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Developing a Web 2.0 service model

By Margaret Adolphus


Library 2.0 is about attitude, not technology. It is about reaching users wherever they are, and recognizing that their expectations may be conditioned by related services such as Google, or Amazon, which will be preferred if these expectations are not met.

It is about moving far away from hard-to-use catalogues, an inaccessible reference desk, an atmosphere of forbidding awe, and restrictive borrowing. It is also about participation, and allowing your users to collaborate with you, whether it is reviewing books or publicizing events.

The concept of Web 2.0 has been around since October 2004, and has affected almost every area of life, giving its name to Business 2.0, Education 2.0, eLearning 2.0 – and Library 2.0.

Web 2.0 is a collective name given to a number of newly emerging applications – for example, blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, RSS feeds, podcasts and vodcasts – which change our relationship to the Internet in a number of ways:

  • It is much easier to create content: the Web is no longer a group of sites constructed by specialists who need to have access to programming skills to publish their pages. All sorts of people can publish, and for that reason, Web 2.0 is often called the "read-write web".
  • It is much easier for people to collaborate: content can be shared through blogs and wikis, photos through Flickr, videos through YouTube, and so on. One application, Twitter, even enables you to share the minutiae of your life in texting style.
  • The technologies are no longer hardware dependent: much Web 2.0 software is stored in the Internet, and it is even possible to access cloud versions of the commoner applications of e-mail (Google mail) and word processing (Google docs).

All this has dramatically changed the world of information: it is no longer static, as under Web 1.0, but democratic and collaborative, as the barriers to publishing have diminished and as people can converse and share resources and ideas.

So, what does this all mean for library service provision?

The librarian and Web 2.0

Three years ago in 2006, an article on Library 2.0 in the Library Journal (Casey and Savastinuk, 2006) commented on how a new service model based on 2.0 principles was being discussed "at conferences, in library administration offices and at the reference desk".

Sure enough, Web 2.0 was a big theme in the library strand of the Online Information 2007 conference (as it was in all strands). One speaker (Abram, 2007) profiled the "librarian 2.0" as someone who:

  • Understands the user's views and aspirations, and goes where the user goes.
  • Understands Web 2.0 features and learns how to use the major tools.
  • Connects people to expert discussion, technology and information, in a suitable context and by the medium of their choice.
  • Delivers services in a device independent manner, on everything from laptops to PDAs and iPods.
  • Develops the latest search techniques – targeted federated search and Open URL, which uses a link resolver to link directly to the resource.
  • Uses non-traditional cataloguing methods based on user input for content descriptions, classifications and metadata, as well as tagging, tag clouds and folksonomies.
  • Does not see his or her role as confined to text: the collection also contains pictures, videos, DVDs and even games. Both print and electronic resources are provided seamlessly.
  • Uses advanced social networks for the benefit of the business.
  • Understands the principle of the long tail, and the need to reach people who are not usually reached.
  • Uses open sources such as Open Content Alliance, Google Book Search and Openworldcat.
  • Scrutinizes usage data for insights into user behaviour, and understands the "wisdom of crowds".

Librarians are a flexible bunch in the main, keen to experiment, and many are early adopters of Library 2.0. However, given the diversity not only of sectors, but also of geographic and economic context, it is difficult to generalize across the profession.

Take public libraries for example: while there are examples in the USA and Europe of innovative services (e.g. Ann Arbor District Library, Västerbotten in Sweden and Vlissingen in Holland ), public libraries in the UK tend to be late adopters of 2.0. When asked about their Web 2.0 involvement, many respond along the lines of:

  • "It is a likely next-stage development in our e-resources offer."
  • "Our current business plan includes the establishment of Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 resources for the county library service in the coming year 2009/2010."
  • "To date we haven't participated greatly in social networking sites, but we are interested in the concept."

Jenny Levine, Internet development specialist at the American Library Association, suggests that what libraries adopt will depend on their audience: academic libraries take the lead in sending text messages through mobile phones to students; but – in the US at least – public libraries have adapted more quickly to gaming.

The technologies and their applications

Library 2.0 is more than technology, but the tools are important to its development. So a brief description of the main tools with some examples of their library applications is probably a good place to start.

