Deconstructing Library 2.0

I realize I’m relatively new to the library scene as a second career librarian, so some of what I’m asking may have been covered somewhere already. I’m fine with being corrected in the comments (since there is no better way to learn than to question), but I’m still going to ask.

In trying to get an idea of it, I plugged the term into some search engines and then just followed the trail. I found the Library 2.0 listing in Wikipedia which also provides an antiquated round up of writings on the subject (the most recent article mentioned is 2007). It lists the principles as the following:

  • Browser + Web 2.0 Applications + Connectivity = Full-featured OPAC
  • Harness the library user in both design and implementation of services
  • Library users should be able to craft and modify library provided services
  • Harvest and integrate ideas and products from peripheral fields into library service models
  • Continue to examine and improve services and be willing to replace them at any time with newer and better services.

The first principle seems very specific and certainly obtainable. I don’t know of any examples of such an interface, but it has my vote for how an OPAC should function. The second and third principles look like the application of market research. Ask users what they want, design around it, and customize where desired.  Maybe it’s because I have a science background, but when I look at fourth and fifth principle, I see the basics of evolution. The concept of an organization changing due to external pressures (read: patron requested services and materials) over time does not strike me as being radical or controversial at all. It is basically a call for librarians to use some (pun intended) intelligent design in approaching .

So, this concept is an intersection of a still-yet-to-be-realized vendor request, knowing and engaging your audience market research, and an evolving service model? Perhaps I do not understand. Were libraries not doing any of these things before?

Maybe the definition is antiquated. It was written before the rise of the current social media and Web 2.0 tools and websites. Does it need a revision?

First, a few observations and questions off the top of my head.

All too often, especially when it comes to technology, people will cite a recent survey or fact about the sale of technology or usage statistic and use that to make broad pronouncements of something that the library should be doing. But the causal connection logic doesn’t follow. For example, if the total number of smart phones sold in the United States went up last year, this does not necessitate that libraries need mobile applications or sites. How many of those phones sold are replacing current phones? How many of those mobile users are library users? If I said that there are 1,000 people in a town, and that there were 600 people who have smart phones, this is not an immediate call to develop mobile resources. The question that this scenario begs (and that never seems to be asked) is how many of the library users have smart phones and would want or use a library mobile resource. While it could be argued that the creation of mobile resources might entice the non-library smart phone user to become a patron of the library, the counterpoint I would offer is simply, “Prove it.” Where is the correlation between the broader trends and the library user?

On that note, I rarely (if ever) see a posting, press release, or story about something new the library is offering that references a user survey or focus group or even an anecdote. It’s as if the notion for these new offerings appear on circumstantial evidence or hunches or a variation of (the term I liked the moment I saw it) Ideas Worth Stealing. There appears, to me, to be an endless loop of libraries adopting practices (either service or technology) which do not catch on. These failures are then chalked up to a failure to publicize, staff training or awareness, or lack of interest when there was little or no user feedback indicating such a tool or service was desired in the first place. How much of a stranger are we to our patrons? If I stopped ten random people in your library tomorrow, had them write down what they wanted on a piece of paper, would you be able to guess what it was with any accuracy?

Now, beyond those statements, a few more questions.

  • What is beyond Library 2.0?
  • How are these principles different than how things were done in the past (pre-2006)?
  • How does Library 2.0 address the digital divide?
  • How much is Library 2.0 really driven by the user experience? I imagine the library-patron relationship less like a ‘horse and cart’ and more like a planet-moon relationship. (If information was the sun, patrons are the Earth and libraries are the Moon. We are roughly in sync with our patrons, sometimes ahead or behind, and sometimes in the way.)
  • When will the OPAC meet the our demands and (more importantly) the search engine expectations of our users? Do we have to go open source to get what we want? Why aren’t we yelling at vendors to do this? Why are we putting up with this?
  • Has Library 2.0 been hijacked by technophiles? In looking over the Library 2.0 Ning, the majority of posts in the forums and blog revolve around technology. Or is it because online librarians tend to talk about online tools and sites?

And finally:

  • Is the term Library 2.0 dead? Is it more of a quibbling point for people who are looking to argue about the present and future of libraries? Does it really mean anything anymore? Has it become more of a “Blind men and an elephant”? What does it matter anyway?

I may get some heat on this last question, but if it takes some bumps to learn a few things here, I’m willing to take the knocks. I don’t mind being set straight, but in reading up on Library 2.0, I’m wondering what the big deal is about it.

