If I’m going to talk about Library 2.0, I’m going to have to start by talking about libraries and technology.
In the fast-paced, wireless, microwave, Flash-animated, rocket-to-Pluto world of today, when people use the word “technology,” what they usually mean is: computers, cars, clones, jets, PDAs, cell phones, stem cell research. But when we talk about “technology,” we’re really just talking about tools.
Librarians are all about technology, using the best tools for the job. Aren’t we? A couple of weeks ago, Stephen Abram made light of Bill Gates’ claim,
Within four or five years, instead of spending money on textbooks…they’ll spend a mere $400 or so buying that tablet device and the material they hook up to will all be on the wireless internet with animations, timelines and links to deep information. But they’ll be spending less than they would have on textbooks and have a dramatically better experience.
And well he should have, because it’s an absurd claim. Books are a fantastic technological tool, much better than anything Bill Gates’ megacorp has developed. I’ve never had a book suddenly “crash” on me. I’ve never turned a page to find “the Blue Screen of Death.” Books don’t require a particular “operating system” to function. They’re more portable than computers, they’re more nonlinear (it’s easier to flip open a book to a random page than it is to jump from webpage to random webpage), they take less time to “load up” and they survive being dropped in the tub better (and you survive it better, too). The internet doesn’t replace books, and it won’t until it does what books do better–and that won’t happen for a good long while.
However, new information-communication technologies do some pretty interesting things. Data can be transmitted from one hemisphere of the planet to another faster than you can say “Microsoft bites.” People all over the world can interact more easily. People can quickly and simply share their ideas, their dreams, their misspelled and rambling thoughts about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie with friends, family and complete strangers. Information-communication technologies are becoming more portable, more flexible, more modular, more interactive. This isn’t an American thing, this isn’t a “First World” thing, and this isn’t even a “rich” thing. If anyone thinks computers and cell phones and related information-communication technologies aren’t changing the way people interact, they’re either not paying attention or they’re in denial.
Librarians are all about using the best tools for the job, but I know a whole slew of librarians who have never heard of a blog, who don’t know what RSS feeds are, who haven’t noticed the implications of modular, interactive Web technologies. These are technologies that our children are growing up with. Ignoring these new technologies is basically saying, “I don’t care if we get new people into the library.”
Imagine if librarians had never bothered to put record albums in their collection. “Records?” they asked. “I’m not even sure what they are! They’re no substitute for hearing music performed live by a real orchestra, that’s for sure.” Imagine how many library patrons might never have been exposed to Beethoven, Vivaldi, Aaron Copeland, Duke Ellington, Woody Guthrie, Thelonious Monk. Imagine if librarians had ignored microfiche, CDs, video tapes and DVDs. Imagine if libraries were designed with no thought to wheelchairs. Imagine if libraries were designed with no thought to people driving in cars to get there.
What is Library 2.0? At its base, it’s really just a continuation of what librarians have always done: using the best tool for the job.