Global library discovery and fulfillment: How we’re the same, and how we differ

Helene Blowers

When we presented last year’s Global Council report on access to open content, we got a lot of great feedback. Both from Council delegates—who reported that it exceeded their expectations—and from our membership and the library community in general. The report provided insights on an important topic that hadn’t been explored in that way before: to gain a collective global understanding of the activities, investments, and efforts libraries are engaged with around open content. This report is just one of the ways that Global Council works on behalf of libraries by gathering insights each year to help inform the profession and OCLC on topics of importance to the library profession.

This year Global Council sponsored a survey to gather “Global Perspectives on Discovery and Fulfillment,” with a goal of gathering enough information from each of our three geographic regions to be able to make statistically significant comparisons if and when possible. I’m pleased to share that we hit that mark and can report back on a few interesting differences.

Engagement informs our approach

Global Council surveys are one of the best examples of how OCLC and libraries work together on important questions of interest. Your elected leaders on Global Council work directly with OCLC Research and Market Research teams to identify the topic focus for each year, promote the survey, and guide the entire process. It is very much a shared effort, and this year those efforts nearly doubled our number of responses, from more than 1,300 in 68 countries (up from 705 in 56 countries last year).

That engagement was what allowed us to reach enough libraries in enough countries to make some interesting regional comparisons.

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How we’re the same

Exploration of libraries’ discovery and fulfillment efforts was the selected topic for this year’s Global Council focus. It should come as no surprise that, across the board and around the world, libraries believe users always or frequently employ search engines to discover resources. In all three global OCLC regions, the Americas (AMER); Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA); and Asia Pacific (APAC), search engines dominated discovery methods for library resources.

We also found that 91% of libraries indicate that budgetary constraints either greatly or somewhat impede their ability to provide access to content.

How we differ

The increase in global responses this year enabled us for the first time to learn more about our regional differences. First, some key differences in terms of library discovery:

  • Respondents in the EMEA and APAC regions are more likely to report their users employing social media and Google Scholar always or frequently
  • Respondents in the Americas are more likely to report their users employing Amazon/booksellers always or frequently
  • EMEA reports higher Wikipedia use than the Americas and APAC as a frequently used way to discover resources

When it comes to fulfillment, we also found some interesting differences:

  • Academic libraries in the Americas offered more streaming content, mobile delivery of digital content, and proxy delivery (pickup by neighbor/friend)
  • Public libraries in the Americas and APAC offered more delivery of physical materials to local senior centers, mobile delivery of digital content, streaming content, and proxy delivery services.

These are important differences, both between regions and academic and public libraries, and I think will spark some interesting discussions.

Looking toward the future

We also asked respondents what they thought the “next big thing” for libraries was going to be. I thought their answers were interesting, and mirrored discussions I’ve been seeing elsewhere:

  • Open access
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Smart technologies

OCLC has covered these topics in the past in reports such as Responsible Operations: Data Science, Machine Learning, and AI in Libraries and in last year’s Global Council report, and at our “Smarter Library” conferences.

OCLC will continue to engage with Global Council—and with our members and the library community as a whole—in terms of how and where we direct research assets for efforts such as these.

Asking and answering questions is important, often challenging, and sometimes fun. That’s why we have libraries, after all.

Exploring the questions we should be asking ourselves is one of the things I enjoy most about working with member leaders on Global Council.