The 5 Laws of Library 2.0

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Upon rediscovering the 5 laws of library science put forth by Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan I realized how much they have applied to current trends in Library 2.0. The laws as they were written stated:

  1. Books are for use.
  2. Every person has his(their) book.
  3. Every book has its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism.

From the time these laws were put forth, the way libraries functioned began to focus upon how the user interacted with the library. Services were created, often when technologies made themselves useful, which helped users take advantage of the ever-increasing collections gathered by libraries. The digital age made such things as interlibrary loan, OPACs, online journals, and federated searching; tools for book and user to become linked to one another.

As the Web expanded, Alireza Noruzi created the five laws of the Web, which were pretty much the exact same laws but with the Web or Internet. Prior to this, Michael Gorman set down the 5 additional laws:

  1. Libraries serve humanity.
  2. Respect all forms by which knowledge is communicated.
  3. Use technology intelligently to enhance service.
  4. Protect free access to knowledge.
  5. Honor the past and create the future.

Though some vendors would question the fourth law, the remaining laws were rather reasonable critiques on the nature of libraries. In many ways these laws adapt nicely to the manner in which Web 2.0 tools have evolved and continue to influence our culture. But what would the laws for Library 2.0 be?

  1. Information is for use, but the manner of use is unique to every user.
  2. Every person has an information resource and can collect, reorganize, and annotate resources.
  3. Every information resource has one or many users and various ways to be accessed.
  4. Efficient and popular technologies should be explored and utilized when appropriate, in order to save the time of the user.
  5. The library is an amorphous organism which changes to suit returning users and the needs of future users.

Several of these adapted laws have changed in response to how the “information” is formed and used. For example, as wiki’s, blogs and other social applications gain favor, the information contained within these resources changes without notice. Depending on the author of the information, it may be preserved or simply wiped from the noticeable existence of the web. Libraries must stick to their previous notions of preservation, if for nothing else a means for the information creators to keep a history of their products.

Web 2.0 also brings with it several changes to the way information will be accessed. Digital books are still written by an author, or group of specified editors, but the model of use has changed. Digital books go one step further than physical books in that where the “one book to one user” was limited to one user at a time (save for multiple copies); digital books can be used by many users at the same time. It is also becoming more common to see digital materials indexed in such a way that users can search for particular portions (charts, images, phrases, chapter titles, etc.) and locate the information they needed in a much more expedient manner than prior indexing.

Though many question the viability of sites such as Wikipedia when compared to Britannica and other specialized encyclopedias, the model inspired by this development may well become more common in the near future. So now we have the model of not only every person having their own book, but perhaps adding to or editing their own book. The border line between author and user becomes ever increasingly blurred as collaborative reference works become more common. There are even projects working on digitally published “books” that are edited and created via the Wikipedia model.

The user is already well on their way to becoming pseudo-taxonomists, as they tag and create shared metadata for the things they use online. This ability to create and fashion the library resources, and in some respects the library environment, to their needs, should be a accepted law for Library 2.0. Most librarians would never suggest substituting longstanding taxonomies and classification systems for flat folksonomies or tag clouds, but if users had the choice to create and browse such an interface; would they find it easier?

As for library services, the amount of change is dependent upon the library type. In academic libraries fostering scholarly communication and providing a social research locale may be top priorities to the staff. In public libraries the atmosphere may focus more upon breaking down the walls between fun and function. This may include arranging the library in a “bookstore” layout, offering programs in topics the users are concerned with in their everyday lives, providing a safe place for youth and teens to interact and inspire one another, and provide access to digital tools otherwise absent from the less privileged in society. Whatever the case may be, Library 2.0 harnesses the same mentality as Web 2.0. The focus is on the user and how they want to use the library.

This may sound like a dangerous path to take, as the tone seems to disregard many of the valuable practices libraries have sought to instill in users. The fact is that any positive intellectual behaviors the library promoted in the past is still central to our goal. The trick is not to bludgeon the users over their heads with bibliographic instruction, complex search construction, and information literacy assessment standards. Instead make such services easy and transparent by telling them what we have, how to find it, and the many ways they can use it. Users are often better equipped than we think to tackle new technologies and find what they need, it’s just sometimes libraries unknowingly put up barriers and confuse them at step 1.

In other words, I don’t need to know how the carburetor works in my car, or even how to fix it, in order to drive my car to work. If I have a question about it one day, there are many specialists I can seek out to help me. If they diagnose the problem and tell me what caused it, I am equipped to either prevent it from happening again or refer to them in the future. However, if the mechanic tells me I should put grape juice in the fuel one week and causally tells me that my carburetor was taken out and replaced by a holographic facsimile, I may not be as confident in mechanics or garages in general. If that car was a journal, a user might begin to wonder why they should buy a ticket to take Wikipedia each day.

To put it another way, I don’t have to completely understand how a carburetor works, or even how to fix it, to drive my car. I know there is a specialist out there to help me if I have a question about it.

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