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TL v58n2 Getting Started with Library 2.0: No PhD Required
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 58 Number 2  




Getting Started with Library 2.0: No PhD Required



Kyle Cook & Jenny Ellis
Nashville Public Library

Program Abstract: How can you be Library 2.0 without much technical skill or specialized software? Use web-based applications and free software to reach your library community. We will show how we have integrated networking programs like, Flickr, and WordPress to create interactive web sites.


This paper describes how we got started with Library 2.0. It's a process that truly is "no PhD required."  Neither of us has a background in computer science; we’re not web programmers. We’re reference librarians. The proliferation of easy to use web 2.0 tools means you don't have to be a computer programmer to integrate user-friendly and fun features into your web site. We’ve been to great presentations in the past where we've seen ideas we wanted to try, but weren't sure exactly how to start. In this paper, our aim is to give you both good ideas and an idea of how to get started.




We’ll discuss why we used sites like Flickr and and show you methods for finding the right tool. We'll show you how to start building your ready reference toolkit. And, finally, we'll offer tips for presenting your ideas at your library.  

At first, we were helping out by adding and fixing the web links on the teen section of the web site. What started out as link maintenance became a Teen Web improvement project. Along the way, we incorporated web 2.0 tools, widgets, flashy gadgets and the input of anyone who sent us an idea. We didn't start out on a Library 2.0 mission, but the gadgets and the teamwork helped us focus on a central theme of Library 2.0: user-centered change.  


"The heart of Library 2.0 is user-centered change," say Michael Casey and Laura C. Savastinuk, who describe Library 2.0 as “a model for library service that encourages constant and purposeful change, inviting user participation in the creation of both the physical and the virtual services…” (p. 40). Improving any library service, especially a web site, should start by involving its users.  

Get People Involved (Teen Web)

When we decided to improve our teen web page (fig. 1), we started with the target audience, teens. We drafted volunteers from the Teen Library Council and asked them what they thought of the web site. The teens were candid in their assessment: "it was boring." There were no pictures, no people, just a long list of links.
Figure 1: Original Teen Web
While it was disheartening to hear what a miserable failure our old site had been, it was refreshing to hear what the teens expected from a web site. They were accustomed to web pages with dozens of links, flashing widgets and personal information. They asked for clearer links and were surprised by our lack of pictures. Plus, they wanted to know a little something about the Young Adult staff; knowing more about who was sitting behind the desk could make them seem more approachable.  

Suggestions from the teens were important, but we also wanted to increase participation from our second target user group, the Young Adult staff. The staff had very little control over the original teen web. Any changes, even adding one link, had to be made by the web team. We wanted to get them more involved so they would feel a sense of ownership of this virtual space. We hoped to allow them them more freedom to maintain the site themselves. 

We started with our recommended websites. These were under categories like “things to know,” “stuff to do,” and “high school and beyond.” While broad enough to capture the breadth of the collection, these designations were not explicit enough to guide our users. The teens said they didn’t know where to find anything. "Where’s Manga? Is it a thing to know or a thing to do? Is it what to read? I don't know!"

We had both been using a website called for organizing and sharing our personal links. is a place to save all your bookmarks or favorites online. Since organizes websites by keywords (called tags), we thought it might be a good solution. Once you have saved your links there, will automatically organize the tags in a “tag cloud,” a great visual display for lists.

Figure 2: Tagroll tool in
So how do you make a tag cloud like the one on our teen web? offers a tool to create the tag cloud, also called a tag roll, on its web site (Fig. 2). The tool, or widget, allows you to customize the look of the tag cloud. Change the color and size of the tags and will provide you with the necessary code. All you have to do is copy and paste the code into the source code for your web site.

If you don’t have access to the web server, your webmaster can easily paste the code for you. The best part about the tag could is that you get to create how it will look. Plus, anyone you share the account with can help manage the content. One of the benefits of these web 2.0 tools is how user-friendly they are. You don’t have to be a web site genius, just be willing to try out new things.

