Do We Need Library 3.0?

Okay, so what does Library 2.0 really mean in practice? What are the bigger implications?

A dissenting opinion to Kevin Kelley’s “Scan this Book” article has been filed in the court of public opinion by the Wall Street Journal. Like John Updike, Lee Gomes thinks the idea of mixing commentary into works is a poor substitute for the kind of interactivity that traditionally happens between a book and its reader.

It is an odd state of affairs when books or movies need defending, especially when the replacement proffered by certain Web-oriented companies and their apologists is so dismally inferior: chunks and links and other bits of evidence of epidemic ADD. Reading some stray person’s comment on the text I happen to be reading is about as appealing as hearing what the people in the row behind me are saying about the movie I’m watching.

Apart from questioning the value of such remix culture, libraries need to grapple with some conflicting values that are heightened by technological opportunity. We think good sources have authority, but we hesitate to tell readers which are best (though we don’t mind putting best sellers and prize winners on our websites). We believe that it’s good to cite sources and share what we know; but we also believe what we read should be utterly private. We want to engage in social networking and empower our users, so we imitate Amazon and invite reader reviews; we also know such reviews can be manipulative and aren’t the same as carefully constructed reviews by experts. We love the idea of LibraryThing, but we are leery of storing patron reading records because we know everything you read could be used against you in a court of law. We like personalization, but when it’s done by computer, information on individuals is retained in ways that we have traditionally avoided – for good reason.

While librarians worry about Big Brother, legislators worry about the hypothetical Uncle Nasty. Legislation limiting social networking sites is protecting the baby by throwing it out its bathwater, its bathtub, and saying it must never, ever bathe, because … well, you have to get naked to take a bath and it might give somebody dirty thoughts. On the other hand, forcing ISPs to keep all records in case some of them include child pornography or tracking millions of phone records because some may be useful in prosecuting terrorists is a departure from interpretations of the fourth amendment that limit such searches to individuals for whom there is some evidence of involvement in criminal activity. Until now, the rest of us have had a reasonable expectation of privacy. To continue the (rather ridiculous) baby/bathwater metaphor, this is like making us all get naked to make sure none of us is concealing a weapon. If Uncle Nasty has a security clearance, he’s having a field day, but it’s making the rest of us mighty uncomfortable.

Libraries need to find an ethical way to let our patrons do the kinds of record keeping and sharing they find useful and even natural while making sure such activities either are protected or that users are fully informed about the privacy they are giving up and its potential consequences. Most of our discussions have been “get with the program or die” or “get with the program and our values die.”

Take a look at the discussion over on Library Juice and give it some thought. We surely can come up with a way to do what libraries do best – share – while staying true to our values. But it won’t happen until we think through all the implications with our patrons.

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

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