Search   |   Back Issues   |   Author Index   |   Title Index   |   Contents



D-Lib Magazine
April 2006

Volume 12 Number 4

ISSN 1082-9873

Coming Together around Library 2.0

A Focus for Discussion and a Call to Arms


Dr. Paul Miller
Technology Evangelist, Talis
United Kingdom

Red Line

(This Opinion piece presents the opinions of the author. It does not necessarily reflect the views of D-Lib Magazine, its publisher, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, or its sponsor.)


'Library 2.0' [1, 2] is a term that provides focus to a number of ongoing conversations around the changing ways that libraries should make themselves and their services visible to end users and to one another. Through white papers [3, 4], articles [5, 6], blog posts [7], podcasts [8], presentations and more, at Talis we are taking part in this increasingly global conversation. Library 2.0 is more, though, than just a stimulus to conversation. The phrase captures notions of disruptive change, and promises to challenge both the ways in which we consider our library services and the forms in which they are offered to potential beneficiaries.

Here comes the Googlezon [9]

It seems that, everywhere one turns these days, commentators are predicting the death of the library and lambasting Google, Amazon and others for allegedly questionable interpretation of copyright, for 'dumbing down' information seeking behaviour, and for 'stealing' the rightful role of the library.

From where I sit, these dire views and predictions are not substantiated.

Rather, the widespread availability of rich, open sources of information has raised the skills, the expectations and the aspirations of our users and theirs, and this is surely not a bad thing. It has shown us some of what may be possible, and has given us much toward which we can aspire and then move beyond. We should not lash out, attack, or complain. Rather, we should embrace these changes and extend them, in order to improve the range of services available and to meet the needs of our users.

Many of the library sector's current systems and processes may well be overdue for criticism, especially when viewed through a lens shaped by experience of the lightweight, flexible, intelligent and responsive applications encountered online every day. Our innumerable opaque information silos, our endless authentication challenges, our wilfully different interfaces, and our insistence on attempting to suck everyone and everything into the library building or onto the library site – all of that, we should collectively be prepared to admit, could be better.

But, importantly, it can be. Behind the self-interested yet flawed business logic that drives the assertion of ownership over something so basic as the humble catalogue record or statement of holdings, behind the pointless competition between vendors over core, common infrastructure components that sees them refusing to cooperate and therefore raises costs for themselves and their customers, behind all that and more lie dedicated armies of highly skilled librarians, large numbers of eminently capable programmers and developers, an almost wholly untapped body of structured data just waiting to be leveraged effectively, an incomparable agglomeration of material culture, and a global population of current and potential information consumers to whom 'the library' continues to shine as a worthwhile and valued concept [10, 11].

It's your Web too

In the wider world of the Web, the increasingly pervasive broadband connection, the falling cost of infrastructure, the behavioural norms of a society in which so much content is free and 'people' (other people, of course) are known to download and share that which is not, alongside a technological shift toward the embracing of simple yet powerful formats such as RSS [12], have led to the emergence of something being labelled Web 2.0 [5, 13].

Tim O'Reilly, whose company [14] coined the term, attempted a succinct definition of Web 2.0 last year:

"Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an "architecture of participation," and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences." [15]

Ian Davis [16], then newly moved to Talis, had previously commented that Web 2.0 is "an attitude, not a technology" [17] in an attempt to capture the importance of the changes that Web 2.0 encapsulated – changes that were being lost in discussions of RSS and AJAX, and blogs and APIs.

Fundamental to much of the interest around Web 2.0 were changes in behaviour and expectation, changes that shifts in technology simply brought within reach of everyone.

Library 2.0 – capturing disruption

In the library domain, we are seeing trends to mirror those in the wider information space. We are seeing an increased desire for access to data and services by means other than traditional human interaction with an application's Web interface, and an increased understanding of the possibilities that such access creates. We are seeing a growing willingness to share data, and a clear imperative to increase the value of the data that we have by making it work harder and by combining data sources in order to discover new value. We are seeing library vendors, staff, patrons, digital library researchers and more all giving serious consideration to ways in which the value currently locked up so tightly within our systems can be realised and surfaced in a wide variety of ways that extend far beyond the physical walls of the library and the far less malleable virtual walls of its current systems.

It is possible to identify quite simple examples of these trends and to extrapolate from them towards far richer possibilities.

Within a typical teaching university, for example, despite any desire to the contrary on behalf of the library, the library's systems are not the online 'home' in which students find themselves spending most of their time. Instead, this 'home' (if the institution is able to offer one that is sufficiently compelling as to draw its students out of Facebook [18] for any significant length of time) will undoubtedly be the institutional portal or course management system. We should be looking to expose library services there, both in terms of basic account information, but also by tying library holdings closely to course reading lists, etc. in order to make it as easy as possible for students to discover and gain access to library resources of use to them.

