Tag Archives: Democratisation of the Web

Of Budgets and Brio: Must Bigger Be Better?

6 Dec

I was discussing this assignment with a friend the other day who, out of curiosity, had taken a look at what I’d written so far. He agreed with many of the conclusions I’d come to, but wondered if it was merely a coincidence, or evidence of something more serious, that my reviews, so far, have tended to favour the libraries of big cities, with presumably much bigger budgets.

Looking through my previous posts, this does seem to be somewhat of a pattern- although there are exceptions already, and with so few posts to work with, such a conclusion is hardly scientific. I could try to disprove it by showcasing libraries in small towns that are great successes in the Library-Two-Point-Whoa arena (and there are certainly many), or examples of failures in big-budget, urban libraries (of which there are fewer). But time is of the essence here, and besides, I’m not sure that that kind of argument would be any more systematic than the one we’re dealing with already. Though it would perhaps be easier just to say that such sweeping and serious generalisations can’t be extracted from an experiment as limited in scope and as uncontrolled as this one, the question still rankled with me, and I want to address it.

So, bear with me while I depart from the typical format of the posts. I won’t be looking at a specific library or Web 2.0 tool, but I think this is an interesting and an important issue to bring up. That said, I don’t claim any expertise on the subject, and I won’t be covering it in any very serious depth; my intention is more to bring up the question as food for thought rather than to answer it myself in any definitive way. This article from Library Journal also provides some useful insight into the matter.

At first glance, the answer to my friend’s query seems rather self-evident. Of course, bigger libraries will have bigger budgets, and as a result, will have more of the resources necessary to create and maintain high-quality Web 2.0 pages, profiles, and tools.

My immediate reaction was to disagree with this, though. Maybe it’s due to a romanticisation (or a perception of romanticisation) of the 2.0 movement on my part, but I’ve always thought of much of the hype around it as being due to its implicit connotations of a more universally accessible and democratic Web. Isn’t the point, after all, to blur the line between creators and consumers, and to make content creation a shared, interactive, and above all, feasible activity for anyone with Internet access?

This, I know, is an oversimplification of the issue. The participatory and social aspects of Web 2.0, its focus on accessibility, and its user- and community- centred approach are, realistically, not enough to overcome the considerable challenges posed by resource shortages. These are just too big and too insidious; we can’t simply make up for deficits of time, staff, and money with eagerness and goodwill.

But as long as we’re going down that road, well, the fact is that nothing is going to be able to compensate for these missing assets. Smaller libraries with smaller budgets just aren’t going to be able to compete on the same level as bigger libraries with bigger budgets.

Such a statement seems too obvious even to merit mention. And yet, part of me (it’s the most stubborn part, and no doubt you recognise it if you’ve been reading this blog) resists accepting it as being relevant to this discussion. Yes, of course libraries with bigger user groups and budgets have an advantage- but I still think that part of the beauty of the Library 2.0 movement is that it’s not all about goods and services in the economic sense we’re all so familiar with.

Libraries with bigger budgets will always win when it comes to whose collection is bigger, who has what gadgets, and who has more buying power in terms of consortia and subscription purchases… But Web 2.0 offers smaller-budget libraries a chance to claim a spot at the cutting-edge of the library sphere. At least in the terms that I’ve discussed here, Web 2.0 tools are free to use and to experiment with, and are limited only by the skills, savvy, and enthusiasm of staff and users.

I’m not saying that smaller libraries don’t still have more challenges to overcome; they absolutely do. Their staff members will have less time to devote to maintaining these tools, they will not be able to offer the same kind of training and orientation to either staff or users, and they won’t have access to some of the more high-tech tools that allow for things like professional-looking multimedia features (see NYPL on YouTube). These, admittedly, are significant obstacles.

But they are by no means insurmountable, and this is an important distinction from other measurements of a library’s success, I would argue. Librarians are proving all the time that they are willing to go above and beyond for the sake of their own libraries and for the library community at large; one need only look to the biblioblogosphere for evidence. They constitute an invaluable human resource that should be tapped, and I think they will be, in the end, the saviours of the public library as an institution.

While smaller libraries are going to have to work a little harder to stay in the game, I think they’re up to the challenge, and there are many examples to be found that prove it. Thanks to the efforts of their staffs, and with judicious hiring practises, encouragement of professional development and creativity, and yes, simple enthusiasm, these libraries will be able to overcome the burden of restrictive budgets and find their niches in the Library 2.0 community. And community it is; despite the tone of many of my posts, the truth of the matter is that libraries don’t need to compete but will actually do better by working together and learning from each other’s mistakes: sharing and collaborating, two of the most fundamental tenets of Web 2.0 ideology.

At the risk of sounding overly optimistic, then, weighing in on a topic that might initially seem hopeless, I’m going to give Library 2.0 and all its potential the benefit of the doubt; what its technologies and philosophies lack in pragmatism, I think librarians will make up for in energy, insight and ardour. Three cheers for the librarian, then, as she wades through this wacky, wonderful 2.0 world, newly navigating through the age-old and treacherous waters of budget constraints and fiscal woes. While these new tools for communication and promotion won’t solve all our problems on these fronts, I think they will go a long way to levelling the playing field for those organisations with limited resources, and to opening up new possibilities during a time when libraries are increasingly all too familiar with such shortcomings. By setting new standards and moving away from an entirely budget-dependent approach, new measures of success will allow for smaller libraries to step up and join the ranks of Library-Two-Point-Whoa.

