Twitter is becoming a foundational element of communication and collaboration among individuals. Organizations and institutions develop new technological commitments, to catch up with the pace of knowledge creation and learning. Public libraries are no exception: more libraries are coming to realize Twitter’s unprecedented communication and social networking potentials.
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The benefits of Twitter and other Web 2.0 technologies in public libraries cannot be overestimated. These technologies give public libraries a unique competitive advantage and enable connectivity between them and their internal and external clients. Unfortunately, many librarians are unfamiliar with the principles of Web 2.0 implementation, its applications and social advantages.
The current state of library research provides a brief insight into the role of Twitter and Web 2.0 applications in the development and expansion of public libraries.
Twitter: Public Libraries Are Becoming Technological and Social
The body of literature discussing Twitter and its use in public libraries is rather scarce. Most probably, it is due to its novelty that the topic of Twitter and its applicability across public libraries is persistently overlooked.
Nonetheless, contemporary researchers recognize Twitter as an instrument of communication and outreach, and the social medium that “allows libraries to make their presence known among a community that is less likely to walk through the building doors” (Hastings, 2010, p.11).
Milstein (2009) asserts that all kinds of libraries are using Twitter to good effect. Twitter is a microblogging tool, which allows typing a message of up to 140 characters and sending it to everyone subscribed to the given Twitter feed (King, 2009). According to Hastings (2010), Twitter is a medium of communication and an effective marketing tool for libraries.
Public libraries can use Twitter to attract new users and establish themselves as vital parts of local communities, both online and offline (Hastings, 2010). Twitter is one of the most prominent and popular microblogging devices on the Web today (King, 2009).
King (2009) compares Twitter to a combination of instant messaging, blogging, and e-mail. Twitter’s sociability and connectivity capabilities are virtually limitless (King, 2009).
Sociability and social networking in public libraries were discussed by Keenan and Shiri (2009). Sociability implies ability to socialize with others, and Twitter is believed to encourage sociability among users (Keenan & Shiri, 2009). Web technologies, including Twitter, rely on profile-based user accounts which enable users to connect and interact (Keenan & Shiri, 2009).
Unfortunately, the paucity of research into the use of Twitter in public libraries makes it difficult for libraries to choose the best and most effective socialization path. Keenan and Shiri (2009) write that, within the social web, websites and applications are usually divided into two categories: people focused and activity focused. Which of the two categories best satisfies the needs of public libraries is difficult to define.
Keenan and Shiri (2009) suggest that activity based websites operate through site-specific content, which has a definite thematic focus, but Twitter is more people- than activity-based. Thus, the question of Twitter’s usability in public libraries remains unanswered.
Based on the current knowledge of Twitter, the application has the potential to enhance connectivity and sociability among public library users (both actual and potential) and expand the pool of library users.
Future researchers must focus on the analysis of Twitter’s technological and social characteristics, to ensure that librarians have better awareness of technological advancement and utilize Twitter’s communication and interactivity potential to the fullest.
Beyond Twitter: Web 2.0 Technologies in Public Libraries
Twitter is new to libraries. This is, probably, why present day research provides little information about its benefits for librarians. In the meantime, library researchers are exploring the applicability of Web 2.0 solutions in public libraries. The nature, scope, and practical examples of Web 2.0 usage in public libraries were explored in abundance. Stephens (2007) listed blogs, RSS, Instant Messaging, Wikis, and Flickr among the most relevant Web 2.0 applications to be used by librarians.
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Today, professional analysis of Web 2.0 applications in public libraries revolves around several themes:
- the description and analysis of Web 2.0 and its implications for librarians;
- the benefits and risks of using Web 2.0 in public libraries;
- the range of Web 2.0 applications available for public libraries;
- real-life examples of using Web 2.0 in public libraries.
Web 2.0: What it is and how it works for public libraries
Web 2.0 remains one of the most popular objects of library research. Stephens (2006) was one of the first to explore the nature of Web 2.0 technologies and their use in libraries. Stephens (2006) asserts that Web 2.0 is the next stage in the evolution of the World Wide Web, which allows users to create and disseminate dynamic content.
Some Web 2.0 tools allow users to create and publish content, whereas other tools aggregate and syndicate this content (Stephens, 2006). Consequentially, the use of Web 2.0 turns online users into creators and publishers of their own information; this information further leads to the creation of new data sharing and socialization channels (Stephens, 2006).
Koltay (2010) suggests that the term Web 2.0 is vague and lacks a single, explicit definition; this is mainly because it covers many different things and applications, which are competing, conflicting, and even overlapping. This opinion is also supported by Holmberg et al. (2009).
Web 2.0 is merely a conceptual frame of reference, which incorporates behaviors, ideas, ideals, and other technologies (Koltay, 2010). It is a concept that comprises a multitude of similar and contradictory implications and meanings (Holmberg et al., 2009).
Despite its vagueness, libraries started to discuss and use Web 2.0 soon after the term had been created (Holmberg et al., 2009). The creation of Web 2.0 ideals questioned the relevance of previous socialization and communication tools in libraries; many librarians began to ask themselves whether and how Web 2.0 could benefit their services (Holmberg et al., 2009).
