Web 2.0 and Special Libraries

    It’s been buzzing around conferences, articles, and the Internet: Web 2.0.  But what is Web 2.0?  Perhaps more importantly, how does it apply to library and information science?  This paper provides an introductory overview to Web 2.0 and discusses its impact on library and information science, what has become known as Library 2.0.


Web 2.0
Library 2.0

Web 2.0

        As with many buzzwords and new concepts, Web 2.0 means many different things to many different people.  In his oft-cited piece “What is Web 2.0,” O’Reilly attempts to clarify the meaning by identifying features of Web 2.0, such as the web as platform, harnessing collective intelligence, and rich user experiences (2005).  Web 2.0 is the development and implementation of tools and platforms focused on the user.  Web 2.0 “is about empowering people to become participants and interact with one another online (Grossman, 2007).”  There are a number of technologies which have immerged that empower the user and encourage participation by employing the features identified by O’Reilly.  The core literature available on Web 2.0 is currently focused on these technologies, which include, but are not limited to:

  • RSS
  • Wikis
  • Blogs
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Mash-ups
  • Personalized Toolbars
  • Social Networking Software
  • Podcasting
  • Photo Sharing
  • User Reviews/Ratings/Commentary

Some of these technologies are self-explanatory (e.g., user reviews/ratings/comments) while others are discussed in more detail below.


       RSS can refer to a number of abbreviations: Real-Time Simple Syndication, RDF (Resource Description Framework) Site Summary, Rich Site Summary, or the most seen Really Simple Syndication (Stephens, 2006).  RSS allows users to republish (syndicate) content from other sites on their own site or through aggregates.  RSS is popular because it allows automated web surfing – updating a user’s feed when content on the other sites is updated.  It also enables the user to personalize information retrieval and content to an extreme level (Stephens, 2006). 


      Meredith Farkas, LibSuccess Wiki-master and creator of the 2006 ALA Annual Conference wiki, defines a wiki as an application that “enables a group of people to collaboratively develop a Web site with no Web design experience.  Any member of the community can add to or edit the work of others, so essentially, a wiki is a perpetual work in progress.  Wiki, meaning quick in Hawaiian, was designed specifically for easy and quick collaboration online” (Stephens, 2006, p. 52).  Many people are familiar with Wikipedia, a collaborative, online encyclopedia that any registered user can edit. 


      A weblog, or blog, is the Web 2.0 progeny of personal web pages.  Stephens details the features that make a website a blog:  chronological organization, self-archived by date, regularly updated, hyperlinking, a unique URL for each individual posting, and the provision of an RSS feed to syndicate the content (2006).  Blogging software is freely available, allowing the medium to be flexible for personal and professional use, internal or external communication.  Maness goes so far as to claim, “Blogs may indeed be an even greater milestone in the history of publishing than web-pages.  They enable the rapid production and consumption of Web-based publications.  In some ways, the copying of printed materials is to web-pages as the printing press is to blogs (2006).”  Even beyond their publication abilities, by utilizing RSS and commentary software, blogs are much more interactive and participatory than static web pages.

Social Bookmarking

    Many of us are familiar with bookmarking, both literally in a physical book and virtually with our favorite websites.  Social bookmarking takes this practice to the next, participatory level.  Rethlefsen notes that “social bookmarking tools serve two general purposes: helping you keep track of what you’ve seen and showing you what you may have missed” (2006).  These tools allow you to do this by bookmarking websites in the “traditional” virtual sense, but then combine value-added content such as keywords or tags and the ability to share bookmarks.  Public and private sharing groups can be created with some programs, ideal for reaching large groups or specific groups, such as project teams (Rethlefsen, 2006).


      Mash-ups are very much as they sound:  information is pulled from different sources and “mashed-up” to create more value.  Many mash-up services involving mapping, allowing users to import or add information to a pre-existing map, such as those available from Google Maps.  For example, office location information can be pulled from a company website and superimposed on a map allowing for an interactive experience that could vary from simple location to extensive value-add-ons such as contact information, photos, description, and comment features.

Web 2.0 and Special Libraries

       As Stephen Abram noted, “The Web 2.0 movement is laying the groundwork for exponential business growth and another major shift in the way our users live, work, and play.  We have the ability, insight, and knowledge to influence the creation of this new dynamic – and guarantee the future of our profession (2005, p. 46).”  The implementation of Web 2.0 technologies and theories in libraries and other information centers has led to the idea of Library 2.0.  So how does Web 2.0 translate into libraries, particularly special libraries, and how can this positively change the state of our information centers?

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Library 2.0

        Library 2.0 utilizes Web 2.0 technologies, such as those discussed above, to create user-centered change (Casey, 2006).  New library services are created and pre-existing services are modified to embrace concepts such as harnessing collective intelligence and rich user experiences that define Web 2.0.  Casey believes that any service, old or new, physical or virtual, can be a Library 2.0 service if it successfully reaches users, utilizes customer feedback, and is evaluated frequently (2006).  This definition of a Library 2.0 service makes two important points. 

