Daily Archives: December 5, 2005

High Anxiety

Lots of interesting stuff in this week’s Chron on technology and libraries. One piece in particular is a paranoid’s dream. James G. Neal, in “Information Anarchy or Information Utopia?” offers a long list of our current phobias. Now I’m worried because hardly any of this stuff frightens me.

An example: “The relationships between libraries and faculty members will be disruptive. We must more effectively integrate the library into the academic enterprise. Libraries must be professors’ partners, not their servants.” Wow. When I showed up for work twenty years ago as a member of the faculty nobody asked me where my maid’s uniform was. If that was disruptive, I missed it.

And this: “And the weak leadership-development efforts in academic libraries will produce chaotic administrative turnover. Where will we find the next generation of academic-library leaders?” Um, how about looking at the librarians we’re hiring? They’re not wearing maid’s uniforms either. In fact, most of the ones I know are expecting to lead, and excited about it. If leadership is reserved to administrators who have to be removed from libraries to receive special training, we’re in trouble. You know how they do it in the sciences? They mentor new scientists and they do so assuming they are all part of the same glorious enterprise. That’s leadership development with integrity.

Anxiety is one of the most potent levers available for making your agenda into a significant social issue. (If you want to know how it works, read Philip Jenkins or Joel Best. Fascinating stuff.) Librarians are as prone as anyone to sound the alarms in order to raise the profile of something they care about. But on most of the issues listed in this article I think our profession has a much better record than Neal suggests. It’s the Wrong Platform Syndrome. We are perennially afraid of being left behind, even when we’re ahead of the curve.

Maybe it’s just a simple misunderstanding. Anarchists are utopians. They believe people are capable of acting in the insterests of others. The majority of librarians and library workers I know fall into that camp (without being perceived as servants) and they don’t think change is disruptive; it’s simply the most rewarding part of the job.

What Do You Know About Web/Lib 2.0

Have you been following conversations about Web 2.0 and Library 2.0? While I don’t think they will change your world, the papers and subsequent discussions are of interest and make for some worthwhile reading. As I read the materials my main impression is, “Hmm, this sounds vaguely familiar, sort of like the things academic librarians have been doing for some time now.” But that’s not to say we couldn’t use a good reminder that there are new tools and technologies out there, and that we need to remain innovative in how we apply them to the work of connecting our user populations to the information they need – and to us and our library resources – and perhaps giving them a larger role in participating in the process of building and guiding our enterprises.

There’s a fair amount of literature on Web 2.0. While most of the library-related discussions have pointed to an article that appeared in Ariadne titled “Web 2.0: Building the New Library” I actually prefer an article from BusinessWeek that gives a “people” rather than “tech” perspective on how Web 2.0 will manifest itself in our interaction with the Web. Put simply, Web 2.0 is “a whole new web that will be built by and around you.” In other words, collaboration and participation by individuals in web spaces will build and give context to Web 2.0. A brief and slightly more techy perspective, but not unreadable, can be found in this article in PC World.

Paul Miller, the author of the Ariadne article, takes his discussion of Web 2.0 and libraries a step further and develops a set of principles for something called Library 2.0. In a piece called “Do Libraries Matter?” Miller and a colleague from Talis further elaborate on how libraries can incorporate Web 2.0 principles to “operate according to the expectations of today’s users” and “make information available wherever and whenever the user requires it.” Does that strike you as a radically innovative proposal? Next, take a look at Michael Stephens’ interpretation of Library 2.0 over at the ALA TechSource blog. Always sensible and upbeat, Stephens’ puts his unique spin on Library 2.0, and although his own vision may be a bit too tech fad-oriented for some us it adds a good perspective to the conversation – as do the comments to his piece.

Make your final stop Bill Drew’s post about Library 2.0 where he reflects on those ways in which his own academic library is already accomplishing or moving in the direction of acheiving some Library 2.0 services – even if they aren’t calling it that. I think he makes a good point that academic libraries ought to examine the Library 2.0 propositions, which even if they are a bit of “old wine in a new bottle” (e.g., suggesting that libraries should integrate into courseware - that’s so academic library 1.0), are well worth considering. The nature of the web is going to change, the new role people and communities play in developing and structuring web services is already happening, and academic librarians need to be thinking about their place in this changing environment.

What would I add to Library 2.o? Well, I think the authors missed something important that is essential to any library’s core value system – user education. So I propose two additional Library 2.0 principles:

* The Library Facilitates the User’s Discovery of Their Many Information Options and How to Choose Wisely From Among Them.

* The Library Integrates Itself Into Those Places, Physical and Virtual, Where Learning Takes Place.

If the point of Library 2.0 is, as Miller says, to reinforce that libraries really do matter, then the path to accomplishing that leads to those places, physical and virtual, where learning happens. We need to figure out how to exploit Web 2.0 and the many new social collaboration and networking resources that will take us there. These recent publications and posts provide some ideas worth digesting.

Good Experience vs. Google Experience

There is an ongoing conversation/movement within our professional community that I refer to as “Googlelization“. I define it as the desire to make traditional library databases – and you can throw OPACs in there too – look, act, and feel just like Google. The rationale of the Googlelizers is that today’s information seeker simply wants results, and the less thought it takes to get more results even faster makes it all the better. In other words if academic libraries want to appeal to today’s searchers they’d better be able to give them a Google experience. I’d like to think we can do better.

I got to thinking about this when I came across a thoughtful discussion about what constitutes a good experience. According to the author there are three components that must intertwine to deliver a good experience for an end user. They are: (1) Aesthetics; (2) Meaning; and (3) Efficiency. To keep this post short I won’t describe each; you can read more at the original post. My point is that libraries can bring all three of those components together in delivering a good user experience.

Aesthetics and meaning, points out the author, are long standing elements of philosophical conversations that extend back to ancient Greece. But efficiency is more recent, and he specifically identifies Google as an example of “instant efficiency.” But I think many academic librarians could recall searches for which Google or another search engine provided results that were instant but not efficient, which by definition means a useful and effective practice. Certainly there are times when library databases can be equally frustrating. But in the context of a good experience perhaps there is more to one when it comes to finding information than just having access to search engines and databases. The meaning and aesthetics could come from the context of the search. Are the aesthetics better when it happens in a library environment of serious study or among fellow students? Is there more meaning when one can consult a librarian for assistance or help in interpreting search results?

There must be more to a good experience than just efficiency at all costs. Perhaps we would be well advised to concentrate on aesthetics, meaning, and efficiency in an effort to fashion a good experience for our user communities. I’m sure we must have some philosophers among our ACRLog audience. What do you think?