The challenge of Web 2.0

A significant advantage of these tools is that many are freely available and easy to use. The challenge of Web 2.0 lies rather in the sheer number of constantly changing and newly emerging applications. Jenny Levine recommends being aware of what is out there, without needing to be familiar with every application in detail. Rather in the same way that a librarian will be familiar with the format of books or journals and the different genres, without having a detailed knowledge of their content.

Other commentators suggest starting small, maybe with just one application, and working incrementally.

Cambridgeshire libraries, for example, are very interested in the deployment of Web 2.0 technologies, and are concentrating their efforts on developing a community information database with user input, which will be launched in April 2009.

It's the first phase of a rollout of MS SharePoint (purchased with funding from the Investing in Communities initiative) which, according to Steven Bending of Cambridgeshire libraries, will involve deploying:

"a variety of new community-based Web 2.0 applications (blogs, wikis, forums, etc.) to enable us to reposition ourselves in the communities we serve".

They are currently testing with various rural learning communities.


These are web-based diaries, with entries displayed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent at the top. They are simple to categorize (see for example the labels in the Information Literacy meets Library 2.0 blog) and there are a number of free, externally hosted services, for example Blogger and WordPress.

Blogs are a good way of engaging with customers, alerting them to new resources and services:

Temple University Library has inserted a blog into its home page which provides news about library events and other matters, as well as comments from librarians (there is currently [March 2009] one on research anxiety).

Ann Arbour District Library has turned its home page into a blog, which gives a strong community feel, and there is also a director's blog, an events blog, a service blog and a research blog. See Figure 1:

Image: Figure 1. Screenshot of Ann Arbour District Library home page.

Figure 1. Screenshot of Ann Arbour District Library's home page

A blog can also be a good way of creating a sense of community and gaining feedback from a particular group, based on interest or demographics. For example, Kankakee Public Library connects with the teen market by means of its Teenzone blog (see Figure 2).

Image: Figure 2. Screenshot of Kankakee Public Library's Teenzone blog

Figure 2. Screenshot of Kankakee Public Library's Teenzone blog


One of the most famous Web 2.0 applications by virtue of Wikipedia, a wiki is a "do it yourself" reference source which members of a community can create and edit. As with blogs, they are easy to set up on externally hosted software and no programming knowledge is needed. For information on wiki software, see the wiki comparison site: WikiMatrix.

The big advantage of wikis is that they are good for harnessing collective knowledge, and thereby providing an easy to use resource either for the general public, or for librarians to help the general public.

St Joseph County Public Library in Illinois provides a useful source for finding out about its resources, local information and history, library services, links to relevant government pages and even such matters as tracing birth parents. Only librarians can edit the wiki, but there is a tab for comments (see Figure 3).

Image: Figure 3. Screenshot of St Joseph County Public Library web page.

Figure 3. Screenshot of St Joseph County Public Library web page

Elsewhere on this site (see an interview with Karolien Selhorst) we reported on how the library in Vlissingen, Holland, has created a wiki out of the collective knowledge of librarians, not only of resources, but also personal knowledge. For example one staff member is an expert on horses. The wiki was then used by librarians for answering reference enquiries, with the help of another piece of software, Question Manager.

Lancashire libraries has its own wiki on its intranet, and is considering redeveloping its online reference library on a wiki platform.


Keeping up with new knowledge was a problem before, but now with so many new sources it's even more of a challenge. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is a technology which enables people to see when content has been added to a site, without having to visit the site itself. The RSS feeds are simply directed to a feed reader, a piece of software which stores the URLs and alerts you when something new has been added.

Blogs, with their intermittent posting, were an initial impetus behind syndication and many people who read a lot of blogs rely on web-based blog readers such as the now discontinued Google Reader. Some alternative RSS readers are listed on

The time sensitivity of most library information – for example, events, changes to opening hours, new resources – provides an obvious use for RSS feeds.

Podcasts and vodcasts

Library 2.0 is library on the move. Being concerned with customer needs means following the customers wherever they go, as is described in the article on m-libraries (article on m-libraries).

Some libraries provide podcast tours (for example, the universities of Sheffield and Nottingham Trent) which enable users to find out about the library without having to ask a librarian, or even physically go to the library.

