Libraries around the world are doing their own 2.0 upgrade, using blogs to tell about new publications and services, allowing customers to review books or contribute to wikis and providing instant messaging for contact with library staff. The library building with its collection of books is merely the tip of the iceberg where the main arena for the library is on the net. Social software gives libraries the chance of bringing people together to discuss and collaborate and helping people to use the tools involved.
One particular library project caught my imagination. In Denmark there is a popular library service for children called Ask Olivia (Spørg Olivia - only in Danish of course) which has been produced by Danish TV (DR) together with today around 50 local libraries. Olivia is an animated teenager on the web site who answers all sorts of questions from children between 8 and 14. Instead of having a service like ”ask the librarian” they decided to create a character that the kids could identify with, Olivia. She has her own identity and personality and has succeeded in creating a genuine dialogue with the children who use the service. It is vital that she behaves and responds in keeping with her identity; a 14 year old girl who is smart and fun to be with.
Behind the character are a select group of librarians who take turns at ”being” Olivia and answer the questions that come in and take part in the discussion forum on the site. They found that the children soon began contributing to the service and wanting to add content where they knew more than Olivia or could add details. As a result Olivia has to deal with questions that would never be asked in a physical library. The service has expanded and today has a large following of children who enjoy sharing knowledge without ever really realizing that they are participating in a library service. That for me was the best part of the story; that a traditional library service has been turned into something much bigger simply by communicating on the children’s terms and by letting them contribute and communicate.