Monday, August 20, 2007

A Librarian's Anti-2.0 Manifesto

A spectre is haunting librarianship - the spectre of "Library 2.0."

As if it's not bad enough when encountered in the blogosphere, now there's a "Librarian's 2.0 Manifesto" published in the August issue of American Libraries (on p. 48 for those of you with the stomach for it). I thought the whole idea of the traditional publication process was to weed out all this stuff. Oh wait, that's to weed out critical voices like mine. On second thought, this stuff seems like about the right intellectual level for American Libraries. And there's a note that ACRL is going to release some book related to this manifesto. Et tu, ACRL?

Like almost all documents with "manifesto" in the title, it's pretentious and silly at the same time. And like another silly manifesto, it should end with a stirring call - "2.0 Librarians have nothing to lose but their brains; they have speaking fees and book contracts to win. 2.0 Librarians unite!" The presentation in the other AL doesn't improve it any, either. It's made up to look like old parchment nailed to a wooden wall. How quaint. I can print this out and paste it all over my library!

In the spirit of camaraderie and good will that I'm famous for, I thought we could take a look at the "manifesto" together. So here goes. This isn't for the faint of heart, so women and children may not want to read this. Wait, what the heck am I saying. Read on, just don't say I didn't warn you.

"I will recognize that the universe of information culture is changing fast and that libraries need to respond positively to these changes to provide resources and services that users need and want."

It's just so enthusiastic, isn't it. I love enthusiasm. Yay! Information culture is changing fast. Okay, I'll grant that, though there's an argument that it's been changing fast for at least 150 years if not more, but let's not let any silly historical perspective get in the way of our breathless enthusiasm. But should we "respond positively" to every change? That's the implication. What if some of the changes are bad? Oh, let's not think about that. In fact, let's not think at all. Let's just get all gooey inside and start chanting our mantras.

"I will educate myself about the information culture of my users and look for ways to incorporate what I learn into library services."

What if my users are complete idiots? What if their "information culture" consists of staring at the television 10 hours a day watching game shows? Should I then make the library more like a game show? "Come on down, Luella! You've just won yourself a free library card!" How about just stopping at "I will educate myself." That'll weed out a lot of librarians right there.

"I will not be defensive about my library, but will look clearly at its situation and make an honest assessment about what can be accomplished. I will become an active participant in moving my library forward."

I certainly won't be defensive about my library, but I might be defensive about my intelligence. My library may be moving forward, but what if they direction it's moving is stupid? Should I then become an "active participant" in keeping it going? And is this any different from just being a "participant"? If the library is "moving forward" toward an abyss, then I should try to stop it, shouldn't I? Or would that just be mean?

"I will recognize that libraries change slowly, and will work with my colleagues to expedite our responsiveness to change."

Let's paraphrase this a bit, shall we? How about, "I won't get too frustrated that my stupid colleagues don't jump on the Twopointopia bandwagon just because I'm all giddy with enthusiasm. I'll try working with them as long as I can stand it, or until they all retire or die off."

"I will be courageous about proposing new services and new ways of providing services, even though some of my colleagues will be resistant. I will take an experimental approach to change and be willing to make mistakes."

Courage isn't the virtue it used to be, is it. How courageous do you need to be to propose a new service? It must be terrifying to know that some people "will be resistant." I wonder what this person's colleagues think of her. Probably about the same as she seems to think of them. The Twopointopians contempt for their non-Twopointopian colleagues is palpable.

"I will not wait until something is perfect before I release it, and I’ll modify it based on user feedback."

Yay! Beta forever! Why even wait until something makes sense to release it? Why not just immediately implement every stupid idea someone has? It's not like any of this takes up anyone's time or energy or money, right? Just do it! Yay!

"I will not fear Google or related services, but rather will take advantage of these services to benefit users while also providing excellent library services that users need."

Who fears Google? I fear big guys walking behind me on the sidewalk at night, but never Google.

"I will avoid requiring users to see things in librarians’ terms but rather will shape services to reflect users’ preferences and expectations."