More sophisticated is Kankakee Public Library's collection of podcasts based on Kankakee hosted events, and discussions with local authors and celebrities. These podcasts are an excellent way not only of publicizing books, but also creating a sense of pride in the community.

Social sharing services

These are resources for sharing objects you have created and want to share, such as photos (Flickr), videos (YouTube), and presentations (SlideShare). Flickr can also be used as a marketing tool because you can upload photographs of events.

Bristol libraries in the UK have a Heritage Lottery grant to set up a Flickr site for images, and are working on some videos for YouTube to showcase a youth project.

Social bookmarking services share bookmarks, hosting them remotely and in a way that is visible to other people, rather than just on one's PC or laptop. Kelly (2008: p. 26) gives as an example the way in which the URLs quoted at a session on Web 2.0 were uploaded to from a Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals' conference. It provides a good way of sharing useful resources for the media agnostic 2.0 librarian.

Another useful social bookmarking resource is Diigo, which also enables storing of web pages in your personal archive, so that even if the page disappears, your record of it doesn't.

Search engines

Librarians spend a lot of time giving advice on search engines. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to create your own, based on sites that you trust?

One feature of Web 2.0 is about personalization – the ability to create and receive services that are tailored just to us. The search engine Rollyo enables you to pick the sites you want to search by creating your own "searchroll" of trusted sites – and you can also share your sites and look at other people's searchrolls.

Search engines can also learn from the behaviour of their users, either as individuals or as communities. They do this by means of swickis, a tool hosted by Eurekster.

The whole swicki search experience is far less random than searching in a "normal" search engine and is based on the experience of the community.

For example, if I want to read about integrating dogs and cats into a household, Google throws up several interesting resources, but I am not sure about their reliability.

However, if I look in the swicki directory and click on the directory for "All things pets" (curiously categorized under Kids and Teens), I get an article written by a vet.

You can also "grab" a swicki and integrate it into your library's website, so if you know that part of your community is interested in particular issues, you can enhance their search experience in those areas.

Instant messaging

Instant messaging (IM) has been around for some time, but the current generation of IM offers more than just chat – it is possible to see if colleagues are online, and communicate with video and audio (Kelly, 2008). Meebo is a chat aggregator that enables you to download an IM facility into your website, and clients can chat to you through that or through their own IM service such as Google Talk or MSN.

IM is very simple to add to your website, and it is one of the most helpful and customer friendly services that the library can provide: seeing a chat box provides a feeling of immediacy and accessibility. There are, of course, resource implications in providing the necessary staff, and one approach is to state the hours when a librarian will be available.

The library of the University of Teesside provides a Meebo chat facility and it's possible to see whether or not the librarian is available. The times of the service are clearly stated to the left of the chat box.

Some UK public libraries are starting to use IM, possibly through the People's Network Enquire service, which is a collaborative venture from 80 public libraries in England and Scotland to provide a nine to five IM service for library patrons.

Cambridgeshire libraries have their own chat services within certain prescribed times, outside of which they refer people to the national ENQUIRE service, see

Social networking sites

Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are some of the most popular, and well publicized, Web 2.0 services. These sites enable messaging, discussion, sharing of resources, and networking of those with similar interests. Facebook has proved popular in the education sector with many universities making use of it as a marketing tool.

A number of libraries have established a presence on Facebook, using it to provide general information and share photos, and sometimes even a catalogue search box. For some, it is a good way of attracting the teen market.

Lancaster Music Library's "Get it Loud" is designed to promote musical activities for teenagers, and has a presence on MySpace and Facebook.

It helps to promote your Facebook page, for example with a "Find us on Facebook" button. See for more information.

One of the most innovative social networking tools is Twitter, a short messaging service, which enables you to keep up with a wide range of sources from friends to the news. Messages are restricted to 140 characters, and one of its benefits is that it is instant.

For example, American Library Association (ALA) members tweeted enthusiastically during the Midwinter conference. The result was not only a real-time transcript, but also the chance to participate in meetings in which one was not physically present. Jenny Levine writes about this in her blog, the Shifted Librarian, in a piece which also contains useful advice on Twitter, see "Twitter on ALA and some advice".

A British MP confessed on a recent radio programme that she twittered during Prime Minister's Question Time, which provided an easy way for people who were interested in politics to keep up.

