Thursday, November 13, 2008

Meeting New Users in Wikipedia

I've just read an interesting article by Dreanna Belden called Harnessing Social Networks to Connect with Audiences: If You Build it, Will They Come 2.0? (Internet Reference Services Quarterly; 2008, Vol. 13 Issue 1, p99-111). Unfortunately it's not available in full text online as far as I can see but it is indexed in Ebscohost Masterfile Premier, which all NSW libraries should have access to. You may even subscribe to it at your library - if not you can request a copy from Sutherland Library through Interlibrary Loans.

At the author's library at the University of North Texas they are using Wikipedia to drive traffic to their digital library initiatives. They add references to relevant Wikipedia articles that link to items in their digital collections. When I read this it struck me as so obvious. Why aren't all libraries and librarians taking a much more active role in editing the references in Wikipedia articles? This is what we do best isn't it? The author gives some statistics in the article suggesting that they are receiving more referral traffic through Wikipedia than through Google Search.

Talk about putting your reference service 'in the way' of the user. If users aren't coming to the library for their information searches then lets put our services right in front of them where they are looking. How much could libraries improve Wikipedia articles by adding some comprehensive reference and reading lists? It doesn't have to be limited to referencing resources held in digital collections either. The combined book stock of libraries worldwide offers enormous opportunity for reading lists across the range of Wikipedia articles.

Book references could be linked to Worldcat records as a way of guiding people to libraries as the place to find a copy of the book (rather than Amazon, which so often happens online for book references).

I see this as a similar philosophy to Slam the Boards. You might not be directly helping your immediate local users but a cooperative effort by libraries creates a better outcome for everyone.

This is such an obvious idea that I can't believe that librarians aren't already doing this. Maybe they are? Maybe you are? Have you ever heard of this going on in libraries?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Is Web 2.0 a Revolution?

In the final post in my series on Clay Shirky's book, Here Comes Everybody, I want to share with you his idea that Web 2.0 tools may actually revolutionise society, and consider what that might mean for Libraries.

In my first post I introduced the idea that new technology can only effect societal change once it becomes ubiquitous or invisible. When Web 2.0 tools become ubiquitous everyone becomes a content creator. This is what Chris Anderson calls the democratisation of production in his book, The Long Tail. Shirky argues that once the lines blur between producers or publishers and consumers there is a fundamental change in the way our society operates, that "the category of 'consumer' is now a temporary behavior rather than a permanent identity." (Here Comes Everybody, p. 108). The result is that previously impossible things start occuring.
The hallmark of revolution is that the goals of the revolution cannot be contained by the institutional structure of the existing society. As a result, either the revolutionaries are put down, or some of those institutions are altered, replaced, or destroyed. We are plainly witnessing a restructuring of the media businesses, but their suffering isn't unique, it's prophetic. All businesses are media businesses, because whatever else they do, all businesses rely on managing of information for two audiences - employees and the world. The increase in the power of both individuals and groups, outside traditional organisational structures, is unprecedented. Many institutions we rely on today will not survive this change without significant alteration, and the more an institution or industry relies on information as its core product, the greater and more complete the change will be. (my emphasis)
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, p. 107

What is the role of Britannica in the age of Google and Wikipedia? I think they're trying to work that out themselves. What role do reference librarians have when only 1% of college students begin their information searches at a library? (OCLC Perceptions report, 2005).

I think that information is the core product of libraries and that the sharing of information now and into the future will profoundly affect how libraries operate. What do you think?