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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

The debasement of Library 2.0 and definitions

I'm not actually going to talk much about the controversy of whether Library 2.0 has been debased or what such debasement might consist of. Except to note that I'm pretty blase about the fact that everything changes as a matter of course (this is in fact one of the things I think Library 2.0 is all about acknowledging) and slapping the "debasement" label onto a change makes it harder to see what good things are coming out of that change. As an example, it'd be hard for the Library 2.0 concept to be changed/'debased' if it weren't spreading quite a lot beyond its origins.

My blase-itude comes partly from a linguistics background which emphasises that just because a word changes its meaning or pronunciation doesn't mean the language as a whole is going downhill. It's just change, y'know. Which brings us to definitions. Simon Chamberlain says that "'we' don't have a clear definition of Library 2.0" and I get the impression that he thinks this is a unique and possibly bad thing.

But I'm not sure it is. After all, do "we" have a clear definition of the internet? Technical-minded people will talk about servers and networks and http protocols (and really technical-minded people will point out that the internet is far more than just http). People for whom this is so much gobbledegook might talk about Internet Explorer and Google. Other people might talk about online shopping and auctions. Others might talk about keeping uptodate with friends and family overseas, or about sharing hobbies on online forums(*), or internet dating. Others might stare at you blanking and gibber, because it's all of these things and a whole lot more besides, and how do you sit down and define all that?

Same thing with Library 2.0. It's about technology, and it's about people; and it's about a paradigm shift, and it's doing what we've always done but better; and it's about the cool factor, and it's about making things tie together seamlessly so no-one even notices you've done anything.

That's not a clear definition. But what is? We live in a complicated world; why should we expect the language we use to describe that world to be any simpler?

(*) Did I mention that language change isn't devolution? If I were writing this post in Latin I'd say "fora" - or "foris" or however it'd be declined there - but if I were writing this post in Latin it'd be a lot shorter.