For one, a library service is not 2.0 simply because it is new.  The value-added features of the service, such as user comments, community participation, and continual re-evaluation, define that service as Library 2.0.  If the service has been offered for years, but embraces these concepts, it can be considered a Library 2.0 service.

The second significant point of Casey’s definition is that any library service, physical or virtual, can be a Library 2.0 service.  Web 2.0 is eponymously virtual.  The very first feature of Web 2.0 described by O’Reilly is “the web as platform (2005).”  But when translated into the library setting, the user-centric aspects are the core of 2.0, not specifically the web.  In fact, Casey argues that technology is not required to create a 2.0 environment (2006).  Technology may make implementing Library 2.0 services easier and faster, but the concepts of Library 2.0 can be applied to services without use the Web or the computer.

        Why Library 2.0?

The “Web 2.0” section of this paper introduced a large bite of new technologies, some of which the reader may never have heard of.  A deeper look into Web 2.0 literature reveals even more Web 2.0 technologies that could be implemented in Library 2.0.  Suddenly, the idea of transitioning to Library 2.0 appears overwhelming; all those technologies to learn, to train others on, to implement, to update, and all because “everyone else is doing it”?  There are, however, manageable ways to become Library 2.0 and very good reasons for doing so.

One can certainly debate the merits of Library 2.0, just as librarians debated the merits of Beta, CD-ROMs, and the Internet.  One could easily become locked into a philosophical argument over personalization and the perils of adapting policy based on trendiness, and remain static while the world of the users changes.  Or the librarian can explore the Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 territory, learn the techniques, and try examples of these concepts, and find applications that will benefit his or her workplace (Notess, 2006) because some of these technologies will be useful in a special library setting, including corporate, and can be successfully introduced by the special library (Abram, 2005). 

Library 2.0 can be important to libraries and information centers because it breaks the cycle of “plan, implement, and forget” that many services and plans suffer (Casey, 2006).  The concepts of Library 2.0 require feedback and regularly reevaluation that utilizes said feedback.  This means that even if a new service is started that invites user participation and solicits feedback, if the librarian never uses that feedback to evaluate and update the service, that service is not 2.0.  By reexamining services on a scheduled basis, librarians continually improve these services, providing better user experiences and increasing the value of these services.  Library 2.0 should not be implemented because it is trendy or as a last-ditch effort to save the library, but rather because it provides unique, high-value services (Balas, 2007) that better serve the users.  This relationship with the user is at the core of the library’s mission and it is the librarian’s mandate to continually strive to improve and better that relationship.  Library 2.0 concepts do just that.

How can Library 2.0 aid information centers in meeting their missions?  “Library 2.0 mainstreams marketing, socializing, networking, jumping in without permission, finding links and connections others can’t see, and so on (Huwe, 2007).”  Essentially, Library 2.0 takes the needs of the user, the information center, and the company and offers a way for all three to help the other.  As Abram noted, the users of special libraries are easy to identify and target and are usually more tech savvy than the general population.  By introducing these users to Web 2.0 technologies through Library 2.0 services, special libraries can help users employ these technologies to reach the user’s individual goals and translate these into the goals of the company/institution (2005).  Thus the user is better able to do his or her job, making the company able to achieve its goals, and the information center fulfills its mission.

       Implementing Library 2.0

    One of the most important steps for any manager starting a new program or service in a library is to have staff support.  Library 2.0 requires librarians to interact with the users, to actively participate with the users to increase their experience and the value of the services.  Stephens (2006) offers ten steps for getting the support of your staff on new projects:

1.                Listen to your staff

2.                Involve staff in planning

3.                Tell stories – demonstrate why and how

4.                Be transparent

5.                Report and debrief

6.                Do your research

7.                Manage projects efficiently and effectively

8.                Formally convene the Emerging Technology Group

9.                Training 2.0: Let everyone play and experience

10.           Celebrate success

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Web 2.0 offers ease and convenience to users in a personalized, information-rich environment.  In libraries and information centers, this translates into Library 2.0, user-center services that are participatory and continually improved.  These increase use and value of library services, bettering users, the company or institution as a whole, and demonstrating once again the value of a library or information center.  So explore.  Play.  But most importantly, implement.  Web 2.0 has become the standard for today’s Internet, and Library 2.0 will be a part of the future of libraries and information centers.  You can quickly and easily begin implementing Library 2.0 in your own environment and adding value to your services – today.

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Abram, S. (2005).  Web 2.0 – Huh?! Library 2.0, Librarian 2.0 [Electronic version].  Information Outlook, 9(12), 44-46.

Balas, J.L. (2007).  eLearning about Library 2.0. Computers in Libraries, 27(1), 39-42.  Retrieved April 12, 2007, from Library Literature & Information Science Full Text database.

Casey, M. & Savastinuk, L. (2006) Library 2.0.  Library Journal, 131(14), 40-42.  Retrieved April 12, 2007, from the Academic Search Premier database.

