On Wednesday 22 November 2006 I gave a talk on “Web 2.0: What Is It, How Can I Use It, How Can I Deploy It?” at an ASLIB Engineering Group seminar on Engineering information: today and tomorrow. This was a very successful event, and provided further evidence that academic librarians are aware of a change in the Web environment and that this will necessitate a change in their culture.

The event was aimed at engineering librarians working in academic, public and private institutions. The sessions looked at present and future resources available to the engineering community, with talks covering the needs of users of engineering library services and some of the resources available, including grey literature and validated data,ways of keeping up to date and the importance of an information literacy strategies, especially in a Web 2.0 environment, with a growth in the amount of user-generated content. In addition to my talk, which provided an overview of Web 2.0, Roddy MacLeod gave an amusing and informative talk on a user-centred vision for access to resources in which the technologies become invisible, and the users are presented with a user-friendly interface. This talk was based on a proposal for the ‘puntasticly’ named TicToC proposal (ToC referring, of course, to Table of Contents),  Paul Needham, an electronic information specialist at King Norton Library, Cranfield University spoke on “From Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 in the engineering information world – yesterday, today and tomorrow” (and has demonstrated his willingness to evaluate emerging technologies by uploading his slides to Slideshare).

As one might expect at an event aimed at librarians, there was much discussion about the quality of resources. This discussion reminded me that we had this discussion over 10 years ago, when Web services first became widely-deployed within our institutions.  I think there is now an awareness that, rather than seeking to control access to resources (“you’ll be safe if you stick to resources catalogued by services such as Intutute“) we know that users will wish to seek resources for themselves (and, indeed, carry out other transactions on the Web, whether that’s buying goods on eBay, or even seeking a partner on an Internet dating site).  From these examples, we can clearly see the importance of providing our users with the skills to evaluate and select information for themselves.

It was very pleasing to attend an event in which there seemed to be an awareness of a changing culture and the need for a profession to engage in such changes.  It also brought home to me a valuable aspect of the way that the ‘Web 2.0’ term embraces the need to ‘trust the user’.  This sentiment was made by several people at the event – if ‘Web 2.0’ had been defined only in terms of technologies such as Blogs and Wikis I think we would have lost the opportunity to highlight trust issues in this way.

A suggestion I made before leaving:

Look back at previous projects (e,g. projects funded by the JISC eLib of IE/DNER programmes, for example, or projects funded internally) and give some honest thought to the successes but – more importantly – failures and limitations of the projects. And think about how you might do things differently.  As Paul Needham described, there are so many (now aging) experts in the defence industry. Being able to tap into and collate such expertise can (in an example mentioned by Paul) potentially save millions of points. So look to not just update an aging service with an AJAX interface, but at tools such as Blogs and Wikis to allow the users to provide information for themselves.