Web 2.0 Technologies and Public Libraries

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.


8 thoughts on “Web 2.0 Technologies and Public Libraries

  1. Good post, and a point I’ve been making for quite a while now. Web2.0 has a lot of great uses, but we can’t possibly be on all of the different services at once. I think it’s better to have a good website with a regularly updated blog, proper events listings that can be subscribed to as an RSS feed. You can then pick a small number of additional sites to put basic information on, with your blog link prominently used, but trying to keep a full presence on multiple sites just isn’t good use of time. The words “band wagon” spring to mind.

    As for del.icio.us, used it for a while but the poor design drove me crazy. Must check out that other one you mention…

    • See, that’s the interesting thing. I love Delicious and find it very user-friendly. Goes to show how these tools rise and fall in popularity….particularly when something ‘better’ comes along. [i]Pinboard[/i] isn’t up and running yet as far as I know it is still in invitation only beta. If I get a chance to play with it I will be sure to post on it here.

  2. Dear Sir,
    I am a Portuguese teacher and I claim to be The real wannabe librarian, as I always loved a library’s athmosphere, though I only work part time in one.
    I’d like to know if there will be soon any conference or workshop on web 2.0, Information management or about a teacher librarian’s duties/functions in general. Maybe you have some good news for me…
    Best regards,
    Margarida Botelho, Aveiro, Portugal.

  3. I think it is a matter of recognizing that change is a constant in technology and it is a matter of recognizing this and moving on constantly.I think ‘Web 2.0’ technology provides libraries with huge opportunities but we do need to recognize that it is critical to trend-watch and observe practice. I know my own changed practices provide me with lots of food for thought.

  4. Hi Ian,

    Interesting points as always. I’m not that bothered about Delicious for example, because I’ll be able to export my bookmarks to wherever I want them to go in future. That’s one of the first things that I check when I look at Web 2 stuff – what’s the escape route?

    It is difficult to know when to jump, but if you think about it in a print world – what’s the point in buying a copy of this book because a new edition will be out next year? There’s no right/wrong time to jump IMO, just as long as you do. We also spend a lot of time working on different projects that have a limited life, and I don’t see that Web 2 stuff is different. Nothing lasts forever, and we need to get used to being cybernomads, moving from place to place.

  5. Thanks all. It is a difficult one I believe. On the one hand you risk being left behind if you don’t jump onboard, on the other you could investing time in something that quickly becomes irrelevant. I guess that ensuring any move you make is future-proofed (like the ability to export on Delicious should that disappear off the radar) is essential. It is difficult to keep up to speed with all the developments (who would have thought Twitter would be where it is today a year or two back?), but maybe we should be expected to keep up-to-speed. I still whole-heartedly believe in utilising web 2.0 tools, but it does give you pause for thought when you consider that some services are very much flavour of the month (well, maybe longer than a month!).

  6. I suppose there are 2 angles to the use of Web2.0 services for libraries. (1) Having a presence in the social sites that people go to so that you can promote your library service eg. Twitter; Facebook (2) Making use of Web2.0 tools available (eg. Delicious; Blog software; Flickr; Bloglines) to improve the service libraries provide.

    It seems that it’s the social sites that fall out of favour and the interaction dies off, but with the Web2.0 tools the social interaction isn’t as important and as long as the site is up and running, I’m happy. Yes, it’s handy knowing how many people have bookmarked a particular page in delicious, but to me the best thing about delicious, etc is the service that is provided, not the interaction between its users.

    • I quite agree. I think Delicious etc can enhance service delivery and the interaction between users is less important on such services. And, as you say, as long as sites are up and running that has got to be a good thing regardless of interaction on those sites.

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