library 2.0


Quite un-apropos of an earlier post on Library 2.0, I’ve just read Steven Johnson’s Everything bad is good for you. The basic premise of the book is that – contrary to generally held assumptions – today’s popular culture in the form of TV, video games and the Internet is actually more intellectually stimulating and socially-expansive than the popular culture of days past. TV shows, for example, have become more complex, with multiple plot-lines, layers of subtlety, and hidden references to movies or contemporary events. Social networks have built up around specific shows, where plots and subplots and relationships are dissected in infinite and miniscule detail. The outcome of all this is that humans have become more intelligent over the years – what Johnson calls the Flynn effect –  as our brains are exercised and stimulated in increasingly complex ways.

Johnson acknowledges that not all popular culture necessarily has redeeming qualities, just as not all popular culture of the past did. I’d have liked to have seen more discussion on the seamy trend of some TV shows and video games – Johnson just pays lipservice to that. But overall, a great read.

So, Johnson’s book and Library 2.0? Johnson talks about how social networks, a fundamental precept of Library 2.0,  operate; although the book was written in 2005, so doesn’t really pay justice to the massive growth in social networking that has occurred over the past couple of years.

More particularly, Johnson’s book and video gaming in libraries? Has Johnson convinced me to change my mind, that gaming nights (as opposed to having video games for loan) have no place in libraries? Not at all. But I might be a little more flexible on the concept of libraries installing video games on library computers and allowing patrons to actually play, rather than just try them out before borrowing.

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Some cunning person with great PR skills thought up the name “Library 2.0” to bring librarians’ attention to all the new tools associated with the Web. Librarians have long followed the basic principles behind Library 2.0 – sharing, collaboration and community involvement. Union catalogues, recommended author lists, interlibrary loan, book circles, children’s hour and cooperative archives are just a few of the ways in which libraries have long supported those principles.

Of course, the thing about Library 2.0 is that the focus is now on Webbish ways of sharing, collaborating and involving the community. Which doesn’t mean that the old is no longer relevant, but there are more tools and more ways to involve more people in more cooperative efforts.

Some Library 2.0 tools do indeed enhance the basic library functions of storing, retrieving and disseminating information. Immediately jumping to mind are tagging, rating and reviewing tools. A little more thought yields outreach tools like blogs and wikis. But there are a few so-called Library 2.0 tools that really make me cringe – MySpace, Second Life, gaming and even FaceBook, despite the fact that I was reasonably positive about it the other day. Libraries don’t have to be all things to all people. We don’t have to be in every part of our clients’ lives. We don’t have to play games to prove we’re professionals, nor do we have to dumb ourselves down to the lowest common denominator, as some of those tools imply, and as even some of the librarians I highly respect imply.

We need to choose our Library 2.0 tools carefully and not just jump on the latest bandwagon. We could well end up with mud on our face if we don’t carefully consider the benefits and possible costs of specific tools.