That makes a lot of sense in an academic library. Let's take a bunch of students who don't know anything and cater to their ignorant expectations. Why don't we just abandon the library all together? After all, even having books on shelves is just those mean old librarians making people see things in their terms. Why not just toss the books into a big pile in the basement since no one will read them anyway. And while you're at it, link all the databases on the library website randomly, because we know they just want to google them instead of relying on the mean old librarians to categorize anything.

"I will be willing to go where users are, both online and in physical spaces, to practice my profession."

I've already covered this one. Go where the users go! That's what I always say. Just be sure to wash your hands afterwards.

"I will create open websites that allow users to join with librarians to contribute content in order to enhance their learning experience and provide assistance to their peers."

I don't want anyone contributing any content in order to enhance their "learning experience." If they want to contribute content, they can get their own website. Or better yet, a blog. Any moron can start a blog. (No wisecracks!)

"I will enjoy the excitement and fun of positive change and will convey this to colleagues and users. I will let go of previous practices if there is a better way to do things now, even if these practices once seemed so great."

So I won't tolerate or criticize anything. No, I'll "enjoy" it. Yay! Excitement and fun, indeed. "Positive" change is in the eye of the beholder, so I guess I'll have to "enjoy" whatever change the Twopointopians want to subject me to. Otherwise, I'm just a big old meany. Why don't we just let go of all practices and close down the libraries to see who notices.

"I will lobby for an open catalog that provides personalized, interactive features that users expect in online information environments."

I'd settle for a catalog that actually had an excellent catalog record for everything the library owned in it.

"I will encourage my library’s administration to blog."

Not if you worked in my library, you wouldn't. I shudder to think. Besides, most library blogs are boring. Do we really need more boring blogs? Could a "library administration blog" be anything but boring? Would it be anything like a "Library 2.0 blog."

"I will validate, through my actions, librarians’ vital and relevant professional role in any type of information culture that evolves."

No, I won't, until the librarians in question can prove to me they actually are "vital" and "relevant" in "any type of information culture." Validate, indeed. I wouldn't validate their parking.

I think I know what my problem is. You might have guessed this, but I was never a cheerleader. I didn't even try out. I thought the cheerleaders were mostly idiots. I thought when I grew up and became a "professional," I'd leave the cheerleading behind. So I don't like cheerleaders very much. I also don't like motivational speakers very much. What I like are people to give me good arguments for doing things, not just gushing and cheering and trying to inspire me with insubstantial nonsense. And I don't like hype and fads, because I'm skeptical and critical. It comes with being smart, I suppose.

And I certainly don't like manifestos, because they're always somebody's vague idea of how they think the world should be without any argument to back it up. There's always some paradise where everyone's happy or everyone "embraces" change or whatever. There's always some villain, whether it's those bourgeois liberals or the mean people who just won't get with the program - always the program of the manifesto-writer.

It's called a "Manifesto for Our Times." If that's true, then our times are just as annoying as all other times. What are we supposed to do with this? Are we supposed to read this and jump up and cheer? Are we just supposed chant our 2.0 mantras? Embrace our inner Twopointopian? Maybe every library should start a 2.0 support group, where we could all get together and whine about how unfair the world is but affirm our righteousness nonetheless. "Hi, my name is AL, and I haven't had a critical or skeptical thought about any faddish and insubstantial idea for change in 6 months!" And all the Twopointopians say, "Yay! AL! Keep up the good work!"

Always change. Never think. Always change. Never think. Always change. Never think. That's your mantra. Keep chanting it.

The only thing that never changes is the rhetoric.


Anonymous said...

Good God, the worst thing is I read through all that drivel and it's little more than a pep talk along the lines of "I'm going to do good because, because......because I think I can!"

Here's what needs to be done:

Make a universal open source software for the library catalog. We had the classification systems librarians made, so if they're so smart let's make the catalog a free standard.

Stop equating "free information" with patrons looking at porn---it turns the regular people off.

Make libraries into what they were, repositories for all the knowledge and literature---not just information. Get funding and legislation to digitize....oh wait a minute they're doing that now and being ignored.

