Libraries Going Forward…

Meeting End User Needs
Rich McCue, July 9, 2004

Over the past year or so I’ve had a few ideas bouncing around my head about libraries and the long term direction they should be heading in. Some of these ideas have come from conferences I’ve attended, others from articles. The “2003 OCLC Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition” brought a lot of those ideas together for me. Below are some quotes from the report and my thoughts on them.

  • We absolutely need Federated Search of both meta data and where possible, full text resources… we need to merge the silos of searchable information from the end users perspective.
  • We need to provide mechanisms for users to rate and comment on books and electronic resources, like Amazon….
  • We also need the “People who checked out this book also checked out…” functionality.
  • “… if a vendor could deliver quality materials through Google [and Amazon like] interfaces, they would have an advantage”1 And the end users would love them for it… It is technically possible to merge Google searches into a Federated search of Catalogue and on line resources! We should try!
  • When building our Federated search, we should try to use a consortia. Full text resources would only need to be stored and maintained in one location. Developing the software would also be less expensive if we share the costs. This would reduce costs for all participating from both technological and personnel perspectives.2 The Open Source software development process makes the building of an informal consortia much easier, and can make a better product in the long run. Not being tied to a particular vendor make it much easier to implement innovative software customizations3 People who work on open source projects are often volunteers, but can also be employees of institutions who use the software extensively (e.g. IBM has employees that work full time on linux).
  • Maybe we should thinking of libraries, not as warehouses of books, but as a place that “provides a broad range of resources and services for the communities they serve” Libraries could be a hybrid of: book warehouse, archive of local books, unpublished documents and artifacts (physical and electronic), meeting place, museum, and science centre.4
  • Traditionally libraries have been in the business of managing the scarce resource of books… Full text makes that resource much less scarce, and much easier for users to find on their own outside of the libraries walls. The scarce resources of the future will be local artifacts and documents (electronic & physical) that we can store and make available to our users.
  • There is a natural linkage between libraries, archives, museums and science centres. Does it make sense to begin to merge them? Should the library become the repository of local digital archival data?5 It would make sense for this local repository to be part of a federated search for users at any institution to search. Possibly exposing it to Google like searches. Open source software is being developed at MIT for institutional repositories.6
  • Collaborate technologies in an academic setting would be extremely useful for students doing group projects… should it be part of the CMS (Course Management System), or a stand alone app? Who should provide it… Central computing, or the library as part of the MyLibrary? A great open source tool that would should consider for a pilot project is http://www.egroupware.org/ (it was recently selected for use by a state in Brazil for their entire civil service to use as their standard collaboration suite).
  • “The biggest issue related to institutional content is determining how to draw the line between helping faculty manage their content and in taking over curatorial rights to their content.”7
  • “Young librarians may be more willing to design systems that meet users where they are rather than the way it is now – we want the users to come to us.”8 We need to meet the real and perceived needs of our users. Federated searching is one of those needs.
  • Single sign on is another area that we need to move toward as a University community, so that at least when our users are accessing heavily used resources, there is no need for multiple logins. This should be an evaluation criteria when considering purchasing or writing any future piece of software.
  • – “There’s a perhaps apocryphal business school example that’s instructive here. When Joe Householder goes to a hardware store to buy a drill, he’s not actually buying a drill. He’s buying the ability to make a small hole. Perhaps libraries and allied organizations have become overly focused on the drills of late.”9 Users are looking for information. “Digital data allows us to experiment with radical new forms. We have the gift of flexibility now.”10
  • – Another story that illustrates the impact of change on the unprepared is the Typesetters Union. Back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when destop publishing was becoming popular, the typsetters rightly looked down there noses at some of the horrible documents that were created in-house by some organizations. By all standards the work of the typsetters was of much better quality than virtually anything that was being desktop published at the time. What they did not realize is that organizations were willing to trade off quality in order to have documents produced more quickly and less expensively. By the end of the 1990’s the Typesetters union disbanded because of a lack of members, and were rolled into a larger union.11

——————-
1 OCLC Environmental Scan, pg. 11
2 OCLC Environmental Scan, pg. 25
3 I’m starting on an open source project right now – an Expert System for legal clinics. http://www.openexpert.org/
4 OCLC Environmental Scan, pg. 30
5 OCLC Environmental Scan, pg. 60-61
6 OCLC Environmental Scan, pg. 64
7 OCLC Environmental Scan, pg. 67
8 OCLC Environmental Scan, pg. 73
9 OCLC Environmental Scan, pg. 103
10 2004 CALI Conference address of Clay Shirky, http://www.shirky.com/
11 2004 CALI Conference address of Clay Shirky, http://www.shirky.com/

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