Does anybody remember the 1980’s? Way back then in the last few decades of last century there was a very popular author, Alvin Toffler, who wrote several books about the future, mostly for business and marketing people. In the book “Powershift – Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century” he describes the erosion of authority and the rise of a critical mentality among employees, soldiers, students, pupils and the general population.

I have revisited his thinking and found something I believe is interesting. Today we can see some of the development that Toffler predicted on the internet. It is most easily seen in the way blogs have influenced traditional media, wikis have revolutionized the encyclopedia business and how web 2.0 moves the power of creation and control from the few to almost everybody.

This powershift is, in my opinion, at the core of the Library 2.0 concept. In the Talking with Talis podcast, “meet the Library 2.0 gang”, Scott Plutchak challenges the Library 2.0 enthusiasts to show him what makes Library 2.0 any different from the underlying principles of good old-fashioned librarianship? I did not have a good answer to him then, but I believe I am closing in on what I believe to be the one concept that changes the way we so far have worked to fulfil the task that society has given us, and that we use Libraries as the tool to accomplish.

The thing that I believe to be at the core of Library 2.0, and the one characteristic that marks it as different from the basic “way of the library” so far, is the shift in power between user and librarian. This shift in power is evident in the emergence of “superpatrons” in different libraries, users who use their knowledge of web 2.0 to change, mutate and utilize the services the library offers online and combine them with other resources to construct new, hitherto unimagined services.

Why is this different? The library have so far in history been the domain of the librarian. No matter how we have strived to make the library more user friendly, introduce user panels or focus groups to get input, or how we have tried, in vain, to change the preception of the library from a a place with books, to an information source, we have been in control. Nothing changes in the library unless the librarians says so!

Well, this will now change. The control and power in the library will move from the librarian to the user. This means for instance that the library owner, the municipality, county, university, business or corporation will “mess” with the library, demand more return from the resources invested, and make changes in the way the library is run, i.e. put a non-librarian in charge of the library, make guidelines for purchase desicions etc.

And of course, the library user will make changes. These will first be felt online, where they will use library created data to create their own content or mashups. Library Thing is a perfect example of something that uses library data to an end that was not envisioned by the librarians who produced them, and indeed taking the traditional opac a step further. To quote the Library thing blog:

And who knew so many people would care about figuring out MARC fields?


I'm a norwegian librarian.

Posted in Librarian 2.0, Users
2 comments on “Powershift
  1. Nils Pharo says:

    That’s a very good observation, Thomas! I agree with you that in the digital context such a shift clearly will take place. I hope that you (and everyone else taking notice)will let us know when you see signs of that change happening in the physical libraries as well.

  2. Nils Pharo says:

    I’ll provide one example of the physical library 2.0. I co-arranged a seminar with Lennart Bjørneborn (http://www.db.dk/lb/) last week and he told me that he’d seen a library where users had the option of providing smiley-“shelf-marker” in order to emphasise favourite books. Good idea!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

March 2006
The Librarian

%d bloggers like this: