The walls are tumbling down: my 2.0 world

We live and work in a 2.0 world*: Web 2.0, Library 2.0, Museum 2.0, Classroom 2.0, Chocolate 2.0, Pepsi Bottling 2.0, 2.0 2.0, etc., etc., etc. Everybody’s got their own definition of what makes 2.0 different from what came before. 2.0 means “collaborative to the extreme” or “latest technology” or “easier to use” or “user-centered” or “interoperable” or “hip and now–you know, like groovy.”

For me, there is one core characteristic for “2.0” in the web, library, and museum worlds in which I live, move, and have my being: 2.0 = the lowering of barriers.

On the web, the main barrier to participation is code. So barrier-surmounting technologies include blogs and Twitter and WYSIWYG website editors–anything characterized by its ability to get users up and running as participants in the conversation without a lot of effort (read: coding).  Ajax, CSS, XML–these things, while critical behind the scenes for many a 2.0 tool, are not themselves 2.0.**  They are not intuitive; they do not lower the barriers between average user and participation.  YouTube and Flickr and their simple interfaces do.

For museums, the big barrier is between the public and the institution as monolith.  It is that fabled voice of authority that so often gets in the way of public participation. The conversation has too often (until more recent years) been very much one-way, with the public seen as supplicants at the Temple of Knowledge: lucky to be there and expected to be quiet and take what is given them by those who know better than they.

Museum 2.0, then, is about breaking down that barrier and engaging with instead of talking at.  And those efforts should be both technology-driven and not; or better yet, Museum 2.0 is not really about technology at all.  In fact, it is a temptation for museums to set up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and say “Hey, we’re doing Museum 2.0!”  But if those efforts are about using new media to send out old, carefully-controlled messages (announcements of events, calls for membership, etc.) that flow only from institution out to public, then all they’re doing is another form of marketing.  They may say they’re engaged with their public, but they’re not.

Rather, this form of 2.0 is too often the illusion of engagement in the same way that customer service is too often the illusion of caring.  Without a sincere spirit underlying it all, it is a hollow act.

I’ve said it before, but I think that a museum curator simply having lunch with museum visitors and talking about their work is doing more Museum 2.0 than all the one-way, marketing-oriented site designing, Facebooking, and tweeting combined.

Libraries are in a similar place.  But their primary barrier is library anxiety–the intimidation and inferiority that patrons feel when they enter libraries and don’t know what to do, which combine to make them feel ashamed to ask for help.  It freezes them in their tracks.

That barrier is broken through not simply by better customer service (that is too late in the relationship), but by a real commitment to hospitality at an institution-wide level. Everything from the signage and lighting to the reference training and catalog to the outreach beforehand and follow-up afterward should be geared towards making the stranger feel at home in this strange land.  They have to learn–more properly, libraries have to teach–that a library is not a scary place but a welcoming and helpful one.

Real hospitality reaches deeper than mere customer service, which is mostly about behavioral training, into the fabric of the institution itself.  And hospitality scholar Elizabeth Telfer argues that it is “appropriate motivation” that sets the truly hospitable person apart, a “genuine concern” that separates the truly hospitable behavior from its merely commercial counterfeit.  I would argue that to properly break down the barriers thrown by patron anxiety and library coolness–to instead be a next-generation Library 2.0–the sense of hospitality has to permeate the relationship from beginning to end.  Then the wall gets well and truly breached.

The early web and the museums and libraries of the 20th century all had high barriers to entry–many of us figured out ways in anyway. And now we’re in a position to help our institutions to lower those barriers, to democratize participation.  I urge it. That’s a 2.0 world worthy of the name, in my opinion. One in which everybody is welcome(d) to take part.

And on that note: Death to the aristos! Happy Bastille Day!

* I’m very aware of the arguments about whether the term “2.0” actually means anything or if it’s just an empty buzzword.  Count me as somebody who doesn’t much care whether it should have meaning on a larger sense; I’m primarily interested in reading how others actually seem to use it (different in different contexts) and, here, in pointing out what I mean when I use it.

** So what, then, are all the technologies like mashups, XML, Java and the rest, if not 2.0? I actually see them as web 3.0 technologies–not for the casual user or faint of heart. 1.0 was the early web, with its need for knowledge of code and servers; 2.0 is easy entry, democratization, and increased participation; 3.0 is about more complex connections being made. Museum 3.0, for instance, may be more about building connections among institutions (e.g. participation in a sort of OCLC for museums, formalized connections with related “communities of passion,” and the like).

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