Once the tag could was added to our Teen Web, the excellent links were much easier to navigate. Now, when you visit the Teen Web, you can quickly find "manga" in the tag cloud. Teens should have an easier time finding what they're looking for. We added our tag cloud to a test page, so we could demonstrate the concept to our web site committee.   


Figure 3Figure 4          

We also like how involves all of the Young Adult staff. They all have the password and access to this single account, so they can add or delete links by logging in to They no longer have to notify the web staff to update a link. Teens with accounts can also participate by suggesting links for the collection by tagging them for us.

The teens and the staff both asked for pictures. We liked how let our staff manage their own links, so we wanted to use a photo program that would allow them to manage their own pictures. We picked Flickr, since it was a program most of the librarians were already familiar with.

Getting the photos on the teen web was not unlike the process we used for adding the tag cloud. We used the photo badge creation in Flickr. You can use your own pictures, or you can create a badge out of all the public photos on the site. Since we did not yet have a Flickr account, we used existing photos in Flickr (Fig. 5). We made a badge using the newest photos tagged with felting to demonstrate how a photo badge would look. Flickr provided the html code we added to our test web page  (Fig. 6.).

    Figure 5: Flickr Figure 6

Flickr and do what we were looking for – invite participation and use existing technology to improve our own services. Most of all, they allow us to give our users what they had asked for.

Figure 7
Now, when a teen comes across our photos, they can see the fun activities we have at the library. We’re doing more than reading books. We are holding game nights where we play Dance Dance Revolution, hold Madden gaming contests and create craft projects together. Teens enjoy getting on camera and seeing their photos come up on the web site (Fig. 7). They can come back to the site and share the library with their friends.

These initial changes to the Teen Web were presented to the library's web site committee. But that meeting gave us more than just permission to move forward. We found that as we showed more people the changes to the site, we heard more ideas. The first was during the initial committee meeting. One of our managers saw the new features on Teen Web, and she recommended we look at a site called Meez allows you to create an avatar, a virtual animated character you can use as your online persona. Meez is designed for kids, so it is very user-friendly. You can customize hair color, clothing, shoes, background. We thought this might be a fun way to address the third request we heard from the teens: "tell us about the staff."

Each Young Adult librarian created an avatar for the Teen Web that displayed their first name and their branch (Fig. 8). The images are linked to a brief questionnaire that lists things like favorite books, movies, music, and also questions that reveal personality, like "what is your favorite word?" or "what profession would you like to attempt?" This gives the teens a better idea of who it is sitting at the desk. Like Flickr, it puts people on our web site, instead of just links.
Figure 8: Meez avatars
The Meez photos didn’t fit perfectly on the teen page. Since we did not have an image editing program, we looked to the web for an answer. We used GIMP, a free, open-source alternative to Photoshop, to help us adjust the pictures and add the titles. We also regularly use Picnik, a simple web application for adjusting an image's size and appearance. Don't let a lack of software stop you from implementing an idea. One of the exciting things about the Internet these days is the wealth of free web applications available. A simple keyword search can turn up the tool you need to get the job done.

Get with the Programs

Flickr,, and Meez really transformed the Teen Web and led the way to more changes. As staff became aware of the changes in the site they began to approach us with suggestions. When the library was planning a teen songwriting contest last spring, the librarian organizing the event thought it might be good to include some of the songs from the contest on the web site. We were very excited about this idea, but we ran into a technology barrier again. We wanted visitors to the site to be able to listen to the songs right on the page, rather than having to download or copy the files. But how do you do this?

