Sunday, December 17, 2006

Libraries Are Doing It For Themselves

This past semester I was happy to read about an exciting, nascent movement afoot in the library world called Library 2.0. There isn’t a succinct definition for it (it’s been called a “collective of ideas”) but as Michael Stephens, who writes about Library 2.0 issues on his blog, TametheWeb, nicely put it:

Library 2.0 simply means making your library’s space (virtual and physical) more interactive, collaborative, and driven by community needs. Examples of where to start include blogs, gaming nights for teens, and collaborative photo sites. The basic drive is to get people back into the library by making the library relevant to what they want and need in their daily lives…to make the library a destination and not an afterthought.

So, given the caveat that Library 2.0 is a nebulous term and that I only first came to know about it in September, I've come to understand it as a set of tools, most of them revolving around social technologies, that bring libraries into a much needed alignment with the kinds of Web applications and services most of its patrons are already using and benefiting from everyday. Of course, those advocating for Library 2.0 the most are always quick to jump in and say that it’s about more then just technology, that it’s an attitude or readjustment in the library world, one that’s attempting to move the profession away from stagnant traditionalist ways of thinking and toward fresh new ideas. That relevancy thing-- it's something that creeps up in all my classes, right after we discuss how libraries are in crisis.

One of the impediments to integrating these new attitudes according to Library 2.0 advocates, especially at the technological level, are library vendors, those companies who provide stuff like the databases and on-line subscription services. John Blyberg, probably my favorite of the small, committed band of Library 2.0 apostles, wrote that these vendors “literally determine what we can and cannot do with our systems.” Vendors and their services are, according to Blyberg, too slow, too patronizing and too prohibitive. They don’t make it easy for libraries to get into the guts of their systems, screw around with them and adopt them to their current needs. Instead, too many libraries sit around waiting and hoping that the vendors will eventually respond.

That being said, some libraries, frustrated by the limitations and high costs of commercial vendors, are taking matters into their own hands.

About three years ago, the Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) looked for a new integrated library system (ILS) to serve its large consortial group of libraries across the state and found its needs frustrated by the commercial ILS market. This September 5, it debuted a new library system and catalog. Evergreen was developed by a small in-house team using open source technologies, at significantly lower cost than the commercial options that were available. This strategy has proven dramatically more flexible in meeting the needs of GPLS, and the new system has been welcomed by librarians and patrons alike.

But best of all, this:

Among Evergreen’s characteristics is spell-checking of search terms with suggested alternates, much like Google’s suggestions when you misspell a word.

Catalog spell-checking, where have you been all my life?

(Thanks to Joe for the link to the Library Journal article.)

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