Take academic publishing back into academia; why pay $12,000 a year for a journal hardly anyone reads? A university consortium could publish the journal on their own for nearly nothing, and still keep the publish or perish approach to tenure.

Have the librarians stop encrusting themselves in their own self indulgence, realize it doesn't take a PhD to catalog, or fluency in three languages to work reference. A reasonably smart person, say, just out of school or with an MLS and experience in other fields could do it.

But none of this is likely to happen; we'll keep sliding down the rails into obscurity and obtuse obfuscation. (I had to use a thesaurus for that one).

Soon we'll not only be expected to be all things to all people, but leaders and champions of the Web 2.0 universe and singing it's praises while scrambling to get three Master's degree and speak four languages and know about cataloging Cantonese Literature and take five years tracking down a job paying $35,000 a year.

All that for.....? I say screw it and just get a beer and a bowl of potato chips and watch the library world go down in flames.

Anonymous said...

You are right, AL. This is a manifesto. Publishing a manifesto on a Monday morning might be a red flag. Perhaps you should take the rest of the day off (24-hour bird flu) and drink martinis.

Anonymous said...

Pretty please, tell me that this blog is a joke - an SNL-like spoof of postings by a librarian who hates their job and the people they serve (and ought to get the heck out of the field). In case it's not - I have to respond...

"What if my users are complete idiots?"
This is your problem in a nutshell.

Library2.0 has never been solely about the technology - it's always been about providing user-centered library services. As I've said to IT departments who've been arrogant toward librarians whom they are supposed to support - you need to start with a basic respect for the people you serve.

And in case you can't remember who it is you're serving - think about this, your "idiot" users are providing you with a paycheck.

[OK, in that case - perhaps your characterization was correct - they're idiots for keeping someone like you employed.]

Anonymous said...

Oh my God. I love your posts and this one is perfect!

I am so sick and tired of hearing from the same people over and over about their 2.0 stuff. Sure it is cool but do we need constantly read and hear about them. If only I could write a snappy book to base my career on.

AL said...

anon@11:42, you're so earnest! How do you even find blogs like this?

Anonymous said...

AL's insanity is her sanity.

Anonymous said...

please. "user-centered" is a sham. in the urban libraries where i've worked, a large percentage of our "users" would be best served by the installation of shower stalls in the bathrooms. DVDs rentals and computer access are the only in-demand services - why not then remove reference materials, classic literature, and staff members trained in research since these materials and services demonstrably fall outside of what our users want? answer: because we would no longer be a LIBRARY.

we have to pretend that we offer life-long learning opportunities and other ridiculous ALA-approved slogans so that politicians and administrators will fund us; to this end, we need to buy reference materials and provide professional staff, even if no one uses them. the phrase "user-centered" is a sop - useful as PR, it will be discarded long before it can have any impact (especially since adherence to the concept would undercut both the image we must maintain to receive funding as well as our [rapidly diminishing] professional sanity).

Jessica said...

Certainly a thought-provoking post. If anyone is interested, you are welcome to join in any conversation about it that comes up at Library Talk (

shade said...

It's a shame librarians are so verbose - they overshot a perfect twelve step program by two steps. Although "let go and let your higher power" does seem to be the sentiment lurking behind the manifesto.

Remember, AL, one day at a time.

Anonymous said...

After reading your post, I wanted to read the manifesto online. Looks like it's not available (or maybe it's hidden in the Members Only section). Way to reach out to my information needs American Libraries.

Anonymous said...

It would only take mildly spectacular librarian skillz to find the original version of the affirmation mislabeled as a manifesto.

Ryan Deschamps said...

anonymous @ 12:49 -- as someone who works in a large urban library and who has seen the numbers, your assessment is a load of bull.

Yes we do catch people watching porn, but the majority of users are using the computers for the very reasons we intend them. Ok. Some may have an issue with online gaming, but to that I just say -- buuuuzzzzzz. Online games are just as valid as borrowing Harry Potter. For every dubious computer session, there are 10 valid ones that are making a difference in the community.

