Systemwide activities and the long tail

The Pines Evergreen folks make some interesting comments on my Long Tail post in the context of their own situation. I agree with the drift of their comments. What the entry is talking about (my interpretation) is moving ILS activities to a shared level to achieve systemwide efficiences and increase impact. In this case, the system is state-wide: public libraries in Georgia. The plan is to aggregate supply and demand across the state, thereby driving greater use of individual collections. It will be interesting to see how this works out in practice.

Our neighbours, OhioLink, provide another example. OhioLink aggregates supply for readers in Ohio libraries (mostly academic): they can interact easily with the whole system without having to jump through multiple hoops. OhioLink also aggregates demand: it attracts users from across Ohio increasing the chances that a particular item will find its reader. We are planning some work on patterns of usage with OhioLink. I hope that we can find a way of measuring whether OhioLink has driven use further down the long tail of aggregate library collections.

Darth Libris also has a reflective commentary, noting that I did not discuss aggregation of demand as much as aggregation of supply. He also wonders if aggregating demand breaks the link with local communities, and points to the potential role of search engines and/or OCLC as the agent of systemwide activity. He is right to suggest that there are important structural and organizational questions tied up with this, and I touched on some that occurred to me in the original post.

Three things. First, one thinks about aggregating supply and demand in the context of systemwide activities. The 'system' might be an individual library community, a state, a country, the whole web. Libraries have a big challenge aggregating demand within their own institutions and communities. In a network environment, we have seen that library resources may have low gravitational pull. Libraries need to effectively project their resources into their own community environments. Having their collections indexed in a search engine, for example, may be an important aspect of reaching their own existing (potential) users. (And one of the goals of OpenWorldCat is to connect a library user with services he or she is eligible to use on the open web.) Moving to a wider systems level does require a correspondingly wider organizational arrangement, which leads to a second point. I believe we will see a move to shared infrastructure for more services, whether that is for storing and managing print and digital collections, or for managing the discovery to delivery apparatus, or for other services. Now, the sharing may happen by collaboratively sourcing solutions within consortia, by securing services from third parties, or within the funding and policy environments of states or countries. This continues a trend to shared infrastructure that is part of living in a network age: it is the Web 2.0 'platform' discussion. We have a variety of collaboratively sourced solutions for shared cataloging and resource sharing. And we have (largely) moved to a third party model for access to A&I and e-journal collections. I believe that we are on the verge of a third shift, as more services move to shared solutions. Now, although this may have implications for how a library's resourcs are allocated, I do not think that this means a diminution of the local interaction. Libraries will do more work to specialize services for local need. See the Undergraduate Virtual Library at the University of Minnesota as a recent example.

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