A few months before, Jenny was looking at the list of tour dates on James Taylor’s website. There was a small music player that streamed three of his songs right on the homepage. We wanted to use a similar player for the teen songwriting contest. But, what do you do – do you google this? You certainly could, but you might end up with hundreds of sites in your results list and no free music player. When a Google search is too broad, try a specialized search engine or a social site like Because is a tool for saving useful websites, we thought someone else might have found a good flash player and tagged it. After looking at a few suggestions, we located a free player called the FLV player. It was a little more complicated to set up than the copy/paste widgets we used earlier. But after a few days of experimentation and a lot of delete/undo, we got it to work on our own web site and integrated it into a page about the songwriting contest.
Figure 9: Teen songwriting contest
The Songwriting Contest page (Fig. 9) was more than an announcement for the program or a list of participants. It featured the event as a whole. The songs were front and center, and you could listen to them using the music player. A Flickr badge showcased pictures from the event. Participants could share this page with friends and family who might not been able to come. It gave the program a life online, so even if you weren’t there, you could still be a part of that program, in a way.

The songwriting contest pointed the way forward. The staff was thinking of other ways to use the teen web – this time for programming. When the staff was starting to plan summer reading, they came to us with another idea. They were having a contest for the teens to select the slogan that would appear on the summer reading t-shirts. They were already doing an in-house survey, but one of the librarians came to us to see if we could post the survey online, too.

We used a free tool called Survey Monkey to make a suggestion box and added the link to our teen web. We also set up a voting page using Poll Daddy, another free online tool. Poll Daddy would allow teens to vote for the winning slogan. We used a copy/paste widget provided by Poll Daddy to add the poll to a test page. When you cast a vote, you can see which slogan is winning. We didn’t end up using Poll Daddy, but we’re keeping it in mind for the future. Both Survey Monkey and Poll Daddy are free, cool and interactive. But, most important, they were an online component to our summer reading program - they had a purpose.
Figure 10: New Manga
We've reached a point where the content on the right of the page changes pretty often. When we took the player from the songwriting contest down, we added a new manga list. The Young Adult staff had been keeping an email sign up sheet for teens who wanted to know when new manga titles came in. This was a great update for teens. But, not everyone was aware they could sign up because it was a paper list that wasn't widely advertised. We were able to take that list and put it on the website. The list is easier to manage because teens can sign up for email or RSS updates themselves. More than that, it gives teens links to the catalog so they can request the new titles. The new manga list is generated using Bookletters (Fig. 10).

Bookletters is the only tool we mention here that you have to pay for. But the funny thing about Bookletters is that we had it for years before we knew we could generate our own custom lists. So, take a look at what your library already pays for. Ask the vendor what features it has. There may be something your library already pays for that you aren’t using to its full potential.

Bookletters isn’t really web 2.0 – it's not free. But it is an example of user-centered change. Using Bookletters allowed us to easily automate the new manga newsletter and advertise the collection to everyone. It isn’t all about Flickr. You can use traditional library resources to reach your patrons and offer better service. "Because we’re NOT DEALING WITH TECHNOLOGY. We’re dealing with people.” (King)

Even with the website, we’re dealing with people.
There are a lot of libraries that are using web 2.0 tools, and the number is growing every day. But the people behind this change aren’t just putting up flashy widgets, they’re responding to their community.

Solving Problems Using Web 2.0 Solutions

We've listed a lot of websites used on the Teen Web, but we didn’t always know the perfect site to use right off the bat. Finding the right web tool is like working a challenging reference question. You have to try different sources and different search terms. We want to show you some of the search process we went through while making an online staff training page. The challenge we had to overcome is unique and you might not need to achieve the same goal, but the research process is universal.

As with all of our web projects, we created a test page so we could try out different ideas. This was a online training page for staff, so we started by putting an index of useful links using a tag cloud. Next we wanted to add a blog, but we weren't yet ready to install blog software on our Intranet server. Our challenge was to figure out how to get a blog that lived at onto a web page that lived on our library's server (Fig. 11).
Figure 11
So, how do we get the blog on the test Intranet page? It is easy enough when using a photo editing program, but how can you do this and make it live on a web page? Kyle thought that we might be able to use the RSS feed from the blog to shuttle the content over to our test web page. We’d be putting a mini-feed reader on the web page. Staff would be able to see the blog posts without leaving the Intranet training page.

We started with Feedsweep, which we found by searching for “embed rss” on Google.

