Andrew Eynon’s Library Blog

A blog about librarianship in Further Education

Book review of Library 2.0: a guide to participatory library service

Posted by andrewey on August 18, 2008

In Library 2.0: a guide to participatory library service Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk outline how to develop a Library 2.0 culture in your library service. In fact Michael Casey is credited with coining the term Library 2.0 on his Library crunch blog in 2005 and is therefore one of the authoritative voices on this subject. Both authors have backgrounds in the American public library sector in Georgia but their Library 2.0 philosophy is easily transferable to other sectors. Library 2.0 is seen as a response to the serious challenges faced by (some) library services, as outlined in the introduction (p. xxiv):

  • Loss of interest amongst library users in our services
  • We no longer consistently provide services that our users want
  • Reluctance amongst some library services to move away from traditional services
  • We are no longer the first port of call for information enquiries

These points seem to portray an overly pessimistic view of the state of library services and I would suspect that most proactive library services were already responding to changes in the pattern of library usage long before the rise of Library 2.0. However there is certainly a need for all library services to engage in a process of ongoing (re-)evaluation of their services. Casey and Savastinuk see the solution to the problems listed above in the creation of a ‘participatory’ library service (p. 5) which encompasses user input and feedback in the delivery of library services. Furthermore, Library 2.0 services need to embrace a culture of change which must continue to meet the needs of existing users whilst attracting non-traditional (and other) non-users.  

The authors cover ‘traditional’ as well as technological (Web 2.0) solutions to these issues. For example, they highlight the significance of developing libraries as social spaces – we have done this in our library by relaxing restrictions on food and drink and by encouraging social activities (eg boardgames) and through the creation of informal reading/browsing  areas, which have contributed to our library usage figures almost doubling in the 2007/8 academic year.

In developing a culture of change the authors stress the importance of ‘purposeful change’ which entails the constant evaluation of services both vertically and horizontally i.e. by cutting across staff roles and procedures (pp 12-14). This state of constant evaluation is designed to avoid the tendency for library services to fully develop and plan services only for them to quickly become sidelined and any beneficial outcomes are soon lost – the ‘Plan, implement and forget’ syndrome.

One area of Library 2.0 which is clearly explained is the concept of meeting the patron’s long tail. This is a business model of the supply of books, music and other media where there is significant demand for esoteric titles which is not met by high street suppliers who concentrate on titles on bestseller lists. This gap in the market is seen as an ideal niche for libraries to meet (in fact evidence suggests that the market for titles outside the bestseller lists is actually greater in total owing to the sheer volume of titles available). However, as the authors point out, some 206,000 book titles were published in 2005 in the UK alone (p. 64) so how could any library service hope to supply even a small fraction of those titles? I would argue that the long tail model is reflected in academic libraries in the debate over whether or not our collections policy should concentrate on providing core texts or on providing titles to ‘read around’ a subject. In FE the tendency has probably been towards the core titles as the demand for these is so high but at Coleg Llandrillo we have found that by participating in our free local inter-lending scheme (LINC y Gogledd) we have begun to meet the long tail demand as well. In fact our inter-library loans have increased six fold in two years and this trend is likely to increase as more titles become freely available to our borrowers through the Cat Cymru project.

Casey and Savastinuk define a responsive library service as being one which (p. 21):

  • listens to customer suggestions
  • is willing to look at new serivces (based on customer demand)
  • is proactive in anticipating customer demand and responding to customer concerns 

In response to the usual concerns over staff time, cost and lack of expertise the authors propose looking at existing services to evaluate whether or not they offer value for money in terms of staff time and other costs. Here there seems to be considerable scope for more library co-operation across a range of services which can be facilitated by Web 2.0 technologies to reduce these costs. 

The book does not cover the use Web 2.0 tools in any detail – only one chapter looks at this area which includes a small number of well chosen examples. It does however offer clear and sound advice on implementing Library 2.0 and this is encapsulated in the authors’ open letter to library directors (p. 40) outlining ten simple steps to making the transition to Library 2.0. The title is very readable and offers clear guidance on how to develop Library 2.0 (in only 172 pages). The title is also well priced at $29.50 (retailing for about £22.00 in the UK). I would certainly recommend this title to anyone looking for a clear and concise introduction to Library 2.0.

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