LITA National Forum 2008: Tim Spalding: "Library 2.0 is in Danger"

The 2008 LITA National Forum opened Friday afternoon with a general opening session remarks by Tim Spalding, founder and developer, of LibraryThing.com. Tim presented What is Social Cataloging and Why Should You Care?

(Blogging relatively ‘Live’ thanks to spotty ‘free’ wireless, a wired connection in my room, and a charged battery.)

I have to admit that I played around with LibraryThing a bit when it first went online, but not much since. My take is that for individuals it is essentially Facebook for book readers. For libraries, however, it can provide a fresh discovery layer for legacy catalog systems. There are seven libraries using LibraryThing for Libraries, including the High Plains Library District.

Tim started out with some updated statistics. LibraryThing now catalogs over 32 million books and is larger than the Library of Congress. Users can search for books using Amazon and 690 libraries. While at it’s core LibraryThing remains a personal cataloging system, there is a very significant social networking component. The largest active social group remains Librarians who LibraryThing.

Tim then provided a nice tour of the major features of LibraryThing using a ‘social cataloging ladder’ to highlight them. The one I found to be the most unique was the “UnSuggester” which displays books that you will not like if you like a specific book.

The comment that caught my ear during this comments was when he said “Library 2.0 is in danger.” After the presentation, I waited around and talked to Tim about this comment, and apparently I wasn’t alone. He appeared surprised that people though it was controversial. I didn’t think it was so much controversial as it was spot on.

As I interpreted Tim’s comments, his concern is two fold. First, Libraries are concentrating on what they can do with the 2.0 tools, but not what they can do best with them. Libraries are using wikis, blogs, and even Facebook pages simply because they can. They may not be using the tools in the best possible ways. Second, vendors are selling libraries on 2.0 features because libraries are asking for and licensing them. Libraries are telling vendors they want 2.0 features but they may not really know what they want to do with them.

The reason Library 2.0 may be in danger is that a library’s experience with what are essentially first generation Web 2.0 tools (My words. Do they even make sense?). I believe Tim is concerned that if libraries do not have positive experiences with the current generation tools, or how they are being used, libraries may simply bypass the next generation tools and, as Tim phrased it, “throw the baby out with the bath water.” (Tim, if you are out there, please expand, correct, or clarify via a comment!)

(NOTE: the audience was encouraged to submit to Tim one idea that you would like to see in LibraryThing. So, feel free to overwhelm him and email one of yours. His email address is not hard to find.)

One comment

  1. eschnell

    Thanks, Tim, for taking the time to comment, correct, and clarify!! (Opps, I could have taken one more click and uncovered the list of seventy! Bad librarian.)

    A reaction to your comment about the languishing catalog,

    While the human interface of library catalogs has changed since the early Seventies, the vision of what the catalog is hasn’t changed. The catalog is like that old used car that libraries have so much invested in, both fiscally and emotionally, that they do not dare trade it in for a new model. Libraries approach to incorporating Web 2.0 is like putting fancy rims and tires on a 1970 Chevy. Much like the hybrid car, even the addition of newer ‘discovery layers’ is simply a transitional technology.

    The service/system/environment you created with LibraryThing stands in stark contrast. You ‘get’ that LibraryThing is in the ‘transportation’ business, not the car business. People are drawn to and want to participate. Meanwhile, libraries need to “RickRoll” customers into ‘playing’ with the catalog.

    The way libraries envision the role and architecture of the catalog needs to change or
    libraries may be left with a broken down catalog that requires replacement parts that are hard, if not impossible, to find.

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