Overall Review of Library 2.0 and Public Library Websites

While it sometimes seems that the library profession has reached its saturation point with regards to discussions of Library 2.0, there are always those libraries that have either not gotten on the bandwagon or who have decided not to participate for whatever reason of their own. In this simple review of four different library websites, there was a large range of involvement in Library 2.0. Some libraries, like CML embrace the Library 2.0 idea, and try to incorporate it in numerous ways, while on the other end, sites like that of the Salt Lake City Library are devoid of any tools designed to promote interactivity.

Having Library 2.0 tools is not always an entirely good thing, their success in enhancing patron’s experience on the website depends on a number of different factors all being in place. Among the most crucial are: how easy a tool is to use, how clear it is why one would want to use it, and how frequently and consistently it is updated. If all of these things are not present, then the library runs the risk of making the user’s experience less pleasant then a straight informational website, without fancy interactive options.

To some degree, all of the libraries that used Library 2.0 tools assume that the reason why their patrons would want to use them was obvious. This may be true when a library uses a new technology to replace an older, less interactive tool, offering the same service in a new venue. For instance, with Chat reference service they may not need to explain why a user would want to ask a question of a librarian, since that is a key aspect of what librarians traditionally do. Similarly, libraries may not need to justify interactive calendars. However, when the calendar or the chat introduce new elements that distinguish them from the traditional, the library has a chance to promote itself and its services by explaining how the new service is better then the older one.

While I found most of the Library 2.0 tools that were used on these sites to be easy to navigate without outside assistance, some of the tools were very difficult to find. If a user can’t easly find the tool, then it doesn’t matter how easy it is to use, because to a large degree it is invisible. Even those tools that were displayed front and center were not always explained as to what they were, which meant they were hiding in plain sight. For instance, if a user doesn’t know what an RSS feed is, that little orange icon doesn’t mean anything.

Perhaps the largest issue with the Library 2.0 tools that are integrated into library websites is how consistent they are updated. As I looked through the various blogs, Podcasts, and MySpace pages from these libraries, I noted that the vast majority had not been updated within the past month, and some had not received new posts in more then a year. Why would users want to go to all the trouble to learn a new technology if they are not going to get anything from it? And how can a library set itself as an information community, when they don’t hold up their side of the bargain to contribute content?

These caveats force me to conclude that if a library can’t commit to following through with Library 2.0 tools by providing customer training, promotion, and consistent updates, that it may be better to just forgo the tools entirely. Having poorly maintained and explained Library 2.0 tools is worse then not having any.

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