For a long time now, I have been a champion of public libraries using various web 2.0 tools in order to improve the quality of the service as well as to expand their reach. Many web 2.0 technologies have the advantage of being utilised by a large number of people who would otherwise not engage in their local library service. This is especially true for the group of people that reside somewhere between late childhood and pre-parenthood (although there are a great many parents who do not see the advantage of their local library). However, utilising such technologies is fraught with problems. Not least the issue of popularity.
Over the course of the past couple of years, a number of social networking sites have risen and fallen, supplanted by better, more attractive alternatives. Take MySpace for example. Although I personally have never had an account (I always found it a a bit of a mess), it was once the darling of the social networking world. So much so, that Rupert Murdoch (previously unimpressed by the internet) was moved to buy it up in an attempt to gain influence in the expanding market. Since those heady days, it has been supplanted by Facebook and Twitter as the networking medium of choice. Now it barely gets a look-in from people who were once part of their core user base.
The fickle nature of social networking sites sprang to mind after reading a piece in TechCrunch on the social bookmarking tool Delicious. According to Michael Arrington, Delicious is languishing as a result of poor development and declining traffic. I have to say, as a regular user of Delicious, I was rather surprised by this. I have been recommending it as a bookmarking tool for sometime now. I find it simple to use, infinitely superior to storing links on your browser and easier to use than many other similar services. Not only do I now discover that, according to one writer anyway, Delicious is in terminal decline, but it is also being supplanted by a new and upcoming rival: Pinboard. I have no idea how good this service is at the moment (it is in invitation beta mode at the moment – I have submitted my email address for beta testing), but it could provide an interesting alternative.
Perturbed as I am by the [predicted] demise of one of my favourite tools, it also begs the question: When should public libraries hop onboard the web 2.0 bus? Imagine spending months of your time training staff on using Delicious as an information tool, only to suddenly find it has dropped off the radar and has become defunct. Imagine spending months creating a Facebook page for your library, only to find that Facebook is no longer the cool thing with the very people you were trying to reach. At what point should we take the plunge (if at all)? Should we just bite the bullet and get connecting? Or should we sit and wait until we see how things pan out? I am not sure if I know the answer. In times of financial constraints, it seems hard to justify spending money on updating a variety of different web 2.0 technologies when any number of them could become defunct at any moment. But on the other hand, what about the immediate benefits. Like I said, it’s a tough call. I would be interested to hear what others have to say on this.