I'm getting a little bit tired of tools.
That is to say, I'm getting a little bit tired of how much excitement in libraries over all the new tools and technologies which are available to us to very easily morph from How can these new technologies fulfill needs and desires our library has?
to How can we use these new technologies?
Not there isn't a place for that second question, but I feel like I'm treading water in a tool-driven world. There are a lot of real needs that libraries aren't yet meeting, and the new tools and technologies really can potentially meet those needs, even in a flashy whiz bang awesome way. Simple little things such as LibraryElf
meet the need of adding to the possible ways users can be notified of their records. Or the tag cloud that Penn's library is developing
, which may well meet the need of helping users find information in the way that makes no sense to them. These are genuinely good ideas. And yet at the same time, I see so many people who just seem to be saying OPML! Podcasting! Library 2.0! Millennials who play World of Warcraft all day!
I'm actually not criticizing anyone in particular. Most of the librarians I know and bloggers I read are exactly on track, I think, seeing the technology available as useful but driven by needs. But I want to step back away from the flash for just minute, and go back to basics. If we're spending all this time on wonderful fancy exciting technology, why do OPACs still suck? Why is it that administering them is a nightmare, and why do so many of them not conform to user needs?
I'm excited about Eprints
, though I haven't played with it much yet. It's very simple, basic tool. It does one thing, and as far as I can tell from reading about it, it does that one thing well and in easy to administer fashion. The one thing it does is arguably essential -- or at least essential if you believe in open access or institution based preservation. It doesn't have a lot of flash, it doesn't have a lot of abilities. It starts at the bottom, which is where I want to start.
I've been re-reading Walt Crawford's Library 2.0 essay [PDF]
. For some points I agree with it, and on other points I disagree or don't have an opinion. But he certainly raises the question about whether Library 2.0 is about users and attitudes or about technology. Overall, I think it depends who you're talking to, and when. I think most people mean well about being user focused and needs focused, but it is difficult not to get distracted by all the new toys. Wikis and blogs and semantic web, oh my! Perpetual beta!
So while in general I think we're on the right track, I'm just a little tired. I want to step back and think about needs, and that figure out ways to fill those needs, and then, when those needs are filled
, start thinking about bells and whistles.Edited to add
: I do understand that one of the rallying cries of Library 2.0 is that users should be helping determine needs, not librarians. But completely leaving aside the places where this is less appropriate, I'd say that the talk is nice, but the walk doesn't always work out that way. Letting users help determing needs isn't always about new technology. Sometimes it is, as in Penn's tagging OPAC. But sometimes it's a suggestion box, a patron group meeting, a friendly face. And technology? Isn't all about empowering the users as decision makers. Semantic web and RDF might be about the users in the long run, but right now? They just aren't going to serve the needs of most patrons
. That doesn't mean we shouldn't use them, but it does mean we shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking Shiny! Must be useful!
For that matter, even things that look good might not be; we'll see how Penn's tags play out in the long run, and virtual reference and IM reference have worked for some user communities and not for others.