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Academic Libraries 2.0 Keynote: Meredith Farkas

Meredith Farkas hit all the right notes in her keynote
presentation at the LAUC-B conference, Academic Library 2.0 on Friday. She had an upbeat, energetic and enthusiastic
presence as she covered the familiar territory of keynote-dom:

  •  a context-setting comparison of Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, making an analogy between Web 2.0 and
    Library 2.0;
  • a few pats on the back of the library profession for ?not sitting in the hallway by firelight? before the advent of the Web generation of librarians;
  • a number of good examples of libraries using social networking tools,
  • frequent exhortations to continue to experiment and move forward into the brave new world.

 Meredith employed two quite different, but both common, connotations of the Web 2.0/Library 2.0 label: both a state of mind and a set of software applications. You must have the right state of mind to use the software effectively. The right state of mind

  •  engages in ?radical trust? to invite our public to participate in helping to build research tools such as wikis and even catalogs
  • requires constant change to keep up with users
  • questions the effectiveness of everything we do
  • experiments; is willing to try new tools and methods that are not perfect
  • perhaps even rejects completion and perfection as ideals, replacing them with the goal of a perpetually improving ?beta? version of our tools

An indication of the degree to which the 2.0 label commands attention these days was Meredith?s example of the changes a library can make to better serve users with no technology whatsoever. Simply finding out what patrons really want from libraries and changing our services accordingly (the example she gave was changing library hours in response to student suggestions) is, according to her, a kind of ?low tech wiki??. things that aren?t ?sexy and
shiny? to reach people who will never be interested in technology, in other words, a Web 2.0 state of mind.

 Meredith reminded us that social networking software, such as blogs and wikis, are important to libraries only insofar as they can help us serve our users better, for example blogs can help us communicate better with patrons, and wikis can help us aggregate our collective knowledge better, Facebook can serve as an ?online Rolodex?, IM lets us better keep in touch with our colleagues.

 The large part of her presentation was an attempt to answer the question, ?How can we use social software to increase use of our resources?? The examples Meredith gave ranged across the US and Canada, from small colleges to large research universities, and can be seen in her slides, which are at meredithfarkas.wetpaint.com.

 I admit it was a relief to hear a few of the ideas Meredith mentioned are ones that some of us at Berkeley have begun to use: chat reference, putting links to library resources into the bSpace learning management system, web-based tutorials, library blogs. She spoke about many other uses of technology that we could be trying as well: wikis as places where students and librarians can collaborate on compiling information on research topics, creating RSS feeds of new books, or maybe feeds of alerts for new articles in databases, and using
social networking tools like Wikipedia and Facebook as places to link our resources.

 I appreciated Meredith?s emphasis on the human needs of library staffs that must accompany the changes wrought if libraries employ these social applications. She acknowledged that all this change requires time to learn and time to build the tools. We need to change our expectations of ourselves, and provide recognition for those who develop new tools. ?Build into people?s jobs the requirement to work with new tools? this makes it clear that it?s a real job, it?s serious and it matters to the administration.? She warned that we may need either new hires, or to reshuffle jobs, and wondered if our libraries are really organizationally ready to adopt the Web 2.0 tools, with the implication that we want the results without the commitment of resources needed to achieve them.

 In order to make these changes we need to become learning cultures. A learning culture requires administrative support for all staff, because the ideas we need will come from all staff, not just technologically adventurous people.
And some of the most important feedback may come from staff who are resistant to change? they must be heard and attended to as well as the change agents.

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