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A Wiki Library Web Site?

Jennifer over at Life as I Know It pointed me toward a new blog and a new idea, all in one post. The new blog is Library 2.0: An Academic’s Perspective by Laura Cohen (into my aggregator she goes….), and the new idea is that of making library web pages in the form of a wiki.

Here’s what Laura writes:

There are some people who rightly sing the praises of the Ann Arbor District Library because its site is blog-based. However, blogs are restrictive relative to wikis in that the typical user cannot create an entry but only comment on it. In the library context, librarians are in control of their Web site content and users can only respond. This is valuable, to be sure, but in terms of radical trust (a Library 2.0 buzzword), it falls short. […] The technologies exist to make library sites a joint venture, in which librarians and their constituencies work together to create an online presence that hears voices from both sides of the fence. In a way, this type of site would remove most of the fence.

This is an idea I haven’t heard before, and just based on that I’m inclined to say “Cool!” That’s my default reaction to ideas that bring together fun and usefulness, interaction, learning, and (hopefully) improved service. And I think this idea has the potential to be meet all of those coolness criteria.

However, my personal experience causes me to pause, just a little. Would the presence of wiki functionality actually increase participation? I’m not sure. Laura is not advocating a wiki-only approach. She mentions combining wiki and blog bases to come up with a more interactive environment. But the suggestion that a wiki is more interactive than a blog got me thinking.

I know that when I view a wiki, I am hesitant to change the content unless I either own the wiki or I’m one of a small group of people working on a collaborative project. Each page in the wiki looks and feels to me like a draft of someone else’s paper. I’m happy to comment on it and let the other person change the content, but I don’t want to go changing another person’s writing willy-nilly.

In fact, I’m even less likely to change a wiki than I am to post to a massive listserv, and for many of the same reasons. Call it shyness. Call it respect. Call it pathological inability to force myself on someone. Call it what you will, but the fact is that I’ve only written to a large listserv a few times in my life, and I’ve never changed any substantive content on “someone else’s” wiki.

Blogs, on the other hand, present no barriers to me. I’m happy to comment because I’m not fundamentally changing someone else’s work, but I can still add my two cents. And I create my own content secure in the knowledge that even if people disagree with me, all they can do is comment, so all the time I spend drafting will not be wasted. (Well, I guess wasted time could be argued… but we won’t go there now.) Not only that, but my content isn’t going directly to someone’s inbox unless they specifically want ME in their inbox. They can visit me or subscribe to me at will, but I’m not forcing myself on them.

So where does this leave me? I think my answer is still “cool.” I like the idea of including a collaborative and constructive research space where patrons can work with patrons, librarians with patrons, and librarians with librarians, and where everyone can contribute to the research experience. This collaborative space to include blog space for patrons who wanted to write and comment individually or in groups. Patrons should also have note-taking space via the library, citation managers, and the ability to tag and review resources that they find (see this earlier post for more on my wishes for a research portal). But as a library user, I’d also like the basic, predictable structure of an HTML page to organize my experience so that when I visit my library’s web page tomorrow I’ll still know where to find the catalog. What’s more, my reservations are based only on my own interactions with collaborative platforms, so others may have an entirely different take on it.

Ultimately, I end up with a similar reaction to Jennifer’s: I think the ideal research space would include a combination of a bunch of tools and formats which serve users and librarians and which, together, allow for constructive and healthy interaction.

p.s. What is the plural of “wiki”? I’ve seen “wikies” and “wikis” in use. Does it have an official plural? You’ll notice I scrupulously avoided plurals in this post even though that made the language a little wonky.