Present day researchers are unanimous in that librarians must have knowledge of Web 2.0 threats and opportunities (Holmberg et al., 2009; Koltay, 2010). Most probably, public libraries will have to surrender to the growing pressure of Web 2.0 technologies and their popularity in all fields of human performance (Holmberg et al., 2009).
Web 2.0 has been a buzzword in the development of online technologies since 2004 (Holmberg et al., 2009). Controversies surrounding the term Web 2.0 continue to persist. Professional librarians cannot explain the meaning of Web 2.0 (Joint, 2009). Yet, they feel there is still something valuable in it; something that draws information users (Joint, 2010).
For this reason, researchers are trying to look deeper into the meaning of Web 2.0 in the context of public libraries. Library 2.0 is the most common object of library analysis. Library 2.0 reflects the main tendencies in the development of Web 2.0 applications for libraries (Partridge, Lee & Munro, 2010).
Library 2.0 exemplifies a new mode of interaction between libraries and users in a culture of participation and interactions, catalyzed by social networks and technologies (Partridge et al., 2010).
Partridge et al. (2010) are confident that Library 2.0 is revolutionizing the LIS profession and the entire library field. Library 2.0 is changing the public library brand, as it facilitates participation, interaction, and breaks down the barriers of time and place between users and libraries (Partridge et al., 2010).
The combination of Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 further led to the creation of School Library 2.0 – a web-based application used by school librarians to enhance teens and pre-teens’ participation in various library activities (Naslund & Giustini, 2008).
Naslund and Giustini (2008) described the main features of School Library 2.0, which was built on and comprised a total of 23 interactive features, including blogs, wikis, photo- and video-sharing. However, Library 2.0 is not the only Web 2.0 application used in public libraries.
Web 2.0 applications for libraries
Present day library research provides a wealth of information about Web 2.0 applications. Nielsen (2009) analyzed the benefits and potential of instant messaging for public libraries. Nielsen (2009) suggests that the Internet is not merely a search engine: contemporary users actively participate in conversations, produce and share their own information.
Instant messaging can successfully expand and decentralize communication patterns through the Internet (Nielsen, 2009). Instant messaging can become a valuable instrument to attract young library users (Nielsen, 2009). In Nielsen’s (2009) study, librarians used instant messaging to contact a group of young teenagers who did not use the library.
The librarians used instant messaging to explain the benefits of reading and attending public libraries to teenagers (Nielsen, 2009). Nielsen (2009) notes, that the application does not allow developing other communication patterns, including group conversations and comments; also, the application will not work, unless it is deeply anchored in the library context (Nielsen, 2008).
Emanuel (2011) analyzed a different type of technology, the VuFind online open-source library catalogue which is extensively used by Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois. The application was developed by Villanova University Library and soon became a routine functional element in four different institutions (Emanuel, 2011).
The implementation of the catalogue was justified by the need to reduce the complexity of the library catalog environment (Emanuel, 2011). The VuFind application involves and processes the records of the whole union catalogue, and also has library-specific views and features (Emanuel, 2011).
The VuFind search interface is very simple, and the application itself incorporates numerous social media and interactive elements (Emanuel, 2011). In this sense, the VuFind application is very similar to other Web 2.0 tools used in public libraries.
Li, Wong and Chan (2010) explored the features and benefits of MyLibrary Calendar, which was used to enhance the publicity of library services in Hong Kong. The MyCalendar project was designed to strengthen and expand the outreach of library activities, streamline communication between librarians and users, and facilitate sharing and distribution of records among librarians and managers (Li et al., 2010).
Built on the benefits of Web 2.0, MyCalendar enabled librarians to collect and manage their records of book circulation and reservations more efficiently (Li et al., 2010). Here, Sadeh (2007) also tried to define how Web 2.0 could benefit public libraries and what libraries could do to support their users. First, libraries have to offer quality information resources to meet users’ needs.
Second, libraries must have resources and capabilities to manage their information content (Sadeh, 2007). All this is possible, if public libraries choose to rely on Web 2.0 technologies and applications. Simultaneously, librarians must also realize how Web 2.0 affects change and how it benefits public libraries and users.
Web 2.0 in public libraries: benefits, effects, and inherent risks
Despite the growing body of literature, how Web 2.0 benefits and affects libraries is poorly understood. Gross and Leslie (2010) claim that Web 2.0 is a catalyst of organizational change in public and private libraries. Gross and Leslie (2010) are convinced that “Web 2.0 is an important development because it has the potential to change the way we work by enabling libraries to push services out to their customers” (p.656).
More libraries are choosing to adapt to new technologies and expand their interaction opportunities; however, researchers are concerned that the staff and library supervisors will use the technology for personal reasons (Gross & Leslie, 2010). The future of public libraries is in building and maintaining relationships with users and communities; simultaneously, libraries will continue to function as information repositories (Goodman, 2009).
Web 2.0 provides the resources and capabilities to ensure the development of strong community relations. It is the instrument that facilitates and speeds up positive transformations in libraries (Joint, 2010).
