Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Dark Side of Library 2.0, Part 1: "It's the Patron, Stupid!"

This has been rattling around in my brain for some time (in some ways since Internet Librarian), but I've had trouble bringing myself to write it. I'm not a big name, and because of that it'll be easier to shout me down or ignore me. Also, I'm afraid that this will make me come off as a luddite, which is decidedly not my intent. Finally, I know that people who I respect very much will probably disagree with some or all of what I have to say, and may even take it as a personal attack (which is not my point at ALL). Anyway, today is part 1 of a planned three-part series discussing the challenges I see with Library 2.0, and how we can manage the risk of changing so profoundly that we alienate the very people we are charged to represent. I'll be running this on tuesdays for the next three weeks, to give people time to read, think, and respond. I'm looking forward to your thoughts.

Part 1. Does our technology function in the service of our mission, or vice versa?

Let me say this first--I love technology, I'm a geek, I delicious and flickr and wiki and blog with the best of them. I hope that I'll be able to post a link to our library's first blog and chat reference service in the non-too-distant future, and we're pondering replacing our resource guides and pathfinders with a wiki. Libraries are in the midst of a paradigm shift that will change libraries forever, and probably for the better.

However, my mission is NOT to set up a blog, or a wiki, or to build a 3-story virtual library in second life complete with avatars for the entire staff. My mission, and your mission (if you're a librarian reading this) is to provide accurate information resources to all comers in the most efficient and friendly manner possible, and to encourage more community members to take advantage of your services. If spending an hour a day fiddling with your library's MySpace profile is improving your ability to succeed in your mission, then hey, I'm on board! However...before you start building that wiki, ask yourself a simple question--"Is this the most effective way I can use our finite resources to serve patrons?"

How are things at the front desk? Is reference going well, or could they use a bit of training, especially if you're pondering throwing yet ANOTHER new tool at them? Is all of your current technology running smoothly, and is your IT staff prepped and ready to support more tools and keep them humming after the launch hoopla dies down? Can you afford the time and money these new luxury tools (and I'm sorry, many of these tools are luxuries--more on that in part 2) will take, without shorting your patrons when it comes to your existing services? And assuming that you can afford the time and money to improve your technology offerings, and you have a clear understanding of how this new tool will be used to support your mission--you've got one last hurdle to clear. Do your patrons even want this? And if so, will they use this? You did ask your community what they wanted and would use in that new participatory OPAC before you sunk several grand into a new server and taking that software development course...right?

At the end of the day, it all goes back to Ranganathan. If a tool makes it easier to attain one or more of those 5 laws, it's worth pursuing if you have the resources, even if others scoff at its applications in librarianship. (I didn't see the point of wikis as a library tool 2 years ago, I'm now a big fan, and I admit that I may well be proved similarly wrong about Second Life.) All of the truly great services that have come out of library 2.0 have originated from a patron's need. Different libraries have different resources, different communities, and different needs. Add the tools that will make your patrons happy, when it's practical to do so. Don't worry about what babbling bibliopundits might have to say about the tools you choose, the speed of your implementation, or choice of software. You are not here to impress them--you're here to serve your patrons.

Thursday: My thoughts on ALA 2.0, the struggles of Distance Learning librarianship, and a follow-up on the great LoC Series Cataloging debate...

Saturday: My indexcard GTD implementation: thoughts after a month.

Next Tuesday: The Dark Side of Library 2.0, part 2: New bridges, new divides...