What The iPod Shuffled Up On My Walk This Morning
The Problem With Models

"Library 2.0" and Wikipedia

The topic for today's Talis podcast conversation is the recent dustup over the suggestion that the Wikipedia article on Library 2.0 should be removed.    The suggestion was made a week ago, on the basis that it was a neologism coined by bloggers and used by bloggers, and thus unworthy of a Wikipedia entry.  By yesterday, it was clear that the overwhelming opinion (of those who cared to comment) was that it should be kept.  I strongly agree, although I'm firmly in the camp of the last commenter who, while supporting the notion to keep it, said, "the term causes my teeth to grind."

I still hope that the term will fade away, but certainly the Wikipedia article, which documents the discussion that has swirled around it for the past year, is valuable and serves as an important bit of background and a useful pointer.

My problem with the term is the same as ever -- it is simply incoherent.  People who use the term refer continually to the "Library 2.0 concept" but I'll be damned if I can figure out what that "concept" is.  Everyone who uses it has their own intention for it, and one knows that it has something to do with social networking software and with making libraries better, but is there really any more to it than that?  It's a very sloppy use of language, and I'm a firm believer in the concept that a sloppy use of language betrays sloppy thinking.

That being said, I'm hesitant to criticize those who have done the most to promote the term, because there's no question that the work being done by people like Michael Stephens and Michael Casey is extremely important, and the ideas that they are promoting for how we can keep our organizations alive and vibrant and useful has added a great deal to the discussion of what we want our organizations to be and how we want to interact with our communities.

But here's my problem -- in their LJ article, Casey and Laura C. Sevastinuk refer to "Library 2.0" as a "new model for library service."  They say further that "the heart of Library 2.0 is user-centered change."  They define a Library 2.0 service as "Any service, physical or virtual, that successfully reaches users, is evaluated frequently, and makes use of customer input..."

It's that last phrase that really sets my teeth on edge.  If one has followed the management and organizational literature for the past fifty years or so, it is pretty clear that the phrase Casey and Sevastinuk are using to define Library 2.0 services applies to the goal for every service for every organization.  But by defining it as "Library 2.0" and as a new model, they necessarily place it in opposition to the old model, which must have been Library 1.0 and which, by the definition of 2.0, must have been a model of librarianship that was opposed to reaching users, evaluating services, and making use of customer input.  It's not enough to say that there are tools and ways of doing things that enable us to reach customers better now -- by casting it as a new model, they are, intentionally or unintentially I'm not sure, suggesting that prior to the last couple of years, the model of librarianship was essentially anti-user and opposed to change. 

Clearly this is nonsense.  The real challenge is that ALL organizations are by their nature change-resistant, and the leaders of most organizations are unduly cautious.  Again, refer to half a century of management literature.  At least since Dewey, the model of librarianship has been one of carefully matching services to user needs and desires, evaluating what we're doing, making use of the latest technology, etc., etc.  The extent to which individual librarians or library organizations have lived up to that model is a different question, but the model has been user-centered for a very long time.

Look at it this way -- if Library 2.0 is a new model that is just catching on, then most librarians must still be working under the old, Library 1.0 model.  That means that there must be many librarians who would argue that we should not be making use of customer input, and who are opposed to evaluating our services.  And not just that there must be librarians who profess those positions, it must be that this is what is taught in library schools and preached at conferences -- after all, those are the places in which the model of a profession is shaped.  But can anyone seriously argue that such a model, an anti-user Library 1.0, actually exists or has ever existed?  But if Library 1.0 doesn't exist, then Library 2.0 doesn't either.  That's simply the way that the language works.

Should we be making use of all of the new social networking tools?  Of course.  Should we be encouraging creative user involvement in designing our services?  Of course.  Should we be change agents in our communities?  Of course.    But will waving the Library 2.0 banner make a timid library director slap his or herself upside the head and say, "My goodness!  I'm supposed to be user-centered!!"  I doubt it.


Comments

Marcus

I'd argue that Library 2.0 is "over-hyped" rather than "incoherent." The idea that we should use new technologies to reach users in new ways is both coherent and persuasive.

The problem is the straw man, that bad old Library 1.0 when nobody cared about their patron's needs. Obviously this is not the case, and hopefully no Library 2.0 advocate believes that it is. So I see the rhetoric as evidence of excessive fervor rather than incoherence.

T Scott

For "Library 2.0" to be coherent (particularly in the sense of the "Library 2.0 model"), it needs to clearly denote a concept or set of concepts that can be discretely defined and uniquely associated with the term. This simply isn't the case.

I agree that the "idea that we should use new technologies to reach users in new ways" is coherent, but that is very far from being a generally accepted definition of "Library 2.0".

Jaena

It seems to me that some of the problems with Library 2.0 come from the idea that it's a new model. As you've pointed out, it's not really new. I think it is, however, an updated model. If Library 2.0 is positioned this way, as an update to Library 1.0, then I don't think there's the same dichotomy.

T Scott

Jaena -- that strikes me as a promising approach. How, then, would you characterize the essential features of the updated L2 model that differentiate it from the older L1 model?

Jaena

I think users are at the center of both L1 and L2. The big difference with L2 is the technologies we're taking advantage of to serve those users. Also, (and I think this might be something from a talk you gave at MS State this summer) with L1, we brought all the society's knowledge/resources together under one roof, or at least tried to. With L2, it's more diffuse...we're working on sending those resources out to our users so they can get the information they need, oftentimes without even leaving their homes.
But that's not to say that the "library as place" isn't important in L2.

schnell

If librarians can use the L2 moniker as a tool for change, that's great! I am for anything that can get people to think differently! At the same time I do not care for the "point oh" labels since they force one to think in a linear progression. If the is an L2 there HAS to be an L3, L4, and so on. My position is that L2 happened a LONG time ago - back when they started to take chains off of books.

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