Over at Information Today Steve Coffman wrote a long and interesting piece The Decline and Fall of the Library Empire, running through a list of recent library efforts in the digital world and concluding that most have been failures. His comments on “Library 2.0″ are of special interest here:
“Jumping ahead a few years, we have Library 2.0. Some may feel that it is too early to write this off … even if we could all agree upon what it is supposed to be. Basically, Library 2.0 was intended to allow library users to interact with librarians and each other online using a variety of new social tools developed for the web. It was meant to include patron-contributed reviews and rankings, tagging, blogs, Twitter posts, Facebook sites, and so on. Even a cursory look at some of the more highly regarded Library 2.0-styled websites suggests that this idea may not be going very well. It seems that any conversations we may be having are largely with ourselves, while our patrons are busy contributing reviews and doing all sorts of other cool, interactive things on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and the hundreds of other places people get together online to compare notes on books.”
Coffman is right that library-only Library 2.0 efforts have failed. Most such systems don’t aggregate across libraries and, when they do, Library patrons aren’t that interested in adding content to their library catalog, which fail to connect meaningfully to the larger digital world.
But library efforts continue to succeed, by taking advantage of data and communities outside the library. Coffman mentions LibraryThing’s wealth of tags and reviews as something outside of libraries, but LibraryThing data appears in hundreds of library systems in the United States and around the world.
Through LibraryThing for Libraries library patrons can read more than 600,000 professionally-vetted user reviews–the cream of LibraryThing’s larger corpus. And if they feel like it they can add their own review, which is aggregated across all libraries that use LibraryThing for Libraries. The results are pretty good–a book like Mockingjay (eg., Randolph County) has 583 reviews, 22 of them from library patrons.
After reading the reviews they can browse their local collections drawing on over 85 million user tags, exploring the world of “Steam Punk,” “Cozy Mysteries” or “Queer Fiction” within their existing catalog and restricted to their collection. And they can explore similar books based on all the users, books, tags and other data of LibraryThing, mashed up with the availability and usage statistics of their library and others.
Although vendors continue to sell “Library 2.0″ as a “feature,” it was never so. Social software is always both feature and society, requiring scale and openness to users’ wider world. That a library can’t be Facebook all by itself isn’t sad, or a failure. Facebook isn’t Facebook by itself either. The error comes in thinking about the 2.0 world in 1.0 terms. Library-only 2.0 failed because it tried to be an empire. Library 2.0 is alive because it isn’t one.
So, Library-only 2.0 is dead. Long live Library 2.0!