Surfing the Library 2.0 Wave

Surfing the Library 2.0 Wave


There’s an ocean full of metaphors we can use to help us grasp the opportunities arising from “everything 2.0,” but I have a favorite–surfing. Surfing sounds great, but requires skills that “hodads” may not have thought about. There are wipe outs galore, courage is required, and most of all, staying in synch with a moving target requires the ability to focus. So in thinking about 2.0 stuff, I’ll stick with my surfing metaphor, knowing that all of us have plenty of career experience ending up in the white water.

Coining “Library 2.0” out of the ubiquitous “Web 2.0” was a marketing stroke of genius: Not only is it true, but “unbelievers” can really “get” what you’re trying to say with a few terse and well-chosen words. Most of our great thinkers have adopted Library 2.0 rhetoric in outreach, marketing strategies, and budgetary ploys, and you know, I think we’re on top of the rhetoric. But when it comes to actually implementing a bold new Library 2.0 step, where to begin, and what to do? I’m going to offer some starting points in this column, knowing many of us have already started paddling into the “2.0” break, and are well past the point of taking 2.0 surfing lessons at a virtual Waikiki.

The Old Library 1.0 Hot Doggers Are Hanging 10

Personally, I think there are a few things that need to be said up front, even at the risk of repeating myself. What we’ve always done–the Library 1.0 part–is not atavistic, but cutting-edge. I wrote at length about how to use core library skills to break into new organizational roles in a recent article that appeared in ONLINE (September/October 2006, p. 21), so I won’t restate everything here. I’ll just leave it at this: Those of us who can provide strategic reference services, articulate a meaningful digital preservation policy, and collect the knowledge our users need, are right on track. That’s Library 1.0, pure and simple, but it’s a terrific tidal chart for surfing into the 2.0 point break. There’s an added benefit: 1.0 strategies work best if we take an activist stance. Library 1.0 services must be pushed forward (via blogs, podcasts, wilds, and more); marketed (one-on-one, to the media, to our users); broadcast (relentlessly, using the deep and powerful rhetoric about knowledge management at our disposal); and sustained (in other words, get out of your office and go talk to people).

Info pros who can analyze their career situations using Library 1.0 principles are very well positioned to make bold moves with new technology. Simple, right? No, not really–like real surfing, it takes focus, a certain degree of courage, and a plan. Here are two zones of opportunity I’ve identified recently, while avoiding wipeouts.

Know Your ‘E-Roles’

One way of analyzing the new flexibility we enjoy is to identify our “e-roles,” as Marydee Ojala does in her editorial remarks in the September/ October issue of ONLINE. Nowadays, we can take multiple roles within organizations, as well as in helping our users. The key analytical task we must employ is to evaluate 2.0 technologies. such as social networking software, and determine where we can add value. Here again, a little 1.0 savvy has its benefits. Even as social networking software (think Facebook and MySpace) is flourishing, the mainstream media is already beginning to report on burnout with it. College students are “rediscovering” the value of a small circle of friendships with people they see often. Facebook, meet face time. The successful 2.0 librarian is a trend spotter, and there’s one that was a no-brainer for tech-watchers.

Our e-roles, both the known and the yet-to-emerge, have never been more diverse. One reason for this is the growing awareness among management thinkers that “cross functional” work roles can boost creativity and productivity. So info pros who can combine library skill, IT know-how, even tutoring and teaching, can add substantial value to organizations. The new zones of collaboration help to reposition our collections and services, and present us with daily opportunities to innovate, For example, what would you do if you worked in an organization where IT staff did not address any content issues, yet the CIO had de facto control over networked content? Such places are not bard to find. Strategies abound, and here’s one: Talk to IT staff, talk to management, talk to everyone–and take over the content management role. Likewise, if you work in a community of practice where communications aren’t moderated or shepherded, would you sense an opportunity? The 2.0 info pro definitely would. It could be a fertile space for a wiki, a multiuser blog, or archived podcasting.

