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We Know What Library 2.0 Is and Is Not

by Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk 

We know what Library 2.0 is and is not.

Before you can build a house you have to lay the foundation.

What does Library 2.0 mean to you and your organization? What is it that you want Library 2.0 to do for your users? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you must figure them out before you begin implementing new services and programs.

At Internet Librarian 2007 Liz Lawley said, “You have to figure out what the problem is first before you come up with a solution.” She was referring to the use of Second Life as a method of social interaction with users; however her statement rings true for the general concept of Library 2.0.

Energy focused on implementing new tools and programs is wasted if we don’t know what our users really want. Without knowing that, we create more work for ourselves with hit or miss initiatives.

In the past two years much of the discussion of Library 2.0 has been focused on little things we can do to better serve our users. We try to “get them where they are” by implementing IM reference and creating a presence on social networks such as Flickr, MySpace and Facebook. We attempt to lure them in with gaming nights and rock concerts. These can all be great tools to better serve our users. It is inspiring to see so many libraries creating new ways to reach their users.

However, we have to be careful to not flood ourselves with new projects until we have a clear understanding of what it is we’re trying to do and where we want to go. And in the spirit of Library 2.0, that means first figuring out what our users want and need.

Maybe it is time we all take a step back and have a mini re-evaluation of Library 2.0, what it is, and how it can help us better serve our users.

Library 2.0 is user-centric. It is a shift in our focus from having libraries decide what is best for users to letting users decide what they want, how they want to get it, and how we can best serve them. Are we doing enough to find out what our users want? It is imperative that we do the research before we throw programs and initiatives at them. Otherwise, we’re the one deciding what our users want and need – a concept that is decidedly not Library 2.0.

Library 2.0 is constant change and evaluation. Once we’ve decided to implement a new service or program, we must continually revisit and evaluate it. Are we asking our users not only if they like it, but also how it can be improved to better serve them? Are we involving staff at all levels in the creation and evaluation process?

Library 2.0 is not just about technology. No matter how much this is said, technology continues to be a leading topic of discussion. We should all be grateful for the doors to our users opened by new technologies. However, we must remember that while technology can be a tool to better serve our users, it is not the final answer to all of our problems.

Library 2.0 is political. Politics tends to be a dirty word, but we absolutely must consider it. Politics, within both our organizations and communities, plays an unavoidable and undeniably important role in our path to better serving our users. We have to get not only our staff and administration on board – we also have to get our library boards, community leaders, and users on board as well. And the best way to do that is to talk to them – let them know that we all share a common goal of providing access to all kinds of information.

We’ve heard from countless librarians who have encountered some form of resistance in their organization to Library 2.0. Why is that? As has been said from the beginning, the spirit and driving force of Library 2.0 is the same tenant that has been a fundamental part of library service for decades – providing our users with access to information. Library 2.0 strives to reach this goal in part through customer-driven services.

Politics will be a part of any organizational structure regardless of what changes come – it’s the dark reality we all must deal with. We can’t avoid it and some would argue that it is healthy. What we can do is strive to maintain focus within our organization and among community leaders on our common goal of providing better library service for our community.

If we focus too much on the details and specific programs before we can explain what it is our users want, then our communities, administrators, library boards, and staff may well rebel against Library 2.0 without ever truly understanding what it is about.

We hope that some conversation can be focused back on the fundamental concepts of Library 2.0, the efforts and resistance for change, and how to figure out what our users really want from us.


Great post. I commented if you are interested. An excerpt:

However, the solutions proposed by Library 2.0 are mostly about technology. Casey and Savastinuk agree: “No matter how much this is said, technology continues to be a leading topic of discussion.”

And why is that? Because technology gets visible results quickly and cheaply. People believe that the library is missing a certain segment of the population–or perhaps it is that a certain segment are missing the library? Regardless, librarians want to do something. So they start a blog (without questioning if the missing population reads blogs) or they have a wiki (without questioning if there is a demand for a wiki) or a Second Life presence (without questioning whether there are people looking for their library on SL).


I think the technology focus happens in part because the evangelists tend to be from the "techie" side of the coin. That makes it easy for people who hear "library 2.0" but do not understand it to file it under "SEP" (ie. somebody else's problem).

We need the annoyed librarian to start evangelizing for us instead. :)

While I agree with you overall, you mention what users "want" more often than you mention what they "need." I think there are valid examples of things that librarians can guess our users would find very helpful but that they don't actually voice.

For example, WiFi used to be this way, before everyone started expecting it everywhere. I know of libraries that put in WiFi without any users specifically requesting it, but it turned out to be invaluable to them. I think RSS is another example of something patrons could find valuable but have no idea they "want."

At a dinner this week, I noted that I while L2 proponents can generally agree on philosophy, I think all of our personal definitions are a little different. That may hurt us when we try to explain what L2 is, but it's also helpful that we can keep the scope of services broad. To that end, I completely agree that L2 is user-driven, but in my talks I also advocate that there are L2 services staff can implement that benefit patrons but *also staff.* Something like blogging or RSS feeds of new titles from the catalog can be *huge* time savers for staff, while also providing big benefits for patrons. Even if a patron never subscribes to that feed, the time savings for the staff no longer having to update the "what's new" materials page would be huge. IM reference can save the library money so that we can use it more efficiently for other patron services.