43 thoughts on “Deconstructing Library 2.0

  1. Actually, I think your last question is the most interesting, and for me, was the issue with the phrase from the start.

    “2.0” was always a buzz word that helped some folks bundle new things together in a way that made more sense to them. While it can be helpful to many to use a catch phrase sometimes, personally, I never liked it, and felt pretty confident that at some point it would be the recipient of backlash. Its part of why I avoided using it as much as I could professionally.

    What really matters is what libraries do for society, what library staff do to help society thought the services they offer and what impacts those two things. If using “2.0” is positive and helpful, then go for it, If not, well then don’t.

    Not big drama really, as long as we focus on our missions and larger goals, right? That’ll always keep us true.

    • In playing devil’s advocate, how does this differ from Library 101? You have bundled together concepts that you feel all librarians should know and given it a name that is synonymous with basic instruction. Do you think 101 has the same issues that 2.0 has? Or is it because it’s more focused and contemporary to the present?

      That’s one of the things about the Library 2.0 discussion. Most of the articles delving into its meaning were written between 2006 and 2007, which is just about another computer and internet epoch away at this point.

  2. I always thought the term did more harm than good (and posted several times on my blog to that effect). I’ve been relieved to see that it has apparently had its heyday and fallen out of fashion. I hope your post (and your very sensible questions) don’t revive it!

    • I don’t think this post will resurrect this concept. It really might have been a snapshot of the time it was coined. Like many other things, I think people have taken from it what they wanted and discarded the rest.

  3. Dang – sorry for the lengthy comment!

    “So, this concept is an intersection of a still-yet-to-be-realized vendor request, knowing and engaging your audience market research, and an evolving service model?”

    No – more of a library-focused response to the larger, more general web 2.0 movement. both in terms of specific tools used, but also in terms of underlying philosophies of service. It doesn’t really have much to do with vendor requests (though for some of our larger tools like the ILS or databases, yes, I suppose you’re correct).

    “Were libraries not doing any of these things before?”

    Nope. Not in the “library 2.0” way, anyway. You say “The second and third principles look like the application of market research” – and you’re correct … and that’s where my “nope” comes into play. To most libraries, marketing means making a bookmark that you pass out when someone comes into the library and checks out a book (yes, I’m oversimplifying things here, I know). To them, “market research” means asking the regulars that come into the library building what they want to do, rather than asking the community, doing GIS studies to find those pockets of potential customers for a marketing push, etc.

    “Does [library 2.0] need a revision?”


    “The question that this scenario begs (and that never seems to be asked) is how many of the library users have smart phones and would want or use a library mobile resource.”

    I’d say that’s partially right. Yes to the general “find out how library users want to connect to the library then build that” idea. Of course – that makes sense. My library does that all the time.

    But the other part of that really gets back to knowing your market and the goals of the library. For example – if most of your community (not necessarily library users within that community) uses smartphones, should you build mobile apps? Well, it depends … what are the goals of the library? If your library’s goals include reaching more people in the community and making library patrons out of them … then yes. That’s a new way to deliver library services, just waiting to be tapped into.

    You say “prove it.” That’s the other part of the equation. A library definitely needs to take the next step and actually ASK those mobile users if they want mobile library services. And then … they need to be prepared with staff and resources and time if those users say “yes we do” (they said yes in Topeka, anyway).

    Another interesting twist on this one… I work in a county-wide library. For some strange reason, 10 years ago the library built one big building with lots of bookmobile stops to reach the whole county. That’s not reaching the majority of our county users … but they pretty much all have cell phones or smart phones. And many of them have computer/web access. So for us to reach those users, we really DO have to do lots with digital branches and mobile tech.

    “I rarely (if ever) see a posting, press release, or story about something new the library is offering that references a user survey or focus group or even an anecdote.” We always do that before we build stuff … our whole strategic plan we’re going through started with some huge community focus groups, a TON of market research and GIS studies. But I think we’re a bit different than most libraries… Gina Millsap, our director, actually does talk and write about this stuff!

    “What is beyond Library 2.0” – you might read Michael Casey’s book on that for starters. You’ll get an answer (or at least a starting point) to most of your questions.

    “Is the term Library 2.0 dead?” No quibble here – and it’s hard to answer, too. The actual term? Get past the term/wording… but are those principles dead? In a great number of libraries, I’d say they haven’t even gotten to a beginning point yet.

    So – not sure I answered much here… hopefully helped a bit, or at least brought up some more interesting stuff to ponder.

