An understanding of the Digital Environment and how it is related to libraries is undertaken in the critiquing of three articles each offering different perspectives. In the first, Anderson (2007a) attempts to find an academic framework within which to analyze “Web 2.0” and “Library 2.0”. Missingham (2009) describes the Australian experience in encouraging participation in the digital economy and digital citizenship through a national initiative – the Electronic Resources Australia (ERA) and finally the State Government of Victoria (2012) takes the question to a local level in asking what the role of its libraries will be in this digital future.
In his article Anderson (2007a) examines the concept of Web 2.0 and how this relates to the librarian. He begins with a history and some definitions of Web 2.0. He then proposes a three-part framework within which to scaffold discussions around how Web 2.0 impacts the library. These can roughly be summarized as services / applications, the “six big ideas” and technologies / standards.
Services / applications include software and social networking. The “Six Big Ideas” are the principles underpinning the Internet in its current form as outlined by O’Reilly (2005): “individual production and user generated content; harnessing the power of the crowd; data on an epic scale; the architecture of participation; network effects and openness”. (Anderson 2007a, p.196). The final aspect is the technology and accepted standards that underlie the services and applications. In his article “What is Web 2.0“, Anderson, (2007b) further elaborates on this framework in general with specific focus on implications for libraries from page 36.
Missingham, R. (2009). Encouraging the digital economy and digital citizenship. Special issue on the ALIA Public Libraries Summit 2009, 58(4), 386.
In her article, Missingham (2009) describes the history and status of Australian use of technology with comparative statistics to the UK and Canada. She gives a background to the creation of ERA and justifies the need of Australians for access to the types of information purchased by the ERA consortium in order to participate in the “digital economy”. This view has a foundation in the four benefits to narrowing the digital divide in a society: economic equality, social mobility, democracy and economic growth (Internet World Stats,2012).
The final part of her article examines the role of libraries in supporting access to digital resources, not only as subscribers to the ERA, but also in helping the community develop (digital) literacy skills. She concludes by touching on issues relating to the digital divide in Australia, including connectivity, content issues and the capability of users. The primary problems highlighted by her concern the gap between rural and metropolitan areas, affordability of services and literacy levels.
This discussion paper initiates the first part of a review of the role and function of public libraries in the State of Victoria, Australia in order to determine future strategic directions. In the document four dimensions of libraries are covered: Collections, resources and programs; Library buildings; Technology; and Service delivery. In each, the topic is introduced with challenges they pose now and in the future and feedback in the form of answers to questions is requested of stakeholders.
Anderson’s framework is very useful when reading articles concerning Web 2.0 and Library 2.0. One can quickly put an article or research in context. For example Xu, Ouyang and Chu (2009) in “The Academic Library Meets Web 2.0” focuses mainly on the first part of the framework in surveying the websites of 81 academic libraries in the State of New York and neglects any discussion of “big ideas” or technologies and standards. On the other hand in “ComingTogether around Library 2.0” Miller (2006) concentrates more on the impact of the “big ideas” quoting Ian Davis who said “Web 2.0 an attitude, not a technology” and makes a plea for integrating “library stuff” into normal workflows of library users.
However, no matter how useful a framework may be, unless other researchers adopt it as some kind of standard, its relevance may be questioned. In reviewing the literature on Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 it appears that after a flurry of research and articles in the years 2005-2007 academic interest in that aspect of the topic seems to have waned. Perhaps research was overtaken by the practicalities of implementing the new technologies, the specifics of integrating systems and licensing matters and dealing with their day-to-day issues. It can be argued that the framework would have relevance at some point in doing a meta-analysis and literature review of the Web / Library 2.0 literature in the early 21st century.
Anderson opens the point of entry for a discussion of the other two papers when he says: “much of the discussion can often be seen in the context of the wider public debate concerning the operation of public services in a modern, technology-rich environment in which user expectations have rapidly changed (Crawford, 2006), rather than Web 2.0 per se.” (Anderson, 2007b, p. 36)
We now move to the provision of public services in the form of the establishment of the ERA, (Missingham, 2009) and the specific instance of Victoria Public Libraries. Underlying Missingham’s paper are references to the “digital divide”. The term “digital divide” is very broad and she only touches on aspects of it in a rather unstructured manner, with consideration of “access” in between a “content” discussion, (p. 389) and “literacy” in between the examination of the importance of “access” (p. 395) and little reference to local research such as that of Black and Atkinson (2007) who cover the arguments and literature surrounding the digital divide in Australia very well. For a better framework to this concept, Warschauer (2003) uses the rubrics of: Physical Resources (computers and connectivity); Digital Resources (content and language); Human Resources (literacy and education) and Social Resources (communities and institutions). Framing her discussion in this way would have led to a more coherent argument. Further, her evidence of the divide is anecdotal in the form of selective quotations from submissions to a Senate enquiry (pages 389-390). Her argument could have been better served by reference to data such as that generated by Ewing and Thomas (2010), for example, “home access by income” and “use by location”, illustrated in the graphs below.