Unfortunately, I don't think L2 can be boiled down to 4 tenets, which could be a good thing or a bad thing.

One of the greatest resistance found between librarians is also about trust on users tagging, instead of vocabulary control. Will it give OPACs better performance, or useless amounts of crap?

As Ryan says, librarians wished to move on, but time and effort spent experimenting is an issue here. And a reasonable one. We need to give them real results, figures, comparisons, and a scientifically approach to show what can be achieved, within Library 2.0, IMHO.


Jorge Serrano-Cobos

Re: trust on users tagging

That's part of the problem too -- I don't think anyone is saying that this is a replacement for vocabulary control. What _I_ like to say is that there are many ways to skin a cat. I need help deciding which is the best way, and I need the excuse not to be "this is the way I understand best." Staff knowledge and capacity is one factor in implementing technology, but it should not always be a deal breaker.

In the end, lack of willingness to learn new things will always be the major barrier to making informed decisions about user needs and how to satisfy them. Being willing to say "no -- I do not understand this and yes I am willing to learn" is going to be a very much desired trait in our future librarians.

Good points about the importance of understanding the user - and taking an empathic approach to their situation so that you better understand the problem before you try to develop a solution. In fact, you might even say there is more value in being a "problem finder" than a "problem solver". However a mental process for this approach, known in some circles as "design thinking" has been around for quite a bit longer than web 2.0 innovations. This process is at the heart of ADDIE, which has been around in some form or another for at least 50 years. First you conduct the user needs assessment - then you start figuring out how to bridge the knowledge or service gap - or whatever you are trying to improve. A group of bloggers has been exploring this concept is greater depth at Designing Better Libraries (http://dbl.lishost.org) - and sometime a web 2.0 application may be a part of the solution.

Before you lay a foundation you must dig or grade the foundation. Before you dig and grade, you must blueprint it. Before the blueprint comes the concept drawing.

A house may be built from the foundation up, but it has a lot more going into it before that first load of concrete is poured.

What I like most about the concept of Library 2.0 is that people have always said that the users can be active participants in defining the future of library services. I also think that goes for the definition of Library 2.0; what I like is that each of us brings a different spin to Library 2.0. It doesn't have one official definition. No one owns it. No one "knows what it is and is not" for anyone but themselves. I thought your post was great, but I almost stopped reading after the title because it seemed like you were saying you somehow had the definitive definition of what Library 2.0 is. I wrote a book on social software, but I fully admit that my definition of what social software is is my own, and that people should feel free to define it for themselves.

It's more than just about how we deal with our patrons (at least it is to me). I gave a keynote on Academic Library 2.0 at UC Berkeley on Friday in which I echoed all of your points, but also included many others. I feel strongly that Library 2.0 isn't possible without internal changes in most organizations and so I talked a lot about what has to go on internally as well for us to be patron-centered and agile. While I gave my own "take" on Library 2.0 for academic libraries, I fully assume that it will be defined differently by every person in the room depending on their unique situation. The Talis boys focus more on tech. You focus more on assessment and politics because of your position. I focus more on organizational structure. We're all right.

My keynote was recorded and will be up on UC Berkeley's website eventually. I'll link to it on my blog when it's finally there. In the meantime, you can check out my slides on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/librarianmer/building-academic-library-20 if you're at all interested.

It's funny how my own view of all this has evolved (always a good thing). I never liked Library 2.0 because of its lack of a coherent definition, but now I like it for that very reason... that everyone is defining it for themselves. Each definition shares some similar attributes, but no two definitions will be the same. Just like no library and no library population is the same. I guess I'm still uncomfortable with the idea that there is an actual Library 1.0. I think there have always been innovators and people who don't like to change and that most libraries have always been changing to better meet user needs. I think what is different NOW is the technologies that enable us to connect more with our patrons online, but I do agree with you that Library 2.0 is not all about technology. And I completely agree that a culture of assessment needs to be in place before we start implementing technologies willy nilly (b/c they're cool or AADL did them or whatever). We all have unique populations with unique needs and expectations.

I hope the comments section here will become a space where we can all have a friendly discussion about what Library 2.0 means to us.


I think you misunderstand. "We" is collective - it is all of us, understanding it for ourselves.

Once again I think we're all a lot closer to the same position than we think.


Hey Laura! I definitely agree that we are very close to sharing the same views on these issues, as I mentioned in my comment. I'm not the only one who misconstrued the title of your post. Walt Crawford, Steven Chabot and others also thought it meant you and Michael. It's confusing since you used "we" in different ways in the post; sometimes to refer to you and Michael, sometime to refer to all of us.

I was glad to see that the title also said "and is not" because I think it is important for definitions to include both what they are, and are not. It makes for a well-bounded definition. But to say L2 is not just about technology is sort of like employing a double negative; it means L2 is about technology and much much more. The risk of open definitions is that if something means everything, it is tantamount to meaning nothing. Technology isn't just about technology either; see what I mean?

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