Grasping all of your potential e-roles can unlock doors which seemed forever shut, but in these times, the new flexibility is infectious, memetic, and pervasive. It used to be that “marketing the library” was a daring, guerilla sort of thing to do, best performed by the natural extroverts among us. But Library 2.0 mainstreams marketing, socializing, networking, jumping in without permission, finding links and connections others can’t see, and so on. Library 2.0, with its emphasis on empowering communication in all directions, has handed us a golden opportunity to help management sort out the “E” in the “E-Organization,”

Library 2.0 Boldly Faces Space Usage

Remember, digital libraries are a collection of both services and media. Hence my second 2.0 field of opportunity–our legacy of large amounts of physical space. It’s difficult to generalize about library space, because a public library system’s needs differ from research university needs, and special libraries tend to be unique. But there is a unifying reality that spans most types of physical space: We can now accomplish much more with digital resources than ever before, and we have a chance to reconfigure our space. And we are not the only ones who know it.

It can be a little scary to reassess real estate, since it’s “location, location, location,” and if library collections disappear from immediate sight and go into remote locations, they may be at risk. But society at large now accepts digital media, even as it continues to love buying and borrowing books; we can’t hide from that. Instead, we should embrace the moment.

My view is that it’s better to be bold and address things directly. In corporate firms, virtual libraries with remote staff are pretty common, and many info pros are thriving in this environment. Other organizations, like historical societies, need print–but often back up their treasures with dark archives. Universities face space demands of every sort. Where does Library 2.0 end up in the equation?

The answer comes in two parts, and the first is more important. Library 2.0, as I argue above, is about people communicating. Think first of functional space for staff, and how it interfaces with the public. Are people mixing enough? Second, think of print collections, with a cold and objective heart. It’s time to take a hard look at the balance between high-use print material housed locally and off-site print or dark archives ~running in the background.” It’s a good idea to have a daring space plan ready at all times. It should fully preserve the local print collection that is most needed, yet also allow for storing other material off-site. A bold approach might define you, the information professional, as an avatar for 21st-century information management.

I never recommend action I wouldn’t try myself. In 2004, faced with a faculty boss who wanted to either update or close my library, I presented my ready-made plan in detail. It included weeding more than 10,000 items and moving staff, and I knew it would cause pain to our senior emeriti, who had lovingly supported our library since 1945. But opportunity abounded: My faculty boss had only general ideas of what he wanted, so I was able to drive the design process, advancing the principles of the “learning commons.” It was like launching into a 30-foot wave in Waimea Bay, because it could’ve all gone down in white water (i.e., I’d be running a conference room, not a library). But it didn’t: My collection plan saved our unique materials, extended Wi-Fi service into a full Information Gateway, and added digital projection capabilities. Now we are custodians of a truly beautiful Library Commons in a historic landmark building. In fact, we’ve grown in net space if you count the new downstairs storage area we gained. It won’t work in every environment, but the question Fm asking is, “What are we holding onto, and why?” If you can answer that in your own situation, you may already hold the keys to transforming physical space that is lying fallow into a more vibrant zone for interaction.

Going from the Known to the Unknown

My forecast for Library 2.0 is that it will be a moving target, just like successive “sets” of waves that come from the open ocean. Here are some examples of why I believe that.

Just 2 years ago, social bookmarking was a new animal; today, it’s “folksonomy” and it’s studied in graduate school. Also, during the 2005-2006 academic year, the single most popular platform for viewing faculty lectures at UC Berkeley was by podcast–and viewing can be verifiably linked to downloads to Apple iPods. Webcasting is a distant second by downloads. Just this week, Tim Berners-Lee, the Web’s creator, called for the academic study of “Web Science.”

It’s a fast world these days. Happily, really big research library systems, like the one I work in, have given up on seeing themselves as static institutions with eternal charges writ in stone. Instead, survival depends on “continuous planning.”

What holds true for august institutions also holds true for individuals. We are all continuous planners now, and have been for some time. Hardly a month goes by when I fail to see a new device or application reviewed in The New York Times or the San Francisco Chronicle that has a direct, immediate impact on how I perform reference and Web administration right now. Sometimes the lapse between news and implementation drops to mere days. But my Library 1.0 skills have been a great preparation for fast change. Just last week, I assisted a professor with an op-ed piece he was writing while he was away in Washington, D.C. The answers he needed lay in more than one place–books, reference databases, and in Wikipedia. He got his verified answers by email, and the end product appeared on the editorial page of The Sacramento Bee.

Hey, it’s great catching the Library 2.0 wave–even with my 1.0 longboard.


By Terence K. Huwe


Terence K. Huwe is director of library and information resources at the University of California-Berkeley’s Institute of Industrial Relations. His responsibilities include library administration, reference, and overseeing Web services for several departments at campuses throughout the University of California. His email address is


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