Monday, December 24, 2007

The catch-22 of 2.0?

Isn't all this 2.0 stuff wonderful? Tools that promote the creation, reorganization, re-imagining, meshing and sharing of all kinds of information in all kinds of different and exciting ways can't be a bad thing, can it? I'm certainly an avid cheerleader for all this, but I do think there are some possible downsides to consider from a library institutional perspective before we invest ourselves too deeply in all this.

But I must state up front that I do have some bias. Diving full-force into this 2.0 world of endlessly creative possibilities has resparked my love for my chosen profession, as I imagine it has for at least some other librarians out there. To me, this opening of service creativity has allowed us to finally and definitively break free of the confines of the physical book and the stodgy and user-incomprehensible organizational schemes dating back to the 19th century. It has hopefully also contributed to the beginning of the end for the popular view of the library as simply "the place where they store the books," and has helped us vastly expand the possibilities and just-in-time usefulness of the previously limiting and overly formal librarian-user and user-information interactions.

But I do worry a bit about the long-term outcomes of all this rapid adoption of mostly unestablished 2.0 applications. What percentage of our best-intentioned efforts to design more effective user-info applications will be destroyed or made quickly obsolete by the inevitable death or commercialization of many of these 2.0 tools, incompatible or non-existent technology and organizational standards, the arrival of 3.0 (some aspects of which I am skeptical of ever arriving, however), and the inevitable wearing off of the "wow" factor? And how about long-term maintenance, scalability and portability issues? Are they being considered and planned for in your development cycle? I certainly try to plan for them, but the reality is that it isn't always possible - pressures of time and money and rapid change make this hard.

In the end, our efforts will go on and are essential to improving services. As Meredith Farkas wrote recently, it's also essential for us to share our failures as much as our successes. More than likely all these issues will work themselves out with some 2.0 technologies falling to the wayside and others moving on and evolving into the coming 3.0 world. Those will take their place in the always expanding suite of available online information applications, alongside web sites, OPACs, virtual reference, etc. I think it is a useful exercise to consider these longer-term issues now and ideally plan for them as much as possible in the development cycle.

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