The London, ON Public Library on Flickr: Restoring My Faith

29 Nov

After looking at and being rather disappointed with the Bloomington Library’s Flickr page, I was curious (and really hopeful!) to see if other libraries were more successful with this tool. Even before Bloomington, I was admittedly a little dubious about Flickr’s potential utility in a library context. After all, I thought initially, how useful could a bunch of photos be for engaging and attracting library patrons? Happily, the London Public Library has changed my mind and proven me wrong.

To begin, the Flickr account is really easy to find through the library’s website- a very good start. Their attractive and usable homepage has linked icons to all of its various Web 2.0 tools, which are very visible and, of course, highly recognisable!

Another very important part of the good impression that LPL’s Flickr account makes is its commitment. Unlike many other libraries I’ve encountered on Flickr, LPL has a brief but very well-written and informative profile, so that users and voyeurs alike can get a feel for what the organisation is and what its visions and values are. I’m sure it took someone only a couple of minutes to write up this little profile blurb, but it really does make all the difference in terms of making LPL’s online presence feel more authentic and relevant.

This kind of ongoing commitment that so impressed me was visible throughout the site. LPL has joined groups, listed its contacts, and displayed its favourite photos from other Flickr members, demonstrating that it is an active and social member of the Flickr community, and not merely paying lip service to a trend. This can also be seen in the frequency and abundance with which photos are posted; it has dozens of “sets” (Flickr’s terminology for an “album”) and new ones are put up at least once a month.  As well, each set is given a description explaining the content of the photos. This small addition, again, makes such a big difference, but unfortunately is missing from so many other library Flickr accounts. These ones don’t take full advantage of these tools and therefore miss out on important oppourtunities to make Flickr really work for them, providing context and communication and, once again, relevancy.

What most impressed me about LPL on Flickr, though, were the photos themselves. Perhaps it’s because this was what disappointed me the most on its Bloomington counterpart, but I think it probably goes without saying that Web 2.0’s actual content is where much of our scrutiny should be focussed. The medium is the message, of course, and we won’t be able to forget about that fact in a discussion like this, about new mediums and media… but we are librarians, after all, and the information itself – unabridged, unrestrained, uncensored- should still be our top priority.

But, I digress. Let’s get back to LPL. A quick glance at its photo sets will give you the impression that keeping up with its Flickr account will go a long way to keeping up-to-date with the library itself, and isn’t this one of the most important goals of 2.0 libraries? Likewise, a more in-depth perusal of the photos will start to make you feel like a member of the LPL community as you become familiar with its buildings and physical spaces, its patrons, programs, collections, and events.

One set of photos, for example, offers a kind of virtual tour around one of the new library buildings currently under construction.

Photo of building constructionhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/londonpubliclibrary/4897730981/in/set-72157624737955438/

Library board members took and posted photos of their tour of the building-in-progress, essentially making it possible for all members of the community to take part. Flickr is being used here to increase inclusivity and democratise the library, then, checking off another box on our Library Two-Point-Whoa to-do list.

Other sets and photos capture events put on by or at the library: A Harry Potter- themed party, a teen concert, an open house, and Library Week, just to name a few. The sets aren’t exhaustive in their documentation, of course, but they do a good job of allowing viewers to “catch a glimpse” of the festivities and feel, in some way, like they are a part of them; it’s certainly more effective than those newsletter “recaps” that are still done by so many libraries.

My favourite sets, however, are those that invite and encourage more involvement on the part of the user. Several of LPL’s sets do this by showcasing things like contests put on by the library. One shows the entries from a “Literacy Photo” contest, while another displays the patron-created contributions to LPL’s “MyLibrary” campaign. These examples go even further to including and engaging patrons who might not otherwise come to the library or get involved in these kinds of community initiatives and activities. This teen photo contest (shown below) demonstrates this idea perfectly:

Flickr contest pagehttp://www.flickr.com/photos/londonpubliclibrary/sets/72157624739059652/

Teen users’ entries are posted, users vote on their favourites, and a prize give-away party to be held at the library is advertised, all on Flickr. Teens are invited to participate in the contest and selection process online, making them feel involved in the teen library community, and from there they are invited to become still more involved and come in to the library itself.

LPL’s presence on Flickr makes sense in the context of its other 2.0 participation, too. While these photos could be included on LPL’s Facebook profile (and in many cases, they are), Flickr is arguably even more user-friendly and to-the-point, and therefore it makes the photos accessible to a wider audience. While the photos provide opppourtunities for users to catch up on what they’ve missed at the library and gain a sense of involvement and community, LPL’s Twitter works on a different level to advertise upcoming events and encourage future participation. Likewise, its Facebook profile offers a more social kind of involvement and input, while its Youtube channel provides reader’s advisory and current awareness functions. Overall, LPL has a well-maintained, lively, and above all, effective presence in the sphere of Web 2.0. Its various appearances are easy to find and to navigate, and its ongoing commitment to the quality and currency of its online presence makes it an incredibly useful tool for engaging the community and promoting the library.