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The PLA Blog | Official Blog of the Public Library Association

Jed Moffitt of the King County LIbrary System began the PLA-sponsored Wiking the Blog and Walking the Dog with family stories that somehow led to a disclosure that the topic of social software in libraries is not so cutting-edge as it was eighteen months ago when the topic was chosen for the American Library Association Summer 2007 conference. The topic has matured a bit. He thought it was still worth discussing. The overflow crowd agreed.

At this “late date” in social software, the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenberg County has already reached its second generation in training programs. Matt Gullett, the Emerging Technologies Librarian for PLCMC, described the library’s online tutorial series Learning 2.0. He invited all libraries to use what his library has created. PLCMC generally gave staff nine weeks to complete the tutorial in a voluntary program, but other libraries can take as long as they want. Gullett said the key is to be flexible and let staff learn at their pace.

The objectives behind the PLCMC effort are as follows, according to Gullett:

expose staff to tools
encourage them to play
empower individuals
expand their knowledge
eliminate their fears

PLCMC now has debuted its follow-up Learning 2.1, which is more self-directed learning. Gullett says that the results of staff training is a change in the work culture and the form of his library’s organization is changing. The new departments in the library are 1) community engagement, 2) library experiences, 3) organizational resources, and 4) research, innovation, and strategy.

Librarians in virtual worlds were the focus of Alliance Library System’s Tom Peters. Peters has been involved in Second Life for over a year. His avatar is based on his dog’s name (one of the references back to the title in this program).

Peters said that there are now at least 500 virtual worlds online. He said they are not games in the strictest sense of the term. They are alternate lives. Because many clients are going there, libraries should, too. Alliance Library System has created Info Island in Second Life and is providing services to participants in the virtual universe.

Peters thinks that libraries in a virtual world are great for answering reference inquiries, linking to digital collections, creating interesting exhibits, and running book discussions or other event programs. Libraries can design buildings that defy physics in their innovative service of clients in Second Life.

Transforming the online catalog for the Ann Arbor Public Library into social software is the trick for which John Blyberg won awards. With its tagging, reviews, ratings, and comments, the catalog has now become a community footprint and portal to the library. The catalog even has a tool for generating old catalog cards with comments written on them. So far the features have been most used by teens, as shown by the number of ratings for teen books.

Blyberg said the code for adding these features is free for other libraries to use, though it is not “plug and play.” He cautioned that libraries may want to find ways to “prime the pump” on the social features by getting a group of clients to use them to attract more general use.

In the little time that was left her, Meredith Farkas spoke about the use of wikis and blogs by public libraries. She found that wikis are well-designed for creating community knowledge bases. They foster contributions from individuals who join the community and are keyword searchable. She recommended that libraries go to Wiki Matrix to find comparisons of the competing software.

Farkas also showed examples of how libraries and businesses have used blogs to keep clients informed. In the case of Southwest Airlines, its public blog actually became an agent of service change, as clients expressed themselves through comments.

At the end of the formal presentation, the audience had many questions about applications of social software. The topic may not be so old-hat as Moffitt thought.

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