As for L2.0, well, I don't think there's much a problem with user-centricity and I don't think it has to be done at the cost of good old fashioned professionalism. Anyone can turn the occasional mishap with a new idea into an alarmist's omen of disaster. On average, though, I think user-centered change can make improvements (not radical re-shapings) of library services.

AL said...

Can there be any distinction between being "user centered" and spouting vapid statements best left to self-help programs and revival meetings?

Anonymous said...

Can there be any distinction between being "user centered" and spouting vapid statements best left to self-help programs and revival meetings?

Reverse who the question is about--does any profession beside the librarians spout these kinds of statements? And more importantly, who outside the insular world of librarians cares?

Brent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
faithless minion said...

Laura Cohen puts the (Mrs.) Mudge back in Curmudgeon... writes the text for the Next Generation to adopt and for which they will inevitably be ridiculed.
Something about the worst being full of passionate intensity?
AL, the problem with criticizing this stuff is that it's so - innocuous? Like chopping through cotton candy?

AL said...

Chopping through cotton candy? Possibly. But I've got to have something to be annoyed about. This blog doesn't just write itself, you know.

Anonymous said...

.....and since I'm on a roll, this "Library 2.0" issue and some of the responses remind me a bit too much of my library school experience a decade ago, where the literature was exasperatingly thick and the students were having intense debates about "information" and getting offended at anyone who questioned the status quo.

For example:

I will educate myself about the information culture of my users and look for ways to incorporate what I learn into library services.

Information culture? We already have social, political, and just plain old cultures. Want more of it? Why not! More time and effort will be spent discovering and explaining "information cultures" than simply selecting resources. However, the old way can't be any good in the 2.0 world....

I will be courageous about proposing new services and new ways of providing services, even though some of my colleagues will be resistant.

Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated; and completely removes the 2.0 Librarian from any obligation to realize they may have a really bad idea.

I will enjoy the excitement and fun of positive change and will convey this to colleagues and users.

Change is always good, and always fun! Or else! The problem isn't really change, but seeing only the change the 2.0 librarian wants, but that thought can't be entertained.

I will not wait until something is perfect before I release it, and I'll modify it based on user feedback.

As AL said, a permanent beta state. How about releasing it when it meets it's goals, and then modifying to improve as opposed to just user feed back, but.....

I will avoid requiring users to see things in librarians' terms but rather will shape services to reflect users' preferences and expectations.

So the religious fundamentalist who wants books banned and the people who are into vampires and witchcraft will both be happy? And if you can't explain things in librarians terms will you tailor it to each and every person's particular understanding?

I will be willing to go where users are, both online and in physical spaces, to practice my profession.

"Psst, who's that person in the corner staring at us and taking notes?"

"It's the librarian, if she comes up and starts talking about reference just pretend you can't hear."

I will create open Web sites that allow users to join with librarians to contribute content in order to enhance their learning experience and provide assistance to their peers.

The only serious use I might see for this is hobbies or local groups or interests. There's a reason why people become specialists, and why the first books weren't written by laying an empty manuscript in the town square and encouraging people to write. More to the point, if people are going to make the effort to write, store, and provide information, what do they need librarians for? e.g, Wikipedia.....

I will lobby for an open catalog that provides personalized, interactive features that users expect in online information environments.

I guess I can see storing searches or alerts of incoming materials, but how much interaction do you need? Personal reviews on all the books? Editing the catalog?

I will encourage my library's administration to blog.

Blog entry #2564. It's a sunny day today, and we met about the serials budget. Then I had a nice bagel and orange juice.

I will validate, through my actions, librarians' vital and relevant professional role in any type of information culture that evolves.

???? This sounds a bit too close to "thou shalt not speak ill of librarians." The point I've been making and many other people seem to see is the vital and relevant role has passed by, replaced by endless debates about minutiae such as the importance of blogging and redefining paradigms and other Dilbertesque stuff. The question is more better how to attain any relevance again.

I think I'll quit now, my mood is getting more foul.....

DearReader said...

