Analysis & Evaluation: Library 2.0: Social Media Apps In Library Contexts


Preface: Personal Contexts

I conducted my practicum at the Digital Experience Group at the New York Public Library, whose purpose is to work in a cross-functional capacity in order to meet the needs of NYPL's digital projects across a variety of contexts and technological needs. My background in audio engineering in combination with my status as a Pratt SILS master's candidate was very appealing to DEG who identified a need for audio/video intern to work closely with their chief a/v producer, James Murdock. Because of this need, my day-to-day high priority tasks were mostly technical; editing and mastering video and audio in Final Cut Pro .

The focus of my paper however, is not an analysis of Final Cut Pro; it is a look inside DEG/NYPL as a forward-thinking organization which has fully embraced the concept of Library 2.0. This is an area that is critical to the library and information field, and I was lucky enough to experience it empirically, as a participant in think tank sessions and through interacting with DEG employees whose work it is to answer the question: what role do social media applications play in a library setting? In this paper I will address this question myself through a combination of both theoretical and practical analysis. The journey begins broadly with an overview of Web 2.0 and progresses towards real-life examples of social media applications in action at NYPL and other library institutions.

What is Web 2.0

When we talk about the Web 2.0, we are typically discussing a general approach to web application development and usage that is built on the idea of interactivity, interoperability, pooling resources towards collaborative knowledge, and bottom-up mitigation (ie. user-centered design). Examples of Web 2.0 include web-based communities, hosted services, web applications, social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups and folksonomies. To quote from the Wikipedia entry on Web 2.0, it allows “site allows its users to interact with other users or to change website content, in contrast to non-interactive websites where users are limited to the passive viewing of information that is provided to them” (2009).

This marks a fundamental shift from the web as we have known it to this point. Some examples of this paradigm shift include the rise in popularity of social knowledge sites such as Wikipedia, which has inadvertently replaced traditional encyclopedia sites. Blogging has replaced personal websites, and tagging tools have taken over indexes (ie. the Yahoo directories of the 1990s). The primary theoretical shift from Web 1.0 to web 2.0 can be understood as a social movement towards collective knowledge, syndication, socialized information, and participation. We call the software applications that empower these methods social media.

Social Media At The Library

Social Media applications mean a lot of different things to different implementers and users. Some of its uses deal with library branding and outbound marketing strategies; in other words using networking apps to keep people updated and locked in to library news, events and programming. A few key examples of these are Facebook, Twitter, and LibGuides, but the list is constantly evolving and changing and social media application turnover is rampant. One of the challenges of social media apps as a library marketing tool is to avoid being discouraged by the tremendous turnover and view the challenge as a chance to experiment, grow and interact with your patrons web needs and habits. Of course there is the question of training and implementation, which may limit a library's ability to follow trends closely. The technology itself is often free (if not highly operable), so a library should work to identify staff members who are eager and experienced web 2.0 users in their own right; otherwise a library may fall into budget problems in terms of staff training (Cvetkovic, 2009).

Without dwelling too much on the marketing advantages of social media apps, the real promise and hope of web 2.0 in the library setting is in its ability to strengthen communities and enable discourse around information resources which ultimately works towards advancing human knowledge. Traditional reference is replaced with IM/ask-a-librarian features, tagging, wikis and blogs. Top-down hierarchical cataloging happens in parallel with OPAC tagging, which is enacted on both user and library specialist levels. Mailing lists are replaced with social networking apps such as Facebook. The major implication of these shifts is that users themselves are participating in creating library resources. This is often referred to as “crowd sourcing” in the web development community, and for many, this is where the project of Library 2.0 goes beyond simply abundance of communication, and becomes a fundamental rethink of library-mediated knowledge. The promise of this shift is that it democratizes knowledge itself, and expands the library services to the level semantically and culturally, better understanding its patrons and thus better serving them (Xu, 2009).

What this means in terms of practical, real-life applications is staggering when you take into account that it wasn't even 10 years ago that libraries were putting in content request forms with webmasters so as to update their library's schedule or upcoming events. The speed and ease at which staff can now inter-operate within their IT system is a testament to 2.0 technologies. In terms of information literacy, many young library goers are now digital natives and, in many ways are informing the future of library services in their own right (Harland, 2009). Wikis and interactive chat modules are established to spark discussion around school assignments. Librarything accounts are established in order to better measure patron trends. Patrons themselves leave comments on library OPACs and blogs, building on top of library moderated knowledge.

These discoveries lend themselves towards a climate of knowledge without beginnings or ends. One of the great challenges of social media applications in a library context is to find ways at moderating, curating and streamlining the deluge of community-centered digital discourse in libraries. If libraries are to separate themselves from one-dimensional internet access hubs (ie. free internet cafes) they must develop social media policies and guidelines which dictate not only the import of the information flow itself, but the ethics of a participatory culture.

The Digital Experience Group & Social Media & NYPL

The Digital Experience Group has been making some very interesting waves with social media app implementation and integration, especially by populating their YouTube channel with NYPL's amazing homespun collection of educational video programming, their Flickr Commons project which put a whole new community-based twist on their preexisting digital image repository, and their outstanding Turn It Up! teen podcasting project. Through an analysis of DEG's social media matrix, I hope to address some of challenges, factors, implications and benefits of Library 2.0 as addressed throughout the paper.