The real benefit of Twitter is not so much the instant access to information, but its nimbleness and the fact that it can be accessed on a variety of devices. Messages can be sent by SMS, IM, the Web, or third party API projects, so you can keep in touch with Twitter on your computer, your mobile or PDA, or your iPod. That makes it the ultimate communication tool for our mobile society.

A number of libraries twitter, for example the Open University – see It's a chance to highlight blog contributions, keep people informed of what's going on, and highlight new resources (URLs are shortened through an application such as TinyURL).

Second Life and virtual worlds

Kelly (2008) defines virtual worlds as "a computer-based simulation of an environment in which users interact using 3D models known as avatars". Second Life has become popular in the worlds of education and culture, with several organizations establishing places there, such as ALA (ALA Island) and Stanford University Library.

Second Life is popular for conferences and discussions, its ability to move around within a simulated environment providing a more personal feel than "pure" online chat.

One of the most imaginative users of Second Life is Cleveland Public Library (CPL), which in its Second Life notecard states that its vision is to be "the people's university", inspiring people of all ages with a love of reading and the pursuit of knowledge. It's the third largest public research library in the United States, and has a number of collections including one of chess-related items. CPL uses its Second Life site as a venue for showing examples of the latter, which could otherwise only be seen in the real-time library. Its simulated chess sets are based on real life sets, for example the following Russo Hungarian set illustrated below. It is possible to actually play a game with a partner.

Image: Figure 4. Screenshot of Second Life simulated chess set at Cleveland Public Library.

Figure 4. Screenshot of Second Life simulated chess set at Cleveland Public Library

What services should be developed?

One of the main principles of Library 2.0 is collaboration with the users: this can happen without or with minimal technology, for instance by offering your space for reading groups or for events. Many of the services being developed have been mentioned in the previous section, but here are some more which may not be reliant on technology, or which may use existing technologies in a slightly different way.

Community events and initiatives

Many libraries host local events and promote these via their websites. The events may be cultural, such as a book group, a film showing, or an art exhibition; they may be age-related, for example to children and teenagers; or they may respond to community need, for example legal services or groups to support job search in areas of high unemployment and deprivation. Users may also be invited to post their own events.

Cambridgeshire libraries have a community information database with direct user input (with moderation from library staff). Members of the public, according to Steven Bending of Cambridgeshire libraries, can register on the site and post information, events, activities, courses, and news about clubs, societies and voluntary organizations. This is a real departure for the libraries, as previously the process of collecting and collating information has been paper-based.

The Idea Store, in the east London Borough of Tower Hamlets, has a range of community services to help in an area of social deprivation: activities for children that include reading, story groups, Nintendo Wii, help with job search and CVs, and legal advice.

Local history and studies is an obvious focus for the library, and many libraries also use their websites to provide access to digital collections.

Barry and Tedd (2008) conducted research into how Irish public libraries used their websites to present local studies collections. They found that the majority of the 32 public libraries in Ireland had some sort of local studies website, and that some solicited contributions from users.

Clare County Library, for example, is based on the idea of place, and has an active relationship with users who are encouraged to donate written research, and there is an online visitors' book and web forum.

Librarians have for a long time had an interest in information literacy and teaching IT, and many public libraries offer workshops teaching people how to use computers and the Internet. Proving information about Web 2.0 services is a logical extension of this.

Princeton Public Library has its own technology centre where you can learn all aspects of computing and also try out new gadgets in the Gadget Garage.

Offering different media

The good Web 2.0 librarian is genre neutral, and will offer resources in a whole range of media, from the more usual books, magazines, journals and databases, to videos, DVDs, audio cassettes, audio books, websites, games, and toys.

For example, St Joseph County Public Library lists its holdings as:

  • books
  • magazines
  • audio books
  • books on iPods
  • videos
  • CDs
  • DVDs
  • audio cassettes
  • toys
  • storytime bags
  • microfilm
  • art prints.

Tower Hamlets Library, or The Idea Store, lists:

  • books
  • large print or audio books
  • multisensory story packs
  • skills for life collections
  • self-help titles on mental health problems
  • book groups
  • newspapers and magazines
  • CDs and DVDs.