Grossman, D. (2007).  Internet Librarian 2006: 10 years old and going strong.  Searcher, 15(2), 45-50.  Retrieved April 12, 2007, from the Academic Search Premier database.

Huwe, T. (2007).  Surfing the Library 2.0 wave. Computers in Libraries, 27(1), 36-38.  Retrieved April 12, 2007, from the Academic Search Premier database.

Maness, J.M. (2006).  Library 2.0 theory: Web 2.0 and its implications for libraries. Webology 3(2).  Retrieved April 12, 2007, from http://www.webology.ir/2006/v3n2/a25.html

Notess, G.R. (2006). The terrible twos: Web 2.0, Library 2.0, and more. Online (Weston, Conn.) 30(3), 40-42.  Retrieved April 12, 2007, from Library Literature & Information Science Full Text database.

O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is Web 2.0: Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software.  Retrieved April 12, 2007, from www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/new/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html

Rethlefsen, M.L. (2006). Product pipeline.  Library Journal, Net Connect 16-17 Summer 2006 Supplement.  Retrieved April 12, 2007, from Library Literature & Information Science Full Text database.

Stephens, M. (2006).  Web 2.0 & libraries: Best practices for social software.  In Library Technology Reports, 42(4).  Chicago: ALA TechSource.

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Appendix - 2.0 on the Web

Amazon Online shopping.  “Amazon.com is committed to being Earth's most customer-centric company.”
Backpack Backpack is a simple web-based service that allows you to make pages with to-do lists, notes, files, and images. Backpack also features a Calendar and Reminders that can be sent via email or to your cell phone at predefined times.”
Basecamp Basecamp takes a fresh, novel approach to project collaboration. Projects don't fail from a lack of charts, graphs, stats, or reports, they fail from a lack of clear communication. Basecamp solves this problem by providing tools tailored to improve the communication between people working together on a project.”
Bloglines Bloglines is a FREE online service for searching, subscribing, creating and sharing news feeds, blogs and rich web content. With Bloglines, there is no software to download or install -- simply register as a new user and you can instantly begin accessing your account any time, from any computer or mobile device. And it's FREE!”
del.icio.us “del.icio.us is a social bookmarking website -- the primary use of del.icio.us is to store your bookmarks online, which allows you to access the same bookmarks from any computer and add bookmarks from anywhere, too. On del.icio.us, you can use tags to organize and remember your bookmarks, which is a much more flexible system than folders.You can also use del.icio.us to see the interesting links that your friends and other people bookmark, and share links with them in return. You can even browse and search del.icio.us to discover the cool and useful bookmarks that everyone else has saved -- which is made easy with tags.”
Facebook Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you.  Facebook is made up of many networks, each based around a workplace, region, high school or college.  You can use Facebook to: Share information with people you know, See what's going on with your friends, Look up people around you.”
Flickr Flickr - almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world - has two main goals: 1. We want to help people make their photos available to the people who matter to them. 2. We want to enable new ways of organizing photos.”
LibraryThing “LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. You can access your catalog from anywhere—even on your mobile phone. Because everyone catalogs together, LibraryThing also connects people with the same books, comes up with suggestions for what to read next, and so forth.”
My Space MySpace is an online community that lets you meet your friends' friends.  Create a private community on MySpace and you can share photos, journals and interests with your growing network of mutual friends!  See who knows who, or how you are connected. Find out if you really are six people away from Kevin Bacon.”
Ta-da Lists Ta-da makes it easy to:Keep track of all the little things you need to get done, Make lists for other people (co-workers, friends, family), Share lists with the world ("My favorite movies of 2004"), Subscribe to your lists in RSS so you're always on track...and more!”
Unalog “You can look at what various people and groups of people are reading on the web here. You can get an account and add your own links, and create and join groups here too. If you get an account, or create a group, either one can be made private, so nobody but you (if a private account) or your fellow group members (if a private group) can see your links.”
Wikipedia Wikipedia is a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. With rare exceptions, its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet.”
Writeboard “Writeboards are sharable, web-based text documents that let you save every edit, roll back to any version, and easily compare changes.  Use Writeboard to write solo or collaborate with others.”
Writely “If you've ever struggled to keep track of different versions of spreadsheet or word processor files sent over email, Google Docs & Spreadsheets may be right for you. Google Docs & Spreadsheets is a free web-based word processing and spreadsheet program that keeps documents current and lets the people you choose update files from their own computers. You can, for example, coordinate your student group's homework assignments, access your family to-do list from work or home, or collaborate with remote colleagues on a new business plan.”
You Tube Founded in February 2005, YouTube is the leader in online video, and the premier destination to watch and share original videos worldwide through a Web experience. YouTube allows people to easily upload and share video clips on www.YouTube.com and across the Internet through websites, mobile devices, blogs, and email.”
Zoho Office Suite

Solo and collaborative word-processing, spreadsheets, presentations, wikis, notebooks, projects and more.

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Created by Andrea M. Wright
Last updated on May 9, 2007
Email: andrea_setters@yahoo.com

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