Doesn't that search just spring to mind? No? That is okay. The perfect solution doesn't have to spring to mind. Searching for a free tool for it is no different from searching a database. It’s keyword searching, just like any other kind of research.

Imagine that someone approaches you at a service desk one day looking for information about William the Conqueror. We know to look up William the Conqueror in a database and look for alternate search terms in our results list. A search for William the Conqueror might bring up a result that lists the terms Norman, Hastings, or Harold II.

You use that same research skill to find out how to stick your blog on another web page. In fact, you can start your search by typing “blog on another web page” into a search engine. Odds are good that you will find a blog post or a discussion group where someone has said “I used rss to embed a blog on another web page.” That simple first search uncovered key terms like rss and embed that you can use when refining your search. Simply put, if you can keyword search in Infotrac, you can search for web tools online.
Our initial search led us to a tool called Feedsweep, which takes the RSS feed from your blog and displays it on another web page. All you do is fill out a form and Feedsweep gives you HTML code to use on your web site - it's copy/paste, just like Flickr and The HTML code from Feedsweep came close to accomplishing what we wanted. It displayed the title of each post from our Wordpress blog on the test web page. But it only displayed that list. Staff would still have to click each title and leave the Intranet to read the blog on Wordpress. We wanted the whole blog post on our test page, so we went back to searching the Internet, using other search terms like embed, blog, rss, widget, embedded blog, and so on.

Our search brought up a post in a discussion group about Feedsweep. Someone in that group mentioned a tool called Grazr. A quick search for Grazr, a short form, and quick copy/paste of HTML code supplied by Grazr, and we had our second attempt at embedding our blog on our test page. Like Feedsweep, Grazr embeds the recent entries from a blog on any web page. Unlike Feedsweep, when you clicked on the title of a blog post, the entry is displayed in the Grazr window instead of sending you out to the blog itself. Grazr allowed us to display blog feeds on the Intranet Training page, but it still wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. We wanted to be able to see the blog entries without having to click. So we kept looking.
Figure 12

We did a Google search for “like grazr embed” and found a blog post where someone was talking about a tool called Bitty Browser. Bitty is a tool that lets you display one web site inside another, like picture in picture for the web.
Using the Bitty code, we were able to put the actual blog on our Intranet test page. Now, when staff visit the training page they can access the index of training topics and the blog. They're seeing the contents of two web pages without having to visit either of them. This wasn't the RSS solution we were expecting to find, but it accomplished what we wanted (Fig. 12).

After a few months, we realized people felt the second browser was weird. So, we went back to searching to see if anything new had come out in the months when the page was live. We revisited our list of tools in and took a look at a site called Feedburner. Feedburner takes the RSS feed from our Wordpress page and displays it on any other web page we want. This goes back to our original idea, but unlike Grazr or Feedsweep, Feedburner allows you to display a whole blog post just using the RSS feed. Simply sign up, fill out a form and copy/paste the HTML code into your web site.

We tested more than these five tools, but these were the ones that we found worked the best for the job we wanted to do. You might not need to embed a blog on a different web page, but this is the kind of trial and error you’ll go through when searching for the right web tool. You may never use Feedburner, Grazr or Bitty, but we hope this demonstrates how your research skills can help you locate and use web tools. Don’t let names like Grazr or Bitty intimidate you. Finding a web tool is reference work; it's not necessarily “techie” work. If you dig a little and use creative keyword searching, odds are good you’ll find a free and fairly simple tool that will hand you HTML code on a platter.
If you are comfortable with the delete key and UNDO, you can navigate your errors into a usable web project.

Stocking your Ready Reference Toolkit


Keyword searching will uncover a lot of useful tools, but a little work along the way can help you build a good ready reference toolkit you can refer to whenever you need inspiration. The first step in building your toolkit, is starting a bookmark file. You can use, your browser’s favorites folder, or anything that will allow you to save websites you might find useful later. Finding those useful sites takes a bit more effort, and blogs are an excellent place to find suggestions.

