Discovery, delivery, distributed inventory management

Resource discovery has been a focus of much attention in recent years.
Once discovery opportunities are provided, a focus on delivery is inevitable. Folks want to have what was discovered delivered, to get as well as find. And delivery, broadly understood, has indeed been a major focus of recent activity. For licensed resources this has led to an explosion of interest in resolution, to get people from metadata about a discovered item to services on that item, including delivery.
However, I want to focus on the print collections in this post. For print materials we have seen growing interest in patron-initiated ILL and more sophisticated group and consortial arrangements. This is not universal, but many libraries now participate in consortial, state or national systems. For example, as I have commented before, in Ohio we are well placed to observe the good work of our neighbours, OhioLink, in providing an integrated discovery to delivery experience across library collections in the state.
Now, just as better discovery drives the need for better delivery, so will the need for better delivery encourage further thinking about how the collective book stock is managed across libraries or groups of libraries. Especially where there are strong consortial or collaborative structures in place which can be leveraged. Libraries have been optimized for local operation. Collections are local and are driven by local requirements. However, where libraries operate in collective systems of delivery and those systems become more important then issues of how to optimize collections for delivery on a systemwide basis become more important also. Interlibrary lending is an expensive practice, involving multiple transactions and extensive round-trip shipping of materials. So, a natural extension of OhioLink services, for example, would be to think about shared inventory management across the libraries it serves, maybe supporting its delivery service with consolidated storage of less used materials. Or working with its libraries to coordinate some acquisitions to better match supply and demand at the state level. Or thinking about how to cut down round-tripping by having materials returned to, and ‘carried by’, a library local to the user, until they are requested again. And so on.
Clearly this connects strongly to discussions of offsite storage, use of library space, collective collection development, mass digitization, preservation and other ‘collective collection’ issues. Some of these are new issues, some have been long-discussed but remain marginal or peripheral to the mainstream. Of course, one of the more interesting things about the growth in importance of the network is how network activity reconfigures physical activity. In coming years one interesting manifestation of this will be the selective reconfiguration of print collections – inventory management – in shared settings, to support better delivery, allocation of resources, and preservation.
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3 thoughts on “Discovery, delivery, distributed inventory management”

  1. As usual, I agree and welcome this thread. I have been thinking for some time (years) on the issue “thinking differently” about the interrelation of IT progress, changes in publishing, fiscall limitations, risk taking and leadership.
    It seems very challenging for many librarians to think beyond thhe local environment when they think of options to manage resources.
    Howevr there are a number of convergent forces that will not only force a change but also possibly enable them. It is clear to me that technically, we (or somebody else) will be able to develop robust systems of discovery and delivery, not only of digital but also of print.
    Our challenge is one of reducing our instinct for competition and rankings and foster a collaborative culture. This will mean of course, completely rethinking our processes, as interconnected – collections, acquisitions, cataloging as one continuum as opposed to silos.
    For example, in my view, the UC system is ripe for ‘collective collection’ perspective with systemwide coordinated management of collections, discovery and delivery – with very clear end-user (customer) focus.
    I know that this can be done – I remember the JASON system in Germany some years ago as an example.
    My worry is that I do not see leadership that is willing to make a case for this.
    Keep the ideas coming.

  2. In a consortial environment I imagine substantial long-term cost savings would come from collective collection management of print resources–specifically cost savings in acquisitions and print storage. Yes, this type of collaboration is extremely challenging to build and maintain, but the economics of it are compelling.

    Of course, it is difficult to sell the collective approach in the absence of an existing distribution network to support basic cross-institutional delivery services. The up-front costs for building this are significant. You need new software for distributed inventory management, transaction processing/messaging, and cross-institutional collection management analysis tools, not to mention new local workflows. I don’t hear much about research in these areas, at least not in the library technology community.

    But there are existing models. As I read this post, and immediately came to mind.

  3. There are very large opportunity cost savings in moving to a consortial collection management framework.
    I think the technical and systemic challenges are overblown.
    What is needed really is a very different way of system thinking – thinking of connecting two ends –
    1 – the client
    2 – the system
    and thinking from the client’s perspective – they want symple discovery, and fast retrieval systems.
    Most of faculty don’t care to go to the stacks. The students are following this trend – we are back to a close stacks environment.
    What we need is library leadership that will just start implementing this – and financing it by the opportunity costs from not buying duplicates, moving to a just in case model, outsourcing most of the usual tech services…..

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