Lets begin with an overview of the NYPL's Flickr Commons. The project represents over 1700 images and growing, migrated over from the NYPL's proprietary Digital Image Gallery as an experiment in using the ultra-malleable Flickr API so as 2.0ify their existing visual collections. They key word is engagement, as the images are available to view, discuss and tag. Librarians at the NYPL have already created subject heading-rich metadata for these items, which DEG then re-purposed by populating them within the Flickr tag functionality. Users with a Flickr account can then add to this rich pool of metadata with their own tags. What is amazing about this gesture is that DEG is trying to create a digital environment in which top-level metadata is conjoined with semantic, social or commentated data. This enriches the images and gives them a life of their own; enabling and inviting users to experience them outside of subject or descriptive groupings, but rather as part of an unlimited social matrix of description (NYPL, 2009).

This gesture is furthered via DEG's NYPL YouTube channel undertaking, which amasses a veritable treasure trove of library-created video materials, including the popular NYPL Live program, amongst many others. Not only do users have the ability to comment on videos as a way to commune through the resources, but it also gives them a chance to ask reference questions, which DEG moderates and follows up on by commenting back. Furthermore, YouTube metrics data gives DEG an idea of what users are drawn to; this form of crowd sourcing helps the NYPL to siphon and prioritize its materials, educating themselves on how to best represent the materials to the outside world. Because YouTube videos are shareable across the web through the embed feature, the NYPL is able to reach vast corners of the globe. This sort of knowledge sharing through syndication is Library 2.0 at its best, and goes to show you how the technology can effectively turn any library into a global library. (Woodard, 2009)

Finally, one of the most interesting benefits of social media applications and Web 2.0 technologies on the whole is the democratization on account of affordable new technologies with relatively small learning curves. Podcasting, a term that combines Apple's Ipod mp3 player with the word “broadcast” is best understood as a do-it-yourself audio syndication practice. Users create mp3s using simple recording software which is usually included on most personal computers, and then syndicate the audio via RSS feeds which anyone can subscribe to like they would a magazine or a newspaper. In recent years, library-moderated podcasting has become an extremely popular mode of programming for teens, and the NYPL's Turn It Up! Programming is a shining example of how such programming can really be a creative outlet that helps inspire young adults to voice their opinions in a public forum. It also goes a long way towards improving overall digital and technological literacy amongst teenagers, preparing them both in terms of communication and computing skills (Jones, 2009). Examples of some of the Turn It Up! subject matter include programs on AIDS, bullying, stereotypes, racist slang, war protest, homophobia, popularity, immigrations, and censorship.

Library 2.0: Challenges & Hopes

Much of the hesitation around using social media applications in a library setting comes from within the library field itself, although it is not without its justification. With the emergence of socially-developed information tools, many librarians fear that the library will go out of fashion, or lose its application. But as technology evangelist Paul Miller noted, libraries must and will continue “to develop and deploy the rich descriptive standards of the [library and information science] domain, whilst embracing more participative approaches that encourage interaction with and the formation of communities of interest” (2006). Libraries will have to be brave in undertaking the project of sustaining their subject matter expertise, while also making room for the wealth of patron-generated input that is making its way into more traditional information science methodologies. And although we might think of Library 2.0 and social media as a set of distinct technological paradigm shifts, the biggest one of all is attitudinal; its fundamentally about openness and open-endedness.

Other concerns are more discreet and deal with the challenges involved with creating a infrastructure for the sustainability of social media in libraries. These concerns are largely budgetary; mostly any library can experiment and implement social media tools at their location, but keeping these newly developed environments populated with fresh content, and moderated so as to exhibit a level of social and ethical decency amongst users, will invariably boil down to resources, vested interests by management, and issues of privacy and copyright. It is suggested then that institutions facing these challenges turn to other libraries for guidelines and best practices. Library 2.0 is here to stay and the benefits greatly outweigh the concerns. There is without a doubt a bowl of porridge befitting of each institution's needs and limitations. The key factor for libraries pursuing social media apps within their institution's offerings is the same as the great promise of Web 2.0 – knowledge through engagement.


Cvetkovic, M. (2009). Making web 2.0 work—from ‘librarian habilis’ to ‘librarian sapiens’.

Computers In Libraries, 29(9), 15-17.

Harland, P. (2009, March/April). Library 2.0 in plymouth, new hampshire: how one library uses web 2.0 tools to enhance services to students & staff. Library Media Connect, 27(5), 57-58.

Jones, N. (2009, August). You're on the air! podcasting with teens at the library.

Voice Youth Advocates, 32(3), 200-203.

Miller, P. (2006). Library 2.0: the challenge of disruptive innovation. Talis, 1-18.

Vershow, B. (2008). New york public library.

Retrieved from

Web 2.0. (2009). Wikipedia. Retrieved (2009, December 14) from

Woodward, A. (2009, September). From Zero to web 2.0: part 1. Computers In Libraries,

29(8), 41-42.

Xu, C., Ouyang, F., & Chu, H. (2009). The Academic library meets web 2.0: applications and implications. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(4), 325-331.

Daniel Lopatin,
Dec 14, 2009, 1:34 AM