I've just been listening to a fascinating interview with Beth Jefferson, founder of Bibliocommons - a social discovery system for libraries. Bibliocommons gives libraries a way to allow their users to contribute to the metadata of their collections by allowing them to tag, review and link items in the catalogue. It's a similar idea to what Jon Blyberg is doing with The Social OPAC. The best way to understand is to have a play with the Oakville Public Library Catalogue, which is running the Bibliocommons software.
What really struck me about this interview is the insight that Beth had on the role that social search and discovery can play in library services. Where Web 2.0 ideas, the Internet, library users, librarians and library collections fit in the puzzle that is the future of libraries.
A couple of points that had me nodding my head...
First of all, there is a recognition that the Internet is changing the ground rules under which libraries operate, but also that public libraries have a high participation rate from the community. We are in a very good position to harness the knowledge and good will of our users to improve our service
One of the roles of libraries has always been to facilitate the seredipitous discovery of books - the perennial RA question, "I just want a good book to read". Traditionally OPACs have done a very poor job at answering this question. Web 2.0 has shown how much benefit there is in social discovery (think Amazon recommendations for instance).
The vast majority of people who visit their library online do so to undertake tasks within the catalogue - search for books, check their account, etc. Integrating the social discovery tools directly into the catalogue places them 'in the flow' of our users and provides us with the best opportunity to gain maximum benefit from them. Sharing this social data between libraries (who use Bibliocommons) gives the critical mass of users required to give the social data relevance.
Librarians have traditionally seen themselves as expert navigators of information. However, we may be better served in the long run by providing the tools that let people facilitate social search and discovery as a means of information navigation. Combining these tools with traditional library discovery tools may give us the best of both worlds.
Beth makes many more observations in the interview than I have outlined herebacking them up with interesting data and there is much value in what she says. If you kind of understand the Web 2.0 concept but are wondering how it might fit with libraries I strongly recommend you have a listen to this podcast.