Posted by: Steven Harris | January 9, 2008


Rory Litwin has always been pretty agnostic about 2.0, which is not to say he is a Luddite or anything. I think doubt is a good way to approach problems. I also welcome criticism of 2.0 that might help me to refine what I think about it myself. Rory’s latest post over on Library Juice is quite a thought provoking plea to remember what librarianship is all about. I agree with a lot that he says. It provoked these thoughts.

Principles of Librarianship: there are perhaps some in the 2.0 realm who don’t understand or don’t care about librarianship per se. I’m not one of them. Many moons ago, I published a [not-so-well-written] article entitled “Webliography: The Process of Building Internet Subject Access.” The article sprung from my doubt about commercial Internet searching and directory services, but its real thesis was that librarians needed to apply all the principles and practices of their profession to curate quality Internet resources for their users. I believe the same thing today. I also think that 2.0 gives me more data on which to base my curatorial decisions. That speaks to Rory’s concern about maintaining a level of subject knowledge and using that to assist people in their quest for information. I agree, but I think that 2.0 can help the subject librarian in many ways.

Non-commercialism: I suppose I am in agreement with Rory on this. I think it is important that we try to resist commercial influence. An equal number of moons ago, I wrote an article entitled “Freedom of the Web,” which pointed out the dangers of thinking of the Web as an inherently democratizing entity. I didn’t mention it at the time, but it is really more inherently commercial. If we want it to do things that are non-commercial, it will take the efforts of many librarians and other activists.

Information, however, is not free (idea for a future post). My library (a not especially large research library) pays a certain STM publisher nearly $1 million at year. We pay our serials vendor about $2.4 million. Our primary book vendor gets about a half a mill. We pay tens of thousands a year for maintenance on our ILS. We are always/already (as they say in post-mod parlance) commercially compromised. The fact that some 2.0 technologies come with a price tag is irrelevant in my view. What we do costs money. Are we spending it in the best way? Are we using our funds effectively?

One of the 2.0 technologies my library employs is Libguides. It is a tool that helps librarians do a really old fashioned thing: create pathfinders, subject guides, and course materials, in short to do library instruction. (I remember when it was called bibliographic instruction). Nondisclosure in place here, but Libguides costs us something on the order of 1/1000 of what we pay that STM publisher. Money well spent, I think. There are also many libraries and librarians (folks at Georgia Tech, Oregon State, North Carolina State, Cornell, and Notre Dame come to mind) who are contributing quite a few technological tools to the profession. Open source will be a pretty significant force for 2.0. Financially speaking, I’d say our system is pretty broken right now and 2.0 is making relatively few demands on our budgets. [This blog, by the way, was free. I’m not going out shilling for WordPress. If they do me wrong, I’m out of here!]

Why: I think it is really healthy to ask “why” when you think about innovation. I think it is really healthy to do the same when you want to maintain the status quo. Here are some of my responses to, why 2.0?

Information technology is changing. We can let corporations do everything and lead us down paths that we don’t like, or we can take an active role in the design and implementation. We can also give our users more opportunities to provide input. There is no status quo to stand on here.

2.0 is about giving people greater control over the information and the data they want (and have found). It makes sense to give them that power. It doesn’t make sense to withhold it.

2.0 makes doing research and finding things easier and more effective. It provides people with more related data about topics they are interested in. It gives people better results and therefore saves them time (money).

2.0 gives me more data about user behavior and interests. It improves my collection development and curatorial skills. But, in accordance with another old (well, not so old) library principle, I only use data that is anonymously or freely given.

2.0 makes people feel engaged in a process and an organization, in this case libraries. The people I speak of are both the user and the librarian.

2.0 isn’t just a blog and a wiki.

2.0 doesn’t mean library services like collections and reference go away. 2.0 makes the provision of these better.

If 2.0 can make the current beast we call an OPAC go away…it is a good thing.

Those are all quite brief and a little vague. I may have to deal with each in a little more detail. Check the “philosophy” category for more about how I feel about 2.0.


  1. You said, “2.0 makes people feel engaged in a process and an organization, in this case libraries. The people I speak of are both the user and the librarian.”
    I say, Yes! I think 2.0 is about community, collaboration, and openness. We can no longer hoard information, insist that others conform to our standards (like the “beast we call an OPAC”), or ignore the user in designing services. That is a good thing! It doesn’t mean we surrender our professionalism or throw out our specialized knowledge–it just means that we are in dialogue with those who benefit. How else will we continue to be relevant, to be useful contributors?

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