Life 2.0

There was a discussion last week on the SLA Transportation Division’s listserve about everybody’s favourite virtual envrionment: Second Life. The discussion was prompted by a webinar for the transportation community that showed how Second Life can be used to help people access information from around the world. I’ll admit I was a little biased before the presentation, not being a fan of Second Life, but I really didn’t think it was effective in showing people why they should actually use Second Life. I wasn’t alone, and some members opened up the dialog. I won’t post their messages, but basically they asked why is Second Life the best choice and why should they expect people to use it. One of the proponents made the argument that it’s because young people are there, which prompted me to write this:

I find this discussion about Second Life to be very interesting because it’s quite a hot topic in Library Schools. The argument that we should participate in Second Life because “high-tech youth and young adults” are there rings false. Second Life itself is 18 and over, which excludes teens, and Teen Second Life isn’t widely used. To be honest, I can’t think of anybody in my age group (20s) who actually uses Second Life. Many have tried and then opted to play Warcraft or chat online. (Maybe we should take transportation libraries to the World of Warcraft? Horde, of course.)

I think it’s good that we’re actively looking at new ways to connect with users, but that also means we should look at where the users actually are and where they want us to be. Our users are not the same as some public library in an area with lots of people on Second Life. Do we even know if transportation engineers and planners use Second Life as a means of connecting for work? I know when I ask our grad students and researchers about Second Life, they look at me like I’m crazy or they don’t know what I’m talking about. In our instance, Facebook seems to be a more effective tool, but the most effective has been free candy. (It’s sad, but true.)

The other problem that I have with Second Life is that it reinforces an old fashioned way of conceptualizing information and data. Computers and the rise of the internet have made storage, retrieval, and transmission of large amounts of information possible and much easier. We’re able to look at things more abstractly to foster new connections and store information in a structured and logical way. Second Life allows for some interesting structures to be made with information, but it obscures the underlying data. It seems like there’s more effort put into the presentation rather than making it easily digestible. It’s important to look at new ways we can utilize information visualization for our users, but we also need to make sure that the underlying data is transparent and easily extracted.

It’s exciting to see librarians do anything new with technology and think about how we can stay relevant in the new, digital age. We’re still at a point, though, where we’re not sure of what’s the most effective tools are, and it will probably be different for each library. If you can connect with your patrons effectively in Second Life, that’s great. I guess it’s not for everybody.

My WoW joke fell flat, but I hope it’s even handed. That said, I did sign up for Second Life this weekend. My avatar is Tofu Youngblood, she wears burlap, and I gave up after 20 minutes. I was bored and wanted to watch the soccer.

IM me for some service.

LIS News has linked to a story about Cal State Fullerton’s use of Meebo for chat reference. Chat reference seems to be so hot these days that for many library folks it’s a forgone conclusion. At Internet Librarian, there were many references to people using Meebo widgets to communicate with their patrons. I know if my current redesign of my library’s website, we’re using a Meebo widget to hang with the cool kids and to see if people will actually use it.

Of course we haven’t actually gone live, but I have hope. I sort of wish we would use instant messaging more between staff members. If I have a quick question about serials, it’s be just as easy to IM our serials manager the question (and probably easier to articulate) than a phone call. Maybe the chat reference can start that off around here, though some how I doubt it.

Library School- Not Web 2.0 enough?

Steven at Library Stuff recently posted about a report from ARIADNE entitled, Web 2.0 in U.S. LIS Schools: Are they Missing the Boat?, which reads:

This preliminary survey indicates that LIS schools in the United States are not adequately prepared for the rapid changes in Web technology and use. It seems that the LIS programmes have not yet internalised the importance of the new, changing and dynamic innovations that are taking place in their environment. These programmes do not offer full courses that deal with the new concept of Web 2.0, and only a few of them include several issues which are based on Web 2.0 in their courses.

[T]he results are susceptible to several interpretations: The first one is that perhaps LIS progammes do not attribute a lot of attention to Web 2.0 concepts and applications as they consider them a relatively unimportant topic and regard them as ‘hype’. The second is that LIS programme planners may assume that the issue of Web 2.0 is too technical and should be taught in other departments such as computer science and not in schools of librarianship and information science. Another interpretation is that this situation reflects the fact that LIS programme designers are not open to change and innovation.

