One of the appealing aspects of Library 2.0, from my perspective, is the focus on engaging and empowering the community (Casey & Savastinuk, 2007), and by community, I mean the user and the nonuser, what Casey & Savastinuk refer to as “the long tail” (p. 6).
As discussed in chapter 10, there is a decision process whereby the perceived probable benefit of using the library is compared with the perceived probable cost. The benefit derives from the personal values of the individual and the perceived chances of successful reduction of the distress through use of the library. The cost—the “real price”—is mainly nonmonetary, having elements of time, effort, and discomfort. . . .The decision to use a particular library service for a particular inquiry is likely to be taken only if it seems likely to be worthwhile. More formally, all of three conditions would need to be met: 1. the perceived probable benefit exceeds the perceived probable cost; 2. alternative sources of information are perceived as less attractive in terms of probable cost and benefit; and 3. the individual has not decided to discontinue—temporarily or permanently—the attempt to resolve the distressing ignorance. This is liable to happen at any point. (p. 126)
In order to understand how to reduce distress and make the benefits outweigh the costs, we have to understand those outside of the library. Explanations like those offered by Casey & Savastinuk, that libraries must fill the shelves with those books most in demand (or to update their claim: have the most in demand maker spaces) do not satisfy me. I realize the economic reality about this claim (though I don’t think it is consonant with the democratizing vision or the ALA ethical imperative “to serve all”, or the mission statements of most libraries that usually say something to serve “people of all ages”, see Casey & Savastinuk’s examples, p. 26), but that’s not really my issue, my concern is that we see the problem of one of not having the right product rather than recognizing that we have not effectively defined the problem. And the only way we will do that is by understanding not only what information needs the nonuser has and who they go to for those needs, but why they don’t come to the library and why they are okay with some of those information needs going unmet. If the problem is a lack of product or product access, the solution is increase product (as Casey & Savastinuk note, give more downloadable options, p. 18), but what if that is only one small part of the problem?
Casey & Savastinuk point out the importance of knowing your community (p. 29), but what does that mean? Do surveys of users help you know your community? It seems like it helps you know your users. . . which, sadly, is not the community. And demographic data, while easy to collect from census collections, tells you nothing about how information needs are met or unmet. Casey & Savastinuk do suggest driving or walking around the neighborhood, which at least gets you into the community, and, further, they emphasize trying to survey the nonuser, despite the difficulties (p. 31). I appreciated here their questions such as “I know you don’t use the library, but what do you use?” (p. 32). This seems like a good question. And questions like this are also essential to moving beyond “user” solutions. Creating a blog for the library will not help the nonuser. . .
How can technology be leveraged and how do we re-vision technology’s use without just refashioning it to do something that we used to do without technology (replacing pens with computers, for example). Mathews’ (2012) “Don’t think about better vacuum cleaners, think about cleaner floors”, is exactly what I’m talking about! So, what’s the real question here: maybe not how do we make libraries better, but how do we make information services better? Or not how do we get the nonuser in the library, but how do we get good information to everyone? Mathews (2012) writes, “The library is not a building, a website, or a person; it is a platform for scholars, students, cultural enthusiasts, and others who want to absorb and advance knowledge” (p. 4). I actually do NOT agree with him. Yes, I think it is a platform, but I think it’s for everyone.
Don’t think about it!
Check out this slideshare of a library revisioned:
And this website from the Aspen Institute: Library as People, place and platform
I am interested in how we can effectively go about that process. Technology may provide some useful avenues, but my guess is good old feet to the pavement research will be the first step.