    • Excellent points, David. I really should have put in a diet informercial-like caveat of “actual results may vary”, since I know there are libraries out there having great success with Library 2.0 principles. As for the rest, not so much or at all, depending greatly.

      Library 2.0 is certainly a “a rose by any other name” type of term; people get hung up on the implications of the name rather than the principles. Although, half of my thoughts on your reply is that it is very web oriented, the other half is thinking “well, it makes sense since that’s where the information innovation currently *is*”. I think what is lost in the conversation is that this is not (and should not) happen in a vacuum; that it is about serving the greatest number of people in the best way possible. If it’s on the web, so be it. If it’s in person, so be it. Whatever the combination is that people are looking for, we should be going into.

      There’s talk of a Marketing bootcamp conference here in NJ, and that’s certainly something I’d love to see offered: basic market research.

      I should also say that I wasn’t looking to prove or disprove Library 2.0 being dead; I was just curious as to what remains of it. The only part I really don’t like about it is the name since it really is a point of contention.

  4. There is a bit of contention on the topic and I believe the topic is dead. It related to the rise of web 2.0 and the possibilities to empower library users. As individuals were more savvy and took things into their own hands, libraries wanted to give them direct access and control over library services. Tag the catalog etc were concepts. After a great deal of hype it lost steam around late 2007 and 2008. I attribute to it being too technology related and there were too few library users that savvy. Those few users hijacked the systems they controlled rather than empowered all users.

    Yes people compare 101 with the same hype. Depending on who you speak to it is similar. Lib 2.0 and 101 are at the center of contenious debates among librarians and gave the rise od the annoyed librarin being the most prominent critic. It’s complicated

  5. Jeff – I’ll have to disagree with you about that “losing steam” thing. “Library 2.0” as a term certainly isn’t used as much, I don’t think (though I do still see it in use), but the concepts behind it? They’re being built into ILS systems, library websites (hence the almost weekly emails I get asking about digital branches), etc.

    And more libraries are using social media tools, like Facebook or Twitter, because they’re so completely easy to use – not “too technology related” as you say. Heck – my 66 year old mom uses Facebook. There’s really nothing much “technical” about it.

    And at least at my own library, I have not seen any hijacking of the system by a few users. Have you seen that?

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  7. Andy,
    This is a most interesting, and thought-provoking post. The contention in my mind, in regards to the whole 2.0 thing, has been a combining of a philosophical change among libraries, librarians, and library users with a technological innovation.

    We librarians have usually been very careful to tie ourselves to a technology. We know that technologies change, evolve and/or die over time. However, it seems that our service philosophy was more interested in self-preservation than with user satisfaction.

    I believe that the 2.0 push has really provided our profession an opportunity to engage in some self-reflection. It is clear that we have been pushing for user-centeredness for a few decades (see Brenda Dervin for example), but the fervor has allowed us amply opportunity to push through some change.

    In terms of vendor relations, I couldn’t agree with you more. The vendors, formerly operated by librarians, have far too much sway. How does this change? Leadership and courage come to mind. As I see businesses begin to even move in on the open-source movement, I realize that it may be more of the same.

    For me, the greater question is why do we continue to fragment ourselves? What good comes from pages after pages filling our literature of camp A attacking camp B? Perhaps we could focus our energies on fixing a digital divide or addressing information poverty.

    While I think David did answer some of the question, I likely did not. But the post and comments are great.

  8. David,

    I think the problem with the Library 2.0 concept is that proponents could claim success with it whether there was any real connection to that success or not. It is so amalgamous. It was good in that it lit a fire for libraries to change, but I don’t see that it was any different than a motivation to change for the better that existed prior to the concept.

    And again, a contentious topic, but it gets us all focused on making things better. 🙂

  9. As others have already stated, the term “Library 2.0” is meaningless. I think it was just a way to latch on to the web 2.0 wagon. The focus is on the use of technology tools and applying social networking to tools and services.

    “How does Library 2.0 address the digital divide?”
    I don’t think it does. The digital divide has changed, and is less about who does or does not have the necessary equipment (although that is still a huge problem, particularly in rural areas or rural/suburburan areas without public transportation). I think now it is about wireless access and the ability to use all the tools that have emerged from the web 2.0 explosion. Also, you brought up the issue of smartphones and mobile technology. Who can afford to pay for the plans that provide access through mobile phones? Certainly not the populations affected in the past by the digital divide.

    I was going to comment on some of your other points, but I think I’ve taken up enough space. Fantastic post, really thought-provoking, and I have enjoyed the comments from your other readers!