This report seems as dour as the current British Prime Minister. Perhaps it’s because I’m working on a dual MLIS/MSIS degree, but I feel burnt out from all the Web 2.0 talk I’ve had in some of my classes at Drexel. I also think this might be a problem of confirmation bias though, where I’m quick to notice my fellow classmates touting their blogs in class discussions.

As to the first point- I think it’s understandable that many people are leery of the “hype” because so many people talk about Web 2.0 applications in libraries, or Library 2.0, in a very superficial way. They say, “Isn’t this neat?” rather than say why it’s neat. One thing I think library blogs do well share information about new tools and trends, but so many of them are just feeds for accounts, that they don’t present any context for these new, exciting Web 2.0 tools. For Web 2.0 neophytes, I could see how this is off putting.

For the second point- I think for some classes that may be true, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it fit for many different programmes. My courses that have talked about ways to utilize Web 2.0 tools have largely been information science and not library related. It’s fine and dandy to talk about mashups for libraries, but are there any courses that actually teach people how to make one if they aren’t programmers? I guess it’s progress that we had to take a class in HTML and CSS, but it seems like it definitely is an area that needs work. We aren’t all going to have to become programmers, are we?

The last point- I don’t doubt that some LIS programmes are resistant to change, but I also think many are willing to change because it’s clear that the whole profession is in flux. The problem may be that it’s hard to determine which Web 2.0 tools/devices are really the most useful and which ones are actually passing fads. There vetting process is still happening and the jury’s still out, so it’s understandable that a programme may be hesitant to offer a class about some programme that might not exist in two years. Programmes should teach about the underlying philosophies behind Web 2.0- the willingness to change and adapt, perpetual beta, collaboration, and working in a more digital realm.

All in all, I guess I’m still uneasy about the future, but it didn’t take a report to tell me that. I guess I’m still trying to figure out the point of Web 2.0 in libraries for myself, and the library blogosphere isn’t helping.

Library 2.0 Weltschmerz

Laura Cohen at Library 2.0 has a nice post about whether or not Library 2.0 is snake oil or a new direction. She’s more circumspect about it than I could be, and it’s nice to read a moderate examination of the topic. This following passage really stuck with me:

I would love to see design thinking applied in my library. Among other things, it would represent my library’s commitment to identifying and solving problems in a proven, systematic way. But I wouldn’t want us to be limited by design thinking in all that we might do. This is because the introduction of a technology can evolve in unexpected, and unexpectedly useful, ways. You might carefully plan to solve one problem, and another one might be solved along the way. The ball starts rolling, ideas take root, examples emerge, small sparks of interest and even enthusiasm begin to spread. Just think about blogs. They began as “trivial” personal journals, and are now finding their way into the life cycle of serious scholarship.

I would also like see design thinking applied at my library- it seems like a good approach to keeping most libraries relevant and sustainable in the long term.

Laura also references John Blyberg’s blog post Library 2.0 debased, which prompted me to actually make this blog go live. I particularly liked this line:

The true pursuit of Library 2.0 involves a thorough recalibration of process, policy, physical spaces, staffing, and technology so that any hand-offs in the patron’s library experience are truly seamless.

The whole Library 2.0 movement/phenomena has been extremely problematic to me because the full meaning and relevance hasn’t quite been teased out of the hype and flash. After I attended Internet Librarian in 2007, it made me dislike the term even more because it was clear that there wasn’t really any consensus on what Web 2.0 technologies meant for libraries, other than it’s fashionable. Blogs, wikis, social networking, and I supposed even Second Life are fine and dandy for libraries to include in their arsenal of services if they have a point and users will respond to them.

Some Library 2.0 enthusiasts, or as the Annoyed Librarian dubbed them “Twopointopians”, seem to think that every library needs to adopt the latest technology trends to stay relevant with their patrons. I don’t think libraries should shy away from change, but they shouldn’t adopt technology because it’s the hip thing. Does every library need a blog? Probably not. I know my library doesn’t need a wiki because our patrons won’t use it, but that’s not to say my SLA division shouldn’t adopt one. In that way, I think Blyberg’s got it right in that we all as library professionals should take Library 2.0 as an opportunity to reevaluate what we’re doing to make service better, not keep up with the Joneses.