Libraries today face the reality that they must serve their communities with a level of resources far from ideal. In most libraries I encounter, collection budgets and personnel resources are stretched far beyond comfortable bounds. Libraries appreciate any technology with the potential to enable more efficient operations and the best use of their collections and personnel.
Even the most affluent libraries cannot afford to acquire all of the materials in a given field. Libraries must be strategic in acquisitions to build their collections. In the absence of comprehensive collections acquired in advance, libraries have developed channels through which they can expedite purchasing materials based on patron requests or borrowing materials from peer institutions. Libraries often band together in consortia to provide patrons access to the combined collections of the participants. Increasingly libraries in consortia expect technologies that enable unmediated requests for materials by patrons of their partner libraries and automate the management and tracking of the materials. Without adequate technology support, high volumes of interlibrary lending can be cumbersome for library personnel and too slow for patrons.
Efficient, direct consortial borrowing and fulfillment systems provide the means for groups of libraries to share their resources, providing a larger pool of materials for patrons associated with any of the members. To participate in this type of arrangement, libraries do not necessarily need to alter the types of materials they collect or the way they manage them internally.
Libraries increasingly are interested in deeper levels of collaboration. Increasing the size of the aggregate collection does not necessarily provide significant savings in how the individual libraries acquire their collections. A more advanced stage of collaborative collection development enables libraries to work together to identify areas of collection strength for each library to focus their resources. Libraries can then spend fewer resources in materials related other disciplines. This strategy distributed collection strength among partner institutions must be supported by systems to enable patrons' discovery of materials located in a remote library, user-friendly request features, and other tools to efficiently fulfill these requests. Most importantly, delivery must be rapid.
Collaborative collection development also requires optimized systems for acquiring materials. It is difficult for selectors to acquire materials in the context of a consortial collection if many separate systems have to be checked. As individual libraries make selection decisions on which materials to purchase, it is essential for them to have a system-wide view of the aggregate collection. Focused collection-building in coordination with consortium partners promises collaborative collections with deeper coverage across more disciplines. Naturally, each institution will have to create core working collections in many major disciplines so that routine materials can be accessed from the local collection without the time and overhead involved in borrowing from partners. When libraries engage in collaborative collections, they benefit from systems that provide adequate use analytics to determine what items need to be held locally and which ones can be provided through consortial borrowing.
Collaborating in cataloging of materials also offers opportunities for savings and efficiencies. Most libraries have streamlined processes for routine materials, allowing their most skilled catalogers to focus on specialized materials. These materials are often in diverse languages and scripts. One obvious collaboration would be partners' identifying and supplying expert catalogers in their specified areas of specialization and channeling materials accordingly. Such a collaborative cataloging strategy means that librarians would often describe materials not acquired for library.
Libraries can choose among several models to achieve resource sharing, each supported by different types of technical infrastructure. Libraries can opt to function self-sufficiently, relying on mostly on their own collections and operating their own integrated library system. These libraries can rely on external interlibrary loan services, such as that from OCLC, to supply materials to patrons not held in the local collection. Libraries can also form consortia where each member operates its own integrated library system, but supplemented with an additional layer of infrastructure to manage the lending of materials across the consortium. These direct consortium borrowing systems offer considerable cost savings and more rapid fulfillment of materials compared to external interlibrary loan services. An even deeper collaboration is participation in shared automation infrastructure. This model of resource sharing isn't necessarily new, but has seen increased adoption among groups of libraries that have previously operated separate integrated library systems. The new genre of library services platforms has sparked increased interest in shared implementations.
This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter includes coverage of consortial interlibrary borrowing systems. SHAREit from Auto-Graphics ranks as one of the major products in this niche and has seen some recent new developments and new implementations. We also note a new project that will be the first one to make use of the open source FulfILLment product. This is a challenging product sector with a very limited number of opportunities for new sales. The number of implementations is small in number, but each implementation can be very complex, primarily due to the interoperability that must be established and maintained with diverse ILS products.
Both the shared infrastructure and the consortial borrowing systems will remain as viable options for resource sharing. In recent years we have seen interest surge in the direction of shared infrastructure, both in the United States and internationally. National and statewide initiatives to replace many independent integrated library systems with a single platform are under consideration, are in the procurement phase, or have been completed. It will be very interesting to see if these shared platforms live up to expectations in a longer time frame. The success of these early implementations will drive the extent to which this approach becomes the dominant model for library automation in the coming years. But regardless of the implementation model or technology platform involved, the time of isolation and self-sufficiency is waning. I anticipate that the next phase of library technology will be based on ever deeper levels of cooperation not only to achieve savings and efficiency, but to increase the impact and levels of service.