    Check out this article, which describes an outreach effort to bring technology to patrons in the manner of a bookmobile.
    Hyatt, J. and Craig, A. (2009). Adapt for outreach: taking technology on the road … . Computers in Libraries. 29(9), 35-39.

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  11. Somewhat related: Ning’s Library 2.0 is actually moribund: it will shut down this Friday, on the 25th.

    Still, it’s telling that the most recent Library 2.0 articles you could find on Wikipedia date from 2007. I doubt that’s because librarians are no longer enthusiastic about the idea, though– quite the opposite. Because we’ve already started to integrate these ideas into our practices, we’ve left off “Library 2.0” for other buzzwords like “open source,” “open access,” “ebook,” or “mashup.” The dialogue has simply evolved along with the technology.

    But still, Andy, you raise a good point: Getting excited about new technology is fine, but check your own ambitions against what your users actually want. For example, maybe your patrons have less use for your Twitter feed than they do for an app that lets them check out ebooks to be read on a Kindle or smartphone (hey, I’d like that).

    The fundamental mission of libraries hasn’t changed– just the method of delivery. The “Library” part of “Library 2.0” is the more important.

    • To further your example: maybe your patrons have less use for a Twitter feed than seating areas with comfy chairs for reading magazines and newspapers or more adult crafting programs. It’s about giving people what they want within reason and budget.

    • Remember that just because Wikipedia didn’t list any articles dating after 2007, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any articles written about library 2.0 after 2007 – it just means no one has updated that part of the Wikipedia article.

      I just did a quick search in Library, Information Science and Technology Abstracts (LISTA) for “library 2.0” – there are 127 results.

      But I also agree that some aren’t using the term as much, too. For example, I have for the most part dropped using “Library 2.0” in my presentations and have opted for “emerging trends.” Then I explain Library 2.0/Web 2.0 as one of a handful of trends out there.

      • My curiosity was piqued, so I searched LISTA, too. For a basic search for “Library 2.0,” I found:

        -461 articles published from 2000-10
        -268 (58%) of which were from peer-reviewed journals

        Breaking it down by year, there were:
        –2007: 129 articles (67 from peer-review)
        –2008: 169 (100 from peer-review)
        –2009: 125 (90 from peer-review)

        This could simply indicate that the dialogue about Library 2.0 is moving from popular buzzword to more technical and scholarly study. I hope this is so myself– the field is in dire need of research.

        Peter Bromberg (below), like David, has also pointed out that maybe as the methods get integrated into library practice, there’s less need to talk about broad concepts than the implication thereof.

        Maybe the vagueness of “Library 2.0” is what’s been its undoing. Or, possibly, under all of the shiny and cool Web 2.0 gadgets, the library hasn’t been remade– it’s doing what it’s always been doing. It’s just using different methods to make delivery of its services more efficient.

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  13. I think the disappearance of the Library 2.0 Ning group has as much (or more) to do with Ning, than has to do with Library 2.0 as a concept. In my experience, Ning just lacks…stickiness.

    I’m much in agreement with David’s perspective that while the term “Library 2.0” might be losing steam, the principles of Library 2.0 (transparency, using technology to extend our services into social networking spheres, connecting with our customers where they are, helping our customers connect and share with each other, and generally flattening the hierarchy and shifting more control to our users) are very much alive.

    Perhaps the fact that we talk less about Library 2.0 is a testament to the fact that many of these principles are now more or less accepted as shared values in our profession. The conversation seems to have shifted more to how we operationalize those values, to what degree, and how we can balance these new ventures with all of the traditional services already on our plates.

    • If that’s the case, then the idea of “Library 2.0” might be a lot older than we think. I’m reminded of the “Give ’em what they want!” charge led by the Baltimore County Public Library system in the late 70s and early 80s. They were agitating for extending services and patron outreach– and this was back when librarians thought that microfilm and microfiche were the wave of the future.

  14. Here’s another voice saying: (a) the principles, tools, ideas that were temporarily gathered up into “Library 2.0”–many of which preceded that nomenclature–are doing just fine and will continue to be relevant at least in part, (b) the “movement” pretty much collapsed. There never was an agreed definition, and in the long run that didn’t matter. (Still lots of interest in the term, though: My 2006 attempt to arrive at “what is this all about?” in Cites & Insights has been downloaded more than 45,000 times and is still as popular as most current editions.)

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  16. I use Michael Casey & Laura Savastinuk’s book “Library 2.0 A Guide to Participatory Library Service” in my Hyperlinked Library course at Dominican. It outlines their original thinking and philosophy and holds up well 3-4 years later – better than so many of the tool-focused titles. The principles are sound – and still very new to many.