Pick out a few blogs written by librarians to start. There are some great ones out there. You might already read library periodicals, but the blogs are going to cover the most up to date information and the broadest range of topics. Next, pick up a few technology blogs. Webware, Read Write Web, and Lifehacker are a few good ones. They’ll mention crazy things you may never need. But they also have things that you will want to remember. Save any potentially useful sites in your ready reference file. We picked up Feedsweep from one of these and tagged it in Any tool that sounds remotely useful, tag it or save it to your favorites. Two months down the road, you may have a need for it and you might understand it better too.

Once you're reading several blogs, you might want to sign up for an RSS reader. This is the best way to keep up with blogs. Any time you go to a site and see an RSS symbol, you can add it to your reader. You won’t have to visit 400 websites to read the latest news. You read the blogs from your feed reader.

Blogs won't mention everything, so take a look at what your favorite websites are doing. Remember the songwriting contest songs on the Teen Web? The inspiration for the flash player came from a visit to James Taylor's website. If you're comfortable with HTML, you can look at the site's source code to see what technology the site is using. But, if you're not familiar with source code, you can use a site called Just plug in a web address and you'll get a list of all the tools and technology the site is made with.

And don't forget to reach out to the online community for help when you need it. If you are trying to find out how someone made a tool work, do a search and see what people are saying in forums or groups. You can post a question to a forum. The online community will often give you the missing piece of the puzzle.

Presenting your ideas


Once you have your new concept ready, prepare to introduce it to your library as a purposeful change. Be clear in explaining why your idea is an improvement over an existing model. Demonstrate how the tools work. Start a blog or make a mock-up web page to show the idea in action. It is easier to explain a concept when you have a prototype to look at, even if it is not a fully-functional design. Don’t let the details stall you. For example, you might not have a Flickr account, but you can make a photo badge using someone else’s photos. If people understand your idea and see that it is feasible, it can be easier to discuss and deploy. Find other libraries that are using web tools in interesting ways. When you can show that others are already successful with something, it can make your coworkers more willing to take a chance.

Show your rationale behind each change. Our Teen Web enhancements originally came from our users – our teens. and Flickr offered solutions to link maintenance and the absence of photos, respectively. Also, they made maintenance of the site easier and more collaborative. This addressed key problems with the original site. When you show your reasons for changing course, you show your organization that you are not just adopting them to be fashionable; your changes had purpose.

Last, be flexible. Don’t be married to a single idea. Be prepared to hear “No.”  When you are rejected, take that opportunity to explore the objections. This will help you as you develop new ideas and steer you toward projects that are better suited to your organization. Then, go back to the drawing board and look for an alternative. As we have seen, there are always plenty of ways to use web 2.0 to solve problems.

How do I get started?

If you are someone who works on the web site, reflect on your site and look for areas that could use improvement. Listen to your users; they will tell you when a change is needed. Then, look around for others who can help implement a project.

Maybe you do not work on a web site, but you have some great ideas for your library. Find out who does your web site and ask them how you can make a suggestion. Be proactive and find someone to listen to you. Web 2.0 concepts are fairly new, so there might not be a path in place for you to make suggestions. You can be the one to help create that line of communication. And don’t give up, keep coming up with new ideas to make the library a better place for your users.

When it comes to new web technologies, the best way to learn about them is to try them out and share them with others. Take advantage of learning opportunities like the Tenn-Share Learn & Discover program. No matter who you are, choose your tools purposefully. Listen to your users and your staff. Look for areas that need improvement and keep your eye out for things that might offer a solution.


Works Cited

Casey, Michael E., and Laura C. Savastinuk. "Library 2.0: service for the next-generation library." Library Journal 131.14. 1 September 2006. 

King, David Lee. "Has Elvis Left the Building?" David Lee King. <>. 24 January 2008.


Selected Websites

Nashville Public Library Sites:


Tools we used: (RSS) (RSS) (RSS) (picture in picture) (blog)  (photo editor) (photo editor) (avatar) (bookmarking) (photos) (surveys, polls) (polls) (flash music player)


A Few Library 2.0 Blogs:


A Sampling of Technology Blogs:

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