|(Ewing and Thomas, 2010, The Internet in Australia. ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, p.10)
|(Ewing and Thomas, 2010, The Internet in Australia. ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, p.3)
A shortcoming in the traditional writings on digital divide is the neglect of the concept of “digital natives” versus “digital immigrants”. Reading the essays collected in “The digital Divide” (Bauerlein, 2011), one has to conclude that all the above papers’ authors are “digital immigrants” – a term coined by Marc Prensky in 2001. This is further exposed when one contrasts what is being said and done on the Internet versus in the libraries and written about in academic literature. For example Harradine (2012) reports on the introduction of eBooks into the Western Australia Public library system. Her article echoes the earlier experiences in the USA with initial slow take-up by patrons and friction between the publishing companies and libraries (Zickuhr,Rainie, Purcell, Madden, & Brenner, 2012). Australian reporting on eResources could benefit by looking at worldwide trends in more technical savvy countries. In contrast, when browsing forums concerning eBooks in Australia, it would appear that patrons step boldly where libraries fear to tread, with early adopters paying to join libraries in the USA and Singapore in order to borrow eBooks that are not available in their local libraries. These are potentially lost patrons who would not even appear on the radar of the librarians who are complaining about the lack of interest in digital services.
Neither Missingham nor the discussion paper consider the potential “leapfrogging” of terminals and desktop computer ubiquity and use as a result of the uptake in mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones. Carlucci Thomas (2012) writes about the need for libraries to follow patrons in providing new mobile services. She posits that adoption of mobile devices is driving the interest in eBooks in the USA where, since May 2011, eBooks outsold print books for the first time on Amazon. Another digital native librarian – self-described “Edupunk” – Travis (2012) demonstrates in her blog that cost need not be an obstacle in providing services and Greenhill (2012) echoes this sentiment for the Australian market, highlighting extra-legal “free and easy” aspects to obtaining digital information which librarians need to be aware of.
The Year Book Australia, (2012) in launching its National Year of Reading makes some very astute statements about the changing roles of libraries from being simple repositories of reading materials to being the point of contact for the acquisition of information for all community members “with a focus on the most disadvantaged”. Emphasis is given in this initiative to a wide range of materials both in print and online gleamed from a range of collaborative partnerships.
If one reads the State Government of Victoria discussion paper in conjunction with the Australian Public Library Statistics(2010-2011), it seems to be a rather shameful exercise in the selective use of statistics and quotations. For example in the discussion on technology, they state “78.6% of libraries provide a computer lab / Internet area.” The more relevant statistic would be that Victoria only has 3.62 public access Internet terminals per 10,000 persons, which is one of the lowest in Australia and lags the National average of 4.43, and other states such as South Australia (8.11) (Australian Public Library Statistics, 2012, p.20).
|(Public & Indigenous Library Services State Library of Queensland. (2012). Australian Public Libraries Statistical Report 2010-2011. p.20)
This is not surprising when you dig further and see that there was no spending on electronic resources in libraries at all in the years 2007 to 2010 (ibid. p.19) for the State of Victoria, with a huge catch up spend in 2010-11.
|(Public & Indigenous Library Services State Library of Queensland. (2012). Australian Public Libraries Statistical Report 2010-2011. p.18)
The report is very inwardly focused and does not even make reference to what is happening in the rest of Australia, not to speak of internationally, and could quite possibly be an exercise in reinventing the wheel. Their internal focus is astounding, referring to a “borderless library” and in the same breath speaking of “across the state (of Victoria)” rather than referring to the rest of the country or the world.
A visit to the website of Victoria State Library shows it doesn’t even mention eResources on their home page and one has to dig four levels down to find them. In contrast the National Library has a well developed website for eResources and the State Library of Western Australia appears to have a more developed policy and methodology for the loaning of eBooks. Unlike their counterparts nationally and in other states there is no friendly “how to” video or tutorial on the use of eResources.
In the discussion on Library buildings, it is important to learn from the experience of libraries further along the eResources curve, who find that some patrons visit the library less and access more remotely and that the location, nature and use of libraries has changed substantially (Zickuhr etal, 2012). In the report, service delivery, including workforce is dealt with separately to technology, although one of the challenges lies in an ageing public library workforce, whom, one may assume are not digital natives.
All three authors seem to suffer somewhat from the mindset of “build it, and they will come”. Anderson has a useful framework that doesn’t appear to have been widely adopted. Missingham discusses the ERA that in conjunction with the National broadband Network (NBN), will provide the physical and electronic resources for the digital economy, but doesn’t address how the human and social resources aspects will be adapted to optimize their use. The State Government of Victoria is embarking on an old fashioned and potentially extensive, expensive and long term exercise, with the risk that it is redundant before it’s finished. This is in complete contrast to one of the key “big ideas” of Web 2.0, which is living life in a perpetual state of Beta. Finally one has to resort to the most important question, which is whether any of these articles contribute to enhancing the operation of public services.