Monday, August 04, 2008

When You See a Fork in the Road...

Lorcan Dempsey (OCLC) on the future of libraries,

We can see two important directions, one towards concentration and one towards diffusion.

First concentration, which we see at at least three levels. At the institutional level, there is a strong push to overcoming fragmentation by moving towards new institutional discovery layers (Primo, Encore, Worldcat Local). At the group level we see the emergence of more state or national systems which pull together resources in user-facing services. These are attractive because they present more resources to the user. And at the global level, we see library resources being represented - through linking or syndication strategies - in search engines, Flickr, Google Scholar, Worldcat and other network level resources.

The second is atomization of content and services so that they can be better integrated into diffuse networking device and applications environments. Here think of RSS/AtomPub, mobile interfaces, APIs, alerting services, portlets and widgetization, persistent links to library services and content, etc. Issues here are technical and licensing. Users increasingly value convenience and relevance, and packaging materials in ways that make most sense for them is not always straightforward.

How far off are we from the new library that has no physical holdings, no ILS system, no repositories, no nothing except the building, a patron database, some furniture and some terminals?


Anonymous said...

A library with no physical holdings? How is this not a prediction of the imminent demise of books altogether? Isn't such a prediction deeply eccentric?

I read this blog with great interest but occasionally this unfortunate strain of electronic millenarianism pops up.

PersonaNonData said...

Deeply eccentric? I think I might put that on a t shirt.

I wasn't predicting the death of books but they are an expensive commodity to a library and maybe my comments should have been more expansive.

1. Direct to home. As a library card holder I get books delivered to me just like Netflix. Maybe I return them maybe ((Gasp)) they are discarded. Why, because it costs $20+ each way to move it and the physical cost is $3.
2. Central Storage: All libraries in a locality that retain books locate them in one central storage warehouse. Eliminates duplication across the system. Books are delivered (probably more efficiently than today's $20/unit) either to the home or to a requesting library. Also reduces space requirements at each library. Costs and risk is mitigated (handling, fire, flood, etc.).
3. None but high volume front list - the top fifty movers in any one year as an example - are kept at the library for circulation.
4. Library loans reading devices but don't forget remote access.
5. Most content delivered in e-form: terminals, readers, ipods, etc.
6. Library becomes 'information center' with high band width, wireless, meeting rooms, office space, class rooms, who knows what else. But no (limited) product!
7. Staff focused on knowledge discovery for patrons not content administration (restocking shelves, checking in titles, overdue books, etc.)

What with Amazon offering digital storage and services why would a library ever buy another server or book? (They are not quite where the hype may suggest...)

Simply put but not simple to implement obviously. A major issue is how the content producer gets paid. Pay on use not on hope (of use) is one approach. Most database publishers are already there.

Thanks for the 'great interest' and I don't mean to be an 'electronic millenarian'. I don't know what that is but is sounds above my paygrade.

Anonymous said...

That t-shirt idea is a good one... perhaps I should have said "digital pie-in-the-sky" instead of "electronic millenarianism."

My wife is a public librarian, and she says she sees predictions like this all the time, but mostly from the database companies, with some tech-happy university libraries signing on. She says these kinds of predictions have very little to do with public libraries and how the general public uses libraries.

On your first point, I am curious what it is you are saying costs $3 but $20 to move back and forth. It isn't books, so what is it?