Screenshot of Talis Keystone

Figure 1: Talis Keystone is used at University College Dublin in order to make library account data visible within the institutional portal.

Even in the research arena, where scholars might be expected to turn more readily to the resources of their library, the library's online systems remain fragmented and pose a distraction from the task at hand.

Unlike institutional portals, the library-specific portal has never really taken off in Europe to the degree that it did in North America, but even those that have been deployed must surely be considered an imperfect diversion from the direction in which we and our users wish to move. Rather than trying, repeatedly, to become the destination site for users, we should recognise that library services are rarely an end in themselves, and that the library makes most sense in the context of the task that users find themselves attempting to complete. We should not make our users have to consciously decide to 'do library stuff now'. Instead, we should integrate into the workflows that they already undertake, and we should implement methods that make library content visible and relevant to those who might never have thought to turn to a library for anything more than a warm place to check their e-mail. Equally, we should cater better for those who already use the library and give them the tools to maximise the value of the library's services. A virtual librarian (or library service), "standing" by the shoulder of a student attempting some task of importance to them, is far more valuable an ambassador for the library than signs all over campus exhorting students to turn aside from whatever they are doing and enter the library in order to be helped. Unfortunately, the virtual equivalent to those signs, the hyperlink to the library's web site, is no better and is arguably far worse, as link to the library is so much less than it might so easily be.

Choosing another extremely simple example in order to demonstrate a clear benefit of integration, we can interact with users of Amazon in order to show them that copies of an item of interest may well be available on library shelves nearby. This is not an attempt to force them into the library, but an effort to enable them to make informed decisions from a range of possibilities.

Screenshot of Talis interfacing with Amazon

Figure 2: A simple Talis script detects ISBNs on a page at Amazon and uses this to query a shared database of library holdings. Greasemonkey [19] is then used to write information on libraries holding the book back onto the Amazon page (note the '@libraries' box, not normally evident in Amazon results).


Screenshot of Talis Directory

Figure 3: The Talis Directory adds value by enabling the user to link deep into any OPAC and discover whether or not the item is available to borrow.


Screenshot of Amazon showing whether or not a particular item is held in the local organization's library

Figure 4: David Pattern at the University of Huddersfield is one of several systems librarians who has also used Greasemonkey to show his staff and students when items available from Amazon are held in their own University Library [20].

The rise of the library Platform

Individually, these examples perhaps result in only small improvements to the user's experience. They are, though, an important part of the move to deliver library services outside the walls of the building.

If we are to succeed in offering a range of rich services that are meaningful and valuable in a multiplicity of contexts, then there is a significant amount of work to be done in dissecting current library systems and the processes that they support. This work should result in a better understanding of those functions that are required in different contexts, and it is allowing the identification of key components that are logically shared between applications rather than duplicated, as is so often the case today. Exposing data and processes, and then orchestrating them together to build new capabilities, enables the questioning of established practice. The Whisper research prototype discussed below, for example, brings information on distributed library holdings together with purchase data from Amazon, making it eminently possible for decisions to be made as to the most appropriate method for fulfilling a request for a particular book not currently available from the library. The traditional solution would have been an inter-library loan request, but this may not always prove the quickest, cheapest, or most appropriate course of action.

This trend moves beyond the reengineering of applications deployed within a single institution, or offered by a single vendor, and allows us to move towards a network-based Platform [21] of subsystems encapsulating the functionality required by anyone wishing to construct the next generation of applications. These subsystems are increasingly being exposed on the network via a series of Web Services upon which other applications can call as required.

At Talis, as is doubtless happening elsewhere, we are actively seeking to deploy a whole host of Web Services around our existing and future systems. Increasingly, there is scope for building certain core pieces of infrastructure once – in partnership with other vendors and interested parties – and deploying them in such a way that they tend toward vendor neutrality and may be utilised by library and other systems to leverage existing data in new and useful ways.

For example, Talis is working with partners such as the Research Libraries Group (RLG) [22], deploying to the Platform a robust community-maintained and RDF-based [23] Directory of information about libraries and the services that they offer. This Directory [24] continues to grow and gain functionality but already supports aspects of RedLightGreen [25] as well as ensures that anyone can build resilient applications capable of providing deep links into any library catalogue (as Figure 2 demonstrated via Amazon) without their having prior knowledge of the catalogue, its structure or interfaces, and without an application builder needing to worry about keeping these links current.