Public libraries which possess and run Web 2.0 applications can easily navigate their information content, speak to different communities, and provide access to traditional and online services (Goodman, 2009). Web 2.0 is what allows to position libraries as an essential ingredient of community life, in online and offline environments.
Yet, the use of Web 2.0 in public libraries is not without risks. Rudman (2010) discussed the main incremental risks of Web 2.0 applications in detail. The researcher claims that Web 2.0 exposes libraries to new, unusual risks; these include but are not limited to security threats, hacking, and the use of malicious software (Rudman, 2010).
Excessive reliance on Web 2.0 technologies can disrupt the continuity of operations, because most websites and applications do not offer service-level guarantees (Rudman, 2010). Public libraries may need to regularly update user interface, which is both costly and troublesome (Rudman, 2010).
Many libraries and librarians may simply lack technical skills and resources to ensure that the Web 2.0 infrastructure runs smoothly and effectively (Rudman, 2010).
The use of Web 2.0 applications in public libraries is associated with the risks of data leakage, privacy and confidentiality breaches, and the inflow of untrustworthy information (Rudman, 2010). Librarians cannot manage or control these processes; simultaneously, they can damage public libraries’ reputation and lead to intellectual property losses (Rudman, 2010).
Web 2.0 is the type of technology that allows managing, aggregating, consolidating, and recombining applications and resources from different locations; consequentially, librarians and IT professionals may lack information about the origins and safety of the dynamic content and applications used by public libraries (Rudman, 2010).
Source code vulnerabilities greatly affect the quality and efficiency of Web 2.0 applications in libraries (Rudman, 2010). To deal with these issues, librarians need training and IT support to eliminate the risks of acquiring and using dangerous technologies, including those downloaded from social networks and blogs (Rudman, 2010).
The nature of Web 2.0 applications implies that hackers can readily attack user interfaces without changing them; as a result, professionals in public libraries can be unaware of the risks and damage inherent in the use of Web 2.0 (Rudman, 2010).
As the role of information in the modern world increases, public libraries become the objects of strategic importance; and any problems with Web 2.0 applications can also lead to problems in library management and decision-making (Rudman, 2010).
However, public libraries have technological and human resources to mitigate these Web 2.0 risks: Rudman (2010) recommends that public libraries apply to a set of technological safeguards, including filtering, anti-malware software, encryption and authentication, network technologies, and input validation.
Librarians may not need this knowledge, but IT specialists working in public libraries must be familiar with the instruments and methods of data protection in Web 2.0 applications for libraries.
Real-life examples of using Web 2.0 in libraries
Researchers and library workers explore the ways and principles of Web 2.0 utilization in public libraries. Cahill (2009) analyzed the use of Web 2.0 tools at Vancouver Public Library. The goal of the study was to show how a public library could use Web 2.0 applications to convert its website into a virtual branch and extend its presence on external social networking sites (Cahill, 2009).
The results of the study showed that it was “possible to take a systematic, integrated, thoughtful approach to the adoption of Web 2.0 tools and technologies in order to enhance web services without sacrificing quality of control” (Cahill, 2009, p.140).
Rehman and Shafique (2011) further analyzed information professionals’ perceptions of Web 2.0 in Pakistani libraries and concluded that library professionals were growing committed to using these applications in daily library operations. According to Rehman and Shafique (2011), the more library professionals are aware of Web 2.0 applications and usage the more chances they have to deliver superior quality services to users.
These assumptions are also supported by Han and Liu (2010), who sought to understand the principles and patterns of Web 2.0 use in the leading Chinese university libraries: two-thirds of the top Chinese university libraries have already adopted at least one kind of Web 2.0 tools, which renders their functions and operations more efficient and consumer-oriented.
The situation in Australian libraries is mostly similar: like their Chinese colleagues, public libraries in Melbourne rely on a number of social software and Web 2.0 applications, which open up their services to communities and give voice to their users (Gosling, Harper & McLean, 2009).
Linh (2008) also found that at least two-thirds of university libraries in Australia used Web 2.0 technologies, including RSS, Instant Messaging, Blogs, and podcasts. Even Jamaica could not escape the influence of Web 2.0 technologies on its public libraries, although the use of Web 2.0 applications in Jamaican libraries is still in its infancy (Stewart, 2009).
These examples and situations imply that Web 2.0 will become a foundational ingredient of library operations in the coming future. Simultaneously, future research is needed to explore the benefits of Web 2.0 and develop instruments to mitigate the risks of privacy intrusions and data leakages from public libraries.
Web 2.0 and Twitter are becoming common in public libraries. Library professionals apply to Twitter and Web 2.0 to catch up with the pace of technological advancement, enhance collaboration and connectivity among users, expand their community outreach, and market their services to potential library users. The current state of literature provides a wealth of information about Web 2.0 and its use in libraries.
Simultaneously, the body of literature discussing the use of Twitter in public libraries is very scarce. Undoubtedly, future research is needed to explore the benefits of Web 2.0 and Twitter, and develop instruments to mitigate the risks of privacy intrusions and data leakages from public libraries.
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