    The term itself, in my mind, describes a moment in time – a discussion, etc as well – and look beyond libraries to see the discussions around other areas are framed in similar ways:

    The Rise of Public Diplomacy 2.0:

    The more I think about it, the more I come back to this:

    The library should be human, should listen and involve its users every step of the way.

    This is a wonderful discussion – thx.

  17. Speaking of antiquated ideas of Web 2.0: Today’s USA Today article about Marilyn Johnson’s “This Book is Overdue” has just the latest reference of many of seen to librarians using Second Life as shorthand for “OMG librarians are using technology WTF?!?!” But the last time I went on Second Life (several months ago), it seemed empty and abandoned. Is being on Second Life really a Web 2.0 feature worth bragging about in 2010?

  18. I’m curious why the discussion here is so much about the term “Library 2.0.” Who cares what we call it? Terminology is always going to change, the point is that the concept is still thriving, and I think growing. Unfortunately, there are still some major roadblocks, not the least being vendors.

    You ask if it’s just a matter of vendors not providing what librarians ask for, and the thing that I continue to find problematic is that vendors are creating new interfaces that incorporate more social, participatory, and open features—but they are charging an arm and a leg for them. These new things aren’t being built into the expensive systems we already own, and I have a VERY big problem with that. And sure, they’re willing to open up their systems, and open up OUR data to us, but for a price. I have a very big problem with that.

    I am really starting to believe that the only way forward for libraries and library consortia are to move away from traditional ILS vendors and their extortionist practices and toward open-source applications and systems for managing our data. And yet, as Marshall Breeding’s 2009 ILS survey shows, librarians are still by and large wary of open source ILSes. And this, to me, is the biggest failure of the “Library 2.0” movement, whatever you want to call it. We haven’t even convinced ourselves yet.

    • Laura, in my post, I was wondering if the term was dead or the principles or both. Personally, I’m more towards thinking the term is dead except as an easy target for those who oppose some changes to the fundamentals of the library. The principles, overall, are solid when applied. I think the dicussion is bigger as to whether they are applied or not and how it has been working out.

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  20. Fantastic post, Andy. Not only are you pointing out the problems surrounding how Library 2.0 is being perceived and discussed, but, more importantly, the post has done its main job, stimulating conversation and debate.

    While I am extremely new to the library field and can not hold a candle to many of the people that have commented already on this post, I felt that I should at least offer my personal thoughts on the questions you have posed. I see the “Library 2.0” label as somewhat antiquated, but, like many people have already stated, that is not necessarily the point. The main focus should be what it has done to move libraries to focus on reaching out to patrons beyond the normal means of posters, bookmarks, flyers, etc. I believe it also shows that libraries are willing to try and change the image of being the ‘lords of information manor’ and open the doors to allow others to contribute, edit, manipulate, share, and provide information. These are actions that patrons need to see libraries take, and while these actions may have been going on in the past, what is happening now allows others to view it in a more public manner.

    I do believe that the tools have not been used in the most efficient manner, an example being with libraries slapping down social networking links on their websites without regard to placement or to maintaining content and interaction. And it is not the last word with how to communicate with patrons, but still a step in the right direction. Again, I am new to this world, but I also do not see the Library 2.0 or whatever you want to call it slowing down. Sorry for the lengthy comment, and again great post and loving the comments from everyone else!

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  23. Andy,
    I felt the same as you stated at the beginning of this post, “I realize I’m relatively new to the library scene as a second career librarian, so some of what I’m asking may have been covered somewhere already.” and I wasn’t able to find answers either. I searched ALA and PLA for “21st Century Library” and found virtually nothing. (Of course, I Googled it with similar negative results.
    The reason I’m using “21st Century Library” is because IMLS came out recently with their 21st Century Skills for Museums and Libraries, and it had an impact at our State Library. (Frankly, we’re behind in the 21st Century Skills movement within education – thus academic & school libraries – and librarians!)
    And bless her heart for amazing forward thinking, Kathryn Greenhill in Australia has her “Librarians Matter” blog where she discussed Library2.0+ way back in 2007 , which fits with my concept of the “21st Century Library”.
    21st Century Library is much more than Library2.0, or Web2.0 or 23 Things technology, or any of the parts and pieces of technology being employed by libraries today. It is a total mindset about what libraries are and should be in this new century, integrating all of the above, PLUS business applications to be more competative, etc.
    Shamelessly, see my blog at

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