I'm so glad you posted about the Manifesto! Several of my co-workers have printed it out, and have been waxing enthusiastic about it to each other. I've been keeping out of those conversations. We've been considering different kinds of 2.0 service, and if that's what the public wants, I'll accept it. But when I suggested to my colleagues that we ask the public what they felt our role should be, my 2.0 colleagues weren't enthusiastic.
In other words, they want to push 2.0 onto the public, which makes no sense at all.

Ryan Deschamps said...

"Can there be any distinction between being "user centered" and spouting vapid statements best left to self-help programs and revival meetings?"

Sure, but I guess I just see hype for what it is -- a way of drawing attention to an issue. Controversy draws the eyeballs to the blog. If anyone should know this, it should be the Annoyed Librarian. When people start preferring peer-reviewed journal article on neuropsychology over Anthony Robbins, that will be the time that people should stop hyping about their pet topic.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I prefer Hawaii 5.0, personally.

soren faust

Anonymous said...

Most of the "library literature" on Lib 2.0 is annoyingly vapid. I found out a long time ago what blogs and wikis are, and I knew about Second Life before Info Island colonized it. Therefore, I do not need inconsequential and uncritical definitions of them and why they are good for my library. Yet month after month, new articles appear professing the wonderfulness of Lib 2.0.

What I cannot find, however, is research on how patrons actually respond to Lib 2.0 services, and whether they find them useful, or indeed, even use them. I suspect this lack stems from two causes:

1) It's difficult and costly to do real research (as opposed to writing a cheerleading article for Lib Journal)

2) research would likely show that users don't give a damn about the library's Flickr account.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that users privileged enough to have an internet connection fast enough to support Second Life are too busy buying virtual penises for their avatar to bother going to Info Island.

I'm certainly not against trying new things, and at the heart of the matter I do believe some of the ideals of the user-centered perspective are valuable, but most librarians seem content to just ride on the bandwagon without deeply questioning the usefulness of these supposedly "new" technologies. I don't know for sure, but I'd doubt you'd find such uncritical and superficial treatment in other technology-dependent professions. When librarians proclaim Facebook-style sites as the centre of the information universe, it just makes them look like simpletons.

Anonymous said...

Everything you have written in this blog entry is so true. My library district ends up making changes based on what the "users want"; the users invariably end up complaining about the services implemented based on their needs. Now that self-check is being pushed in order to eliminate the much needed circulation staff, lines are longer than ever. I have never been more frustrated in my life. When I'm not being called over to help circulation, I'm manning the reference desk alone. That just doesn't work in an insanely busy urban library branch.

Adam said...

This post seems that poor you is forced to live and work by the manifesto... ;)

Only one thing: you said every moron can start a blog. True. But moron users create moron content and that's a thing to think about - are morons' blogs deserve the name 'blog'?

And I have planty of questions like that - relating both to the manifesto and your post... Maybe next time.

Greetings from Hungary,

Anonymous said...

"chopping through cotton candy"

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable! I followed the link from anon @ 1:18 which includes much gushing over the "beautiful manifesto".

But the mashup linked on the page totally typifies this sort of feel good nonsense. It's an "inspirational" power point of the manifesto statements interspersed with photos from Burning Man.

I don't know who has time to do such things. I treat myself to browsing the blogs at night, but my work day is crammed full w/actually meeting people's information needs-finding the right book, helping them place a reserve request, helping them use the computers. This is why I became a librarian. When I'm not helping an actual person in front of me, I pitch in and help the library assistants with their tasks at the circulation desk because our state is telling the counties to severely cut their budgets and we're currently under a hiring freeze!

I think most of these 2.0er's are spoiled. Maybe they should be in the trenches with many of us at our public libraries and see how far this nonsense goes.

Dances With Books said...

I had to come back and look at this post again after some other blog replied to the post. I wish I could find it again. I will probably write about it in my blog at some point, but I am glad you make the points you make. I have always been bothered by the "we get it. If you don't, take a hike" superior attitude of the 2.0 preachers. Great comments here too.

Anonymous said...

Try 2.0 from a hospital library! Ha!

caspar said...

