Participatory Networks: The Library as Conversation
Knowledge is created through conversation. The theoretical foundation of this model, Conversation Theory, posits that individuals, organizations, and even societies build knowledge through conversation; specifically, by interacting and building commonly held agreements. Since libraries are in the knowledge business, they are also in the conversation business. The library community implicitly adds a corollary to this theory: The best knowledge comes from an optimal information environment, one in which the most diverse and complete information is available to the conversant(s). Conversation Theory is very much in line with current and past library practice, and shows a clear trajectory for the future. Facilitation not only enriches conversations with diverse and deep information, it also serves as a memory keeper, documenting agreements and outcomes to facilitate future conversations. The library serves this vital role for many communities. This document describes the participatory model of libraries and provides an overview of current Web 2.0 technologies and a brief discussion of how current Library 2.0 efforts point the way to an even greater change in library as a facilitator of conversations. Specific challenges and opportunities of participatory networking are reviewed. Finally, the authors recommend the creation of a shared participatory test bed for libraries. This network would not only experiment with new collaborative Web technologies, but also work with library organizations and vendors to speed innovation in traditional library systems.