The website

Having a website is nothing new, and most libraries in all sectors expect to have a strong virtual as well as a physical presence. What is an indication of the Web 2.0 influence is the site's look and feel. Take for example the following website shown in Figure 5, which like many UK public libraries has a local council branding:

Image: Figure 5. Screenshot of Wiltshire County Council's library information page (reproduced by kind permission of the Libraries, Heritage and Arts, Department of Community Services, Wiltshire Council).

Figure 5. Screenshot of Wiltshire County Council's library information page (reproduced by kind permission of the Libraries, Heritage and Arts, Department of Community Services, Wiltshire Council)

And compare it with the following example:

Image. Figure 6. Screenshot of Kansas City's library information page.

Figure 6. Screenshot of Kansas City's library information page

This site gets away from pure service provision (although it is in no doubt there) towards a more cultural theme: the user is propelled into the world of ideas, reminiscent of President Obama's description of how,

"walking into a library and seeing those books, seeing human knowledge collected in that fashion, accessible, ready for me, would always lift my spirits".

There are staff picks, featured resources, reading groups, stories on recent history, and a slide show of events. In addition, there are drop down menus (with different styles for kids and teens), and a box on the left-hand side with all the services one needs.

In the above example the staff pick the resources; some libraries give the reader a chance to review material, a truly collaborative way of building content and replicating the Amazon experience.

Another key principle of Web 2.0 is personalization, and many libraries have a "my account" facility which allows you to renew and check overdue items, and may also offer other facilities, such as the ability to save searches, place reservations, pay late fees, submit book reviews, update your details, and "freeze" holdings so you don't lose their place in the queue.

Developing digital collections

For academic and research libraries, one of the tenets of Library 2.0 is a less restrictive attitude to copyright. Creative commons licences allow for re-use of material in non-commercial settings. Thus many academic libraries encourage academics to deposit their work in the university's collection of digital repositories.

The University of Pretoria is one of the largest libraries in South Africa and its librarians have created UPSpace, a digital repository which includes:

  • scholarly research material,
  • historical (archival) material,
  • popular research material,
  • conference proceedings and presentations,
  • speeches and donated collections.


The principle behind Library 2.0 is that the user is central to service delivery, and that furthermore he or she should be encouraged to participate.

There are a large number of Web 2.0 technologies that can be used to that end but a 2.0 aware librarian will also use traditional technologies – for example making the website attractive and interesting rather than just informative and functional, inviting readers to give reviews – as well as other types of service provision, for example events and teaching about information communications technologies.

We have seen how the 2.0 library will contain a great wealth of different resources tailored to the needs of a particular community, for example books on mental health for areas with a high incidence of mental health problems or business resources in business districts.

It will not be confined to a particular place but will go where the user is – on his or her desktop, and in his or her pocket with a mobile device or iPod.

Sources of further information

The best sources of further information about Library 2.0 come from Web 2.0 tools. There are a number of librarianship blogs: here are a few to start with.

The Flemish Librarian

Karolien Selhorst is a very knowledgeable person in the field: she is a digital library/knowledge manager in a public library in Holland as well as editor of her own magazine, Digitale Bibliotheek.

Gerry McKiernan's presentation on the future of the library

Gerry McKiernan is a librarian with a great interest in social networks, and his presentation delivered to the Rome seminar on Web 2.0 and libraries is an excellent summary of recent trends, with useful pointers to resources.

Library 2.0 Ning Network

A general network for those interested in Library 2.0. It's a good place to go if you want to tap into other people's knowledge of a particular device or service.

Library Success Wiki

This has a section on collaborative tools.

The Shifted Librarian

Blog by Jenny Levine, Internet Development Specialist & Strategy Guide, American Library Association, who blogs about how librarians can make good use of technology.


Abram, S. (2007), "Web 2.0, Library 2.0 and librarian 2.0: preparing for the 2.0 world", Online Information 2007 Conference Proceedings, December 4-6, London.

Barry, L. and Tedd, L. (2008), "Local studies collections online: an investigation in Irish public libraries", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 163-186.

Casey, M.E. and Savastinuk, L.C. (2006), "Library 2.0: service for the next-generation library", Library Journal, Vol. 131 No. 14, available at: [accessed April 3 2009].

Pienaar, H. and Smith, I. (2008), "Development of a Library 2.0 service model for an African library", Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 7-10.