Best post ever, AL. We need this discussion. Sometimes it's just embarrassing to be a librarian - if the real professionals we work for ever found out how ridiculous we really are... I'm all for being as useful as possible for as many as possible, but gimmickry, insipid sloganeering, and desperate approval seeking? Why? Develop a useful tool or service if you can, but STFU about Second Life and the rest until you can demonstrate relevance.

Anonymous said...

Very much love here. God, most of this is irritating.

Occasionally, cotton candy needs to be skewered, or possibly melted with some high power blogging blowtorch, because with this much of it around, it's going to give us tooth decay and sugar shock.

seacat said...

This manifesto is just sad. There's so much good in social media, and anyway, like it or not, an entire generation is coming into its own with no other way of finding info than typing it in the white field of the page with the colored letters. So to see the non-sense and baby-talk in this manifesto, directed towards the very audience that potentially could have so much critical insight to offer is just...well, sad. or funny, depending on the time of day.
Thanks for a great post!

Kevin Musgrove said...

I don't remember any of this manifesto nonsense when we adopted the internal combustion engine for the mobile library or installed telephones in the library.

Perhaps some folk are too divorced from the end-user to be kept busy enough serving them.

libraryjim said...

Let me re-post this here, where I meant to post it in the first place!

Frankly, what's really getting to me is the twopointer "E-Government" services supposedly available with librarian asistance at the library.

We have people coming in for everything from food stamps to driver's tests (ever try to explain that the computer limit is one hour with a four hour test?).

All of a sudden, we, who cannot even tell a patron which tax form to take, now have to be experts at filling out all sorts of government forms, not to mention knowing how to FIND the forms on the myriad (or is that plethora?) of gov't web sites out there? Most of which are not "User Friendly" in the first place?

And while most of our staff is competant at using the catalog and circulation computer, the internet baffles most of them (which means I get to be the one answering questions like "No, you have to type your answer in that box with the asterick or it won't let you move on"; "No, an e-mail address is not your home address"; "Yes you HAVE to have an e-mail address to fill out the rest of the form", etc.).

That's what makes me glad when I have books to catalog so I don't have to spend so much time at the reference desk!

Jim Elliott
rural north Florida said...

You are right, AL. This is a manifesto.

LL said...

Here's a manifesto I'd like to see adopted at my library (and library 2.0 issues don't even begin to cut into what's wrong with us!):

I will learn to use email, because until our decrepit phone system is upgraded, and all of my colleagues have a phone line and voicemail, it's the only reliable way to leave someone a message.

I will not expect to seriously be considered 'faculty'. Sitting in my office surfing the net is not 'research'.

I will publish in library literature if I must, but I will feel ashamed of adding to the god awful, unreadable cache of boring, poorly written dreck that passes for literature.

I will learn to recognize the difference between being a jerk in meetings and academic freedom. They are not synonymous. I will stop crying that my academic freedom is being curtailed whenever someone calls me on my bad behavior.

I will grow a spine, or purchase an external spinal support. If I am a manager, I will do my job and address personnel issues. If I am not a manager, I will initiate conversations with my annoying co-workers about their irritating behavior BEFORE complaining to a manager.

I will treat librarians, paraprofessional staff, computer professionals, and building maintenance workers with a uniform, base level of courtesy, to be adjusted up or down through personal experience with each individual. Having an MLS is not a free pass to abuse other people.

Leah said...

Personally I don't think it's an issue for the manifesto to be all happy clouds and fluffy bunnies. Aren't changes made by idealists too? "User centered" and "2.0" seem to be synonyms now-a-days. And quite honestly, they are important issues that can help all libraries increase their stats.

And yes, some people who support the 2.0 concept work "in the trenches" at public libraries. Get off your high horses. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

one of the many worst things about the library 2.0 manifesto is its assumption that our public is out in front, and we need to race to catch up. what a bunch of cr@p. we gotta grow some self-esteem, people.

Anonymous said...

Well, someone has to go off the edge, so the rest of us know where it is.

Back in the early 90's, I was using my almanac to answer ready ref questions for my buddies on MUDs. I laugh at this trendy, useless, clueless Library 2.0 crap. It is just twenty year old tech with added jargon and better graphics.