Monday, December 19, 2005

Library 2.0 -- Does it disenfranchise those who need us most?

I collected together several articles about Library 2.0.

The original article by Ken Chad and Paul Miller which started it all

Jessamyn West's thoughtful response

Michael Stephens' piece on ALA Techsource

There is much about the philosophy behind the discussion with which I agree. At the same time, I sit here as the City Librarian in a community which has computers in only slightly more than half of the households. So many of the technology solutions included in the discussions of Library 2.0 completely disenfranchise those who are on the wrong side of the Digital Divide.

So I wrestle with this.

Yes it is important that the Library be everywhere (#1 on the Chad/Miller list), and we need to remove barriers to access (#2). But isn't lack of technology a barrier to access if all the data/information or service is available only electronically (or even with a priority to electronic users)? Participation of users (#3) has been a fundamental part of the creation of public library service. Most public libraries have either a governing board of users, or an advisory board. When I think about the Library in comparison to other units of government, we certainly have been flexible and led the way(#4). Do we get the technological best? Not always. We do not have the money (resources). However, most libraries I know (no matter what type) do a spectacular job of getting incredible value for the resources we expend.

Part of what I worry about most are some of the issues which Michael Stephens raises including his point: "the library is human." I see a rush by some library administrators to self-check. That allows libraries to re-deploy staff. Does it make for a better service to the library user? I'm not so sure. The reason why many of the public use branch libraries (which inevitably have more limited resources than the "main" libraries) is because of the personal service which a branch (especially a small branch) offers to the regulars.

I still need to read more and think more.

Do I think we should abandon the technology? No! And I firmly believe that articles of this type are critical to improving service. They get us to begin to think outside the box. But at the same time, some of the thinkers (while providing an important service) forget about the real-world issues which so many library administrators face.

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