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Smarter Libraries Through Technology: Collaborative Resource Sharing Strategies

Smart Libraries Newsletter [July 2018]

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Libraries have a strong interest in technologies able to improve patron access to information resources. A variety of products have been developed to enable groups of libraries to collaborate to pool their resources, greatly expanding the body of resources available to their patrons. These products are based on a variety of resource sharing models, ranging from centralized interlibrary loan services to peer-to-peer lending networks.

It is not realistic for libraries to purchase all the information resources to meet the interests and research needs of their patrons. At best, libraries strive to develop core collections of immediately available materials, which can then be supplemented through some type of interlibrary loan borrowing or ondemand purchases.

Central interlibrary loan services, such as OCLC's WorldShare ILL, draw on the collections of tens of thousands of libraries all around the globe to fulfill requests for practically any item requested. This service is powered by WorldCat, which currently includes over 420 million bibliographic records spanning 2.6 billion library holdings. WorldShare ILL enables access to the widest possible range of materials, offset by lengthy fulfillment times and high costs. Other centralized interlibrary loan services are offered through national libraries and other organizations providing services to libraries within their jurisdiction.

Libraries have also developed distributed systems of resource sharing aiming to provide much faster fulfillment with lower costs. These systems usually operate among a consortium of libraries, relying on some type of technical infrastructure to manage the exchange of materials. This infrastructure includes a set of common components:

  • Discovery—a physical or virtual catalog of the aggregate collection of the participating libraries, usually listing each library holding a given item and its current status or availability.
  • Request service—this discovery component will include a facility to enable a patron to place a request for an item.
  • Fulfillment—this component provides messaging and tracking needed to obtain the item from a remote library, have it delivered to the designated pick-up location, and check the item out to the borrower. If multiple locations within the consortium hold the item, fulfillment may also include selection of the preferred lender. Fulfilment includes a complex chain of transactions structured to get the item to the requestor quickly, provide detailed tracking through the entire process, and generate any needed messages to library personnel and patrons.
  • Reporting or Analytics. Libraries expect resource sharing systems to generate detailed reports documenting fulfillment times, most requested items, and other metrics. These reports help the consortium evaluate the overall performance of the service, address any bottlenecks in fulfillment, and inform collection development.

These functional components can be implemented in different ways, depending on the organization of the consortium, its business requirements, and the technical infrastructure implemented.

Most integrated library systems (ILSs) serving multi-branch libraries come with built-in resource sharing features. Most large city or county-wide libraries use the circulation module of their ILS to enable libraries to request items from any branch, which are pulled and delivered to a designated location for pick-up and checkout. Some libraries have implemented strategies of floating collections in which materials may remain at the branch returned rather than be transferred back to the original location. Floating collections can reduce transit costs but can also result in disproportionate distribution of materials among branches that may need to be rebalanced periodically.

The circulation features of an ILS can also be used to support resource sharing among the members of a consortium. The resource sharing capabilities used for multi-branch systems can be applied to groups of independent libraries participating in a consortially-shared ILS. The participating libraries usually rely on the consortium to manage the system, to operate a courier service for delivering requested and returned materials, and to provide other services. This model resembles that of a multi-branch municipal or county-wide library system, except that the libraries are organizationally independent. This arrangement can significantly lower the technology costs for each institution compared to separate ILS implementations, though there may be administrative costs associated with services provided by the consortium. The participating libraries also benefit from a larger aggregate collection. Sharing materials within the consortium provides savings by reducing the number of requests made to an external interlibrary loan service and provides faster fulfillment.

Libraries that have each implemented their own independent ILSs can also cooperate in a consortium. This model involves using a resource sharing or interlibrary loan software that communicates with each of the ILSs to provide a unified catalog of resources, present request services for patrons, and to manage, route, and track items. Examples of products supporting this model of consortial borrowing include SHAREit from Auto-Graphics, Innovative Resource Sharing (formerly INN-Reach), and Relais D2D developed by Relais International, now a product of OCLC. This model enables each library to operate its own ILS for its internal operations and circulation, while also offering a broader range of resources available through the consortium. This model can be more expensive to operate since it involves multiple ILS implementations as well as the resource sharing software, but it is a necessary solution when libraries are committed to their existing ILS implementations and need the benefits of consortial borrowing.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend toward the shared infrastructure model of resource sharing. This trend has been especially strong in academic libraries, where many groups of libraries have moved from independent ILS implementations to a shared library services platform. Across all library types, there is steady growth in the number of libraries participating in consortially-shared ILSs.

This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter features a new model of resource sharing offered by Biblionix. The company's VersaCard service adds a set of resource sharing capabilities to independent implementations of its Apollo ILS. This novel approach seems well suited for the small public libraries for which Biblionix designs its products.

View Citation
Publication Year:2018
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 38 Number 07
Issue:July 2018
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:24051
Last Update:2022-12-05 14:54:41
Date Created:2019-03-05 15:34:32