Monday, March 24, 2008

Web 2.0 in the Library

What is Web 2.0?

In 2004 Tim O'Reilly coined the term "Web 2.0" to describe a second generation incarnation of the world wide web that incorporates interactivity, is user-centered, customizable, collaborative and dynamic. It includes a new breed of applications that are used primarily through a web browser, rather than downloaded onto a workstation or home computer. And because these applications are so focused on user needs, they are often continually updating their features and functionality. This sometimes results in a site being in perpetual beta. Despite what some think of the ridiculousness of that term, is really just a way of saying the designers and programmers are planning to constantly re-evaluate and improve the application.

Other prominent features of web 2.0 tools are the use of tagging to organize and categorize the content of the site, RSS feeds to bring the information to you, and the development of social networks to share online content with your friends and associates. You may also come across the terms open source, APIs, and mashups, all commonly associated with web 2.0 applications. Perhaps the most appealing characteristic of most web 2.0 tools is the cost. While some applications do charge for advanced features or heavy usage, many offer access to the basic application or the whole program at no cost, making them accessible to any user that can get access to a computer.

Why should you care?

Well aside from the inevitability that your friends, family, colleagues and customers will be using web 2.0 tools and talking about them, they can be easy to use, efficient, and down right fun! The beauty of web 2.0 is that it allows for unprecedented interaction with each other and our ideas. Because the internet has almost erased the distance between individuals, it enables people to share across all sorts of barriers.

With the proliferation of web 2.0 that sharing has become even easier. For instance, if you are a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there's a weblog (or blog) out there where you can join masses of other Joss Whedon (the creater of Buffy, Angel, and the sci-fi series Firefly) devotees to discuss every detail of your favorite characters. Or maybe you use a photo-sharing site like Flickr to post pictures of your last vacation for everyone to see, instead of paying for prints or sending only a few images at a time over email due to attachment size restrictions.

Even if you think web 2.0 might be too much for you, chances are you've already been exposed to it in some way. Sites like Craigslist, eBay, Google Maps, and Wikipedia can all be considered web 2.0. And if you've ever used an instant messenger like AIM or Windows Live Messenger you've jumped in the 2.0 pool. The reality is that we will continue to see development of more and more web tools that incorporate the principles of collaboration and user-centered design. Understanding and embracing those ideas will make it easier to share them with others, and inevitably strengthen the applications we work with.

How does it fit in with the library?

"Sure," you say, "I can see how I can use web 2.0 in my personal life. But what on earth does it have to do with my work in the library?"

It was blogger Michael Casey of LibraryCrunch, who first applied Web 2.0 ideals to the library world and began using "Library 2.0"(also referred to as "L2") to describe the integration of things like user-generated content, and customizable, dynamic interaction with customers to improve the library experience. The concept of Library 2.0 is still relatively new and the exact definition and even the need for the term is still debated. But with regular use in professional publications and the biblioblogosphere (the circle of library-related bloggers), it is likely here to stay. There is even a Library 2.0 social network on Ning, a build-it-yourself web 2.0 site. For more in depth information, read this great paper written by colleague Jack Maness.

The details of how you can use web tools in the library is a large part of what we hope to share with you in this blog. From knowing what tools to recommend to your customers, to knowing the limitations of web-based office applications; from developing a departmental wiki, to setting up a LibraryThing group for your Read Aloud program volunteers, we think it all qualifies as Library 2.0.

Fortunately there are lots of resources out there, and more available everyday. Here's just a few of our favorite L2 related sites to get started...

  • 23 Things - This library 2.0 learning project was initially developed by Helen Blowers of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County (PLCMC) (inspired by Steven Abrams 43Things website). Since it's initiation, the program has been adapted and used by many library systems worldwide.
  • Five Weeks to a Social Library - This course was developed by Meredith Farkas to help libraries incorporate the most pertinent web 2.0 features. Originally presented as web casts, the materials are now available in a variety of different formats.
  • LibSuccess Wiki - "A Best Practices Wiki" that is growing daily, LibSuccess aims to become a centralized source for libraries to share their ideas for best practices in all areas of library work.
  • Tame the Web - Michael Stephens' blog about libraries and technology. A former Library Journal "Mover & Shaker" (2005), Stephens is now a library educator and speaker.

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