Lately, I’ve been hearing librarians say some interesting things about incorporating emerging online trends into their already hectic work lives. They’ll say “wow, this is cool” when I give a presentation – but when implementation time arrives – when these busy people actually need to start incorporating some of these new things into their work day, here’s what I sometimes hear (warning – simulations of real stuff I hear):
“we don’t have time to write blog posts – we’re busy serving customers” or “I’m extremely busy answering real patron questions all day long, so I don’t have time left to [fill in the blank with a 2.0 tool]“
I understand what they’re saying. It’s difficult to believe this new-fangled, 2.0-ish stuff is relevant when you are sitting at a busy service desk with a line 20 people deep, or when you have waiting lists for computer use. Library 2.0 is about building community? Visit a public library branch any day to see community building in action. Attend a program, join the bookclub, participate in an adult literacy or ESL program as a volunteer tutor or learner. That’s community building. Sometimes, emerging 2.0 tools and services seem to get in the way of all this busy, real-time activity already taking place.
Ok, wait a sec. This is davidleeking dot com we’re reading, right?
Yep… I see a small problem in the stuff I just said. Most of our library communities have a quickly-growing number of library customers that are actively participating in the emerging web – they are already creating content, participating, and interacting – with each other and with the companies and products they use. They are your library’s digital community.
The problem? We don’t have anything for our library’s digital community to do! OCLC‘s recent report, Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World says this about our physical libraries: “Offline, libraries are vibrant social spaces. They are hubs of community activities and provide a venue for open exchange and dialogue” (8-5). But online? How many libraries can say they provide “vibrant social spaces,” hubs of community activity” or “a venue for open exchange and dialogue” in our digital spaces? Not too many.
Why is this? I think we’re simply not focusing on that growing digital community. Yes, we ARE focusing on customers (that’s a good thing)… but many of us are only focusing on our library’s regular in-house customers (that’s a bad thing). It’s quite possible that by focusing primarily on library customers who visit the physical library, we are ignoring our growing digital population.
Let me use my library as an example. We certainly get our fair share of traditional walk-in customers – our parking lot is ALWAYS FULL. But we also have a huge number of digital customers. Remember what we do with holds? We mail them out – you never have to physically visit our library to check out a book (cool, huh?).
Those items our customers are putting on hold come from our digital community – most likely customers who used our online library catalog from home or work. That’s just one example of living, breathing members of our digital community using our digital library. And they are a growing digital community. What else do we offer them? Thankfully in my library’s case, quite a lot currently (with more to come next year).
Let’s develop this a little further by perusing OCLC’s report a little more. OCLC provides some amazing insight into our growing digital communities:
- “The vast majority (89%) of the 6,163 general public respondents have been using the Internet for four years or more” (page 7-1) [update – Michelle reminded me that OCLC surveyed online users… the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s research shows that 73% of the US are Internet users, for what it’s worth)
- “The majority of the online population surveyed have moved from “digital immigrant” status to fully naturalized digital citizens. Nearly two-thirds of the general public respondents over the age of 50 have been online for seven years or more, and nearly a third have been using the Internet for more than 10 years” (page 7-1)
- “The Web community has migrated from using the Internet to building it.” (7-1)
Did you hear that?
Most A majority of our library customers have used the web for at least 4 years. And most of those customers (read the report for the stats) have grown beyond simple clicking and surfing… they are interacting, creating, and participating… at other websites.
The gist of the report is this – the web has moved on, and libraries need to catch up. “To entice users to the online library, libraries must expand their social activities, allowing users to easily share and create content and collaborate with others. They must build a high-value presence on the Web, a strong enough brand to compete…” (8-5).
First steps? Stop ignoring your library’s rapidly-growing digital community. They might not be current users of your physical library – how can you reach them? What do you have to offer them? Can you offer them something that would keep them coming back for more?
I think so.