Whisper Screenshot

Figure 5: Talis' Whisper prototype shows one possible interface that orchestrates a number of underlying Web Services drawn from various points on the network.

A research prototype, Whisper [26], demonstrates some of the ways in which data from libraries and elsewhere can be combined and made to work harder. Whisper also leverages a number of Web Services to access the Platform's Directory, its expanding network of freely contributed and shared bibliographic holdings, Amazon, and elsewhere.

As we move to provide a range of network services relevant to a wider community than our traditional customers, and as we work with libraries, other vendors, and third parties such as the internet search engines, we are playing our part in attempting to demolish some of the artificial silos that currently make it so hard for library users to experience any sort of rich and integrated information landscape.

To be successful, any such effort must not belong to a single vendor, and it must be both possible and beneficial for all comers to participate and to gain value. As well as making progress technologically, we must make progress in engaging with libraries, their users and funders, in order to gain consensus around working together to build something better, rather than continuing to fall back upon traditional models of fragmentation, duplication, and needless (expensive) competition. There are areas in which it makes sense to compete. There are others in which the increasing commoditisation of the data or service concerned makes it far more sensible for us to cooperate and build a sound foundation upon which individual groups may then innovate and add value. One comprehensive source of bibliographic holdings to which libraries may freely add and from which third parties may easily consume, for example, must surely make more sense, to all but the entrenched incumbents, than a fragmented and disproportionately costly model such as the one in evidence today.


To achieve our vision of Library 2.0 [4], in which libraries become ever more relevant as visible and accessible providers of valuable content and context, I strongly believe that many of the models in evidence today require dramatic change. As a domain, we need to break down the unnecessarily strong walls between our silos of information. We need to break down the walls between our systems, and the barriers between the groups working to develop and extend each individual system. We need to develop, nurture, and leverage a true development community across libraries and vendors, and we need to be prepared to share far more than we do today. There are lessons to learn from the world of open source, and there are lessons to learn from the community-nurtured specifications that drive Web innovation far faster than our more traditional standardisation processes tend to manage.

In order to play our part in reducing duplication, and to accelerate innovation and the adoption of existing standards and specifications, Talis is facilitating a Developer Network [27] to encompass all Library 2.0 developers regardless of the library system for which they are developing. This evolving community offers a space in which ideas can be shared and demonstrated, and from which Web Services and other means of leveraging the growing Platform may be consumed. As an evolving community effort, it requires active participation in order to succeed. Come in, look around, learn, share, and take part.

Together, we can build the library services that our users need.


[1] A Google search for the latest on 'Library 2.0'. <>.

[2] A Technorati search for the latest on 'Library 2.0'. <>.

[3] Chad, K. & Miller, P. 2005. Do Libraries Matter? The rise of Library 2.0. <>.

[4] Miller, P. 2006. Library 2.0: The challenge of disruptive innovation. <>.

[5] Miller, P. 2005. 'Web 2.0: Building the New Library', Ariadne, Issue 45, October 2005. <>.

[6] Chad, K. 2005. 'Library 2.0', Public Library Journal, Winter 2005, pp. 11-12. Reproduced with permission at <>.

[7] Panlibus blog. <>.

[8] Talking with Talis podcast site. <>.

[9] Thompson, M. & Sloan, R. 2005. 'EPIC 2014: The Future is Now', Poynteronline, 21 July 2005. <>.

[10] MORI, 2005. Understanding the Audience. <>.

[11] Online Computer Library Center, 2005. Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources. <>.

[12] 'RSS (file format)' page at Wikipedia. <>.

[13] O'Reilly, T. 2005. What is Web 2.0? <>.

[14] O'Reilly Media, Inc. <>.

[15] O'Reilly, T. 2005. 'Web 2.0: Compact Definition', O'Reilly Radar, 1 October 2005. <>.

[16] Ian Davis. <>.

[17] Davis, I. 2005. 'Talis, Web 2.0 and All That', Internet Alchemy, 4 July 2005. <>.

[18] Facebook. <>.

[19] Greasemonkey. <>.

[20] Pattern, D. 2006. ' Greasemonkey script', Self-plagiarism is style, 28 January 2006. <>.

[21] Barker, D. 2005. Supporting the next generation of applications for delivering rich library content and services. <>.

[22] RLG, the Research Libraries Group. <>.

[23] Resource Description Framework (RDF). <>.

[24] Directory Services. <>.

[25] RedLightGreen. <>.

[26] Whisper prototype. <>.

[27] TDN. <>.

Copyright © 2006 Paul Miller

Top | Contents
Search | Author Index | Title Index | Back Issues
Editorial | First Commentary
Home | E-mail the Editor


D-Lib Magazine Access Terms and Conditions