

In conclusion, we need to rededicate ourselves to a focus on the end user. Not just today, but for life, taking into account how their needs change over time. How do we become that librarian 2.0? We play! Keep up with new technology, don’t be afraid of it. Try new things and see what happens. You can do it on your own, or even better institutionalize the change like the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenberg County’s “Learning 2.0” initiative.

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