Why a “Library on-demand” vision benefits from pandemic wisdom

If it wasn’t for COVID-19, I can safely say I never would have biked the Haleakalā volcano. Well, to be honest, I still haven’t. But while I’ve been mostly locked in my house this past year, I decided to invest in a stationary bike. And I trained for an endurance activity of five, one-hour rides that match the twists, turns, and elevations of the famous Hawaiian volcano.

Of course, it’s not the same as a real ride on a real bike on a real road on a real volcano. But the work I had to do to get in shape was real, the final achievement was real, and the connections I made with some new biking friends were real. And even if I never make it to the actual volcano, I will absolutely do a virtual ride like this again.

My experience also helped me realize something about the transition to a post-pandemic reality that’s starting slowly around the world. We need to carefully consider what we leave behind and what we take forward when we return to “normal.”

From shock to survival to whatever is next

We’ve all been changed in some way by COVID-19. Many of us have lost friends and loved ones. People have lost jobs and homes. And we’ve all been forced to rethink our priorities and plans. We’ve also experienced a lot of stress and anxiety, even as we’ve established new routines and ways of getting through the days. But we’ve also had to solve problems we never anticipated, learning new things along the way. And maybe that meant we got creative in ways we didn’t previously make room for.

Since the impacts of COVID-19 created similar hardships around the world, it’s been possible for libraries to learn a lot from each other very quickly. Nobody wants to compress five years of research, development, stress, learning, practice, and fumbling with new processes into one year. But as we emerge on the other side, perhaps there’s a clearer line of sight into where our focus should be.

For my team, this has reconfirmed the importance of a Library on-demand vision.

Why the “on-demand” focus?

The idea that people now expect to be able to get anything, anytime, anywhere is nothing new. Yet as our world embraces an increasingly hybrid work/life existence, I’m even more excited about the ways libraries can fit into the picture. In-person interactions will come back, of course. They already are at many libraries. But our collective behavior has likely shifted, and a greater emphasis on digital resources will remain.

It starts with a laser focus on the user experience for both library staff and people using the library. For end-users, that means an intuitive discovery experience—effortless access to the most appropriate resources when and where they need them, both easy to use and with predictable results. To that end, our WorldCat Discovery team recently added the “best access options” feature that determines and displays the most appropriate print and electronic fulfillment choices for a needed item. Simple, but significant! And now we’re redesigning the WorldCat Discovery interface to amplify accessibility and customization, all of which supports a more personalized experience, adding control and transparency for library staff and users.

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The past year also made fast delivery of digital materials critical, all while many library staff were working remotely. Our resource sharing team moved quickly to put a number of tools in place to support staff and end users. For example, we created a simple way for libraries to register and maintain their ILL status and view the status of other libraries using an interactive map. Our team also launched profiled groups for WorldShare ILL to help libraries identify other institutions that are actively supplying electronic documents and e-books.

And we have continued to roll out smart fulfillment functionality—available across WorldShare ILL, Tipasa and ILLiad—providing accurate resource options and delivery recommendations in just seconds. It weighs policy data, lending history, licensing agreements, and format preferences to present resources available locally, regionally, and around the world. And best of all, it automatically predicts and selects the libraries that will deliver materials fastest.

Our recently announced Express digital delivery program is a great example of how smart fulfillment enhancements help improve the library experience, too. The program is for libraries that consistently provide same-day delivery of articles and other digital materials through our powerful network. And Express program libraries can leverage the OCLC ILL services they already use at no extra charge.

The direction we’ve been headed has served us well during COVID-19. So, as we continue to move toward a vision of creating impactful user experiences, we’ll continue to monitor trends closely in our post-pandemic world, while also having conversations with our members to fully understand and apply their perspectives. Our one constant has always been change, and this past year has made all of us experts in managing change even faster.

Coming down from the volcano

I’ll definitely keep my stationary bike, even when I can get back to the gym. I appreciate the new support system I’ve developed (especially those new friends who helped me prep for the Haleakalā ride) and the flexibility to work out at home and in my own time. But I’ll likely relax some of my pandemic-related routines as the threat of the virus reduces, as I’m sure you will, too.

As you work through your library’s post-pandemic strategy, ask yourself how it fits into an on-demand framework. The requirements placed on us all changed radically and quickly over the past year. That meant new and shifting challenges. But our collective responses—especially as connected members of a profession that values the sharing of knowledge—showed how well (and quickly!) we can respond to the needs of our communities.

To watch a short video and read about the four key components of the OCLC library on-demand vision, visit oc.lc/library-on-demand.