A focus on the end user: NISO’s Collaborative Resource Sharing Conference – part 1

This week, NISO held a seminar on how the library community collaborates to share their resources to provide more effective services to the end-user community.  The meeting, Collaborative Library Resource Sharing was held in Atlanta at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center.  Bringing together some of the leading experts in the areas of resource sharing and inter-library loan, the meeting provided a window on a how libraries are working to improve the end user services that they provide.  Every one of the speakers provided interesting perspective and experiences from which the community can learn, as well as potential ideas upon which new solutions can be built and spread.

One thing rang clear from many of the presentations: current library systems are more often built around managing the thing (be it books, journal articles, AV items, or digital objects) rather than responding to needs of the users.  Several of the speakers compared the services that NetflixAmazon or Google provide, against the ILL request and service processes or the retrieval services.  While in some institutions and in some digital services, accessing content can be very easy.  In others, unfortunately, it can be a horrendous maze of complicated procedures and barriers.  For example, Gail Wanner, Resource Sharing Manager at SirsiDynix, noted that one of the main reasons that people don’t use library services is that they are concerned with late fees.  Even Blockbuster has moved away from painful late fees and Netflix has made a name for itself by allowing users to keep content as long as they wish.  Another example of a customer focused experience highlighted at the meeting by Marshall Breeding, Director for Innovative Technologies and Research at the Heard Library at Vanderbilt University, is Amazon’s variety of service options.  Not only is ordering made simple with the “One Click Ordering“, but also presents a wide variety of purchase options: if you want it new, used, shipped over night or next week, download an e-book version or audio-book (whenever it’s available).  The reader reviews add tremendous social input to the value and quality of the item, which aids discovery, but also focuses attention on which item is most appropriate for the end-user.

While librarians often are loath to consider their patrons “customers”, many of the service models in the business world, in particular the relentless focus on serving the customer’s needs, are concepts that libraries will need to begin adopting or at least adapting to retain their place in the sources of information that the community rely on.  If they fail to incorporate a vigorous focus on serving the needs of library patrons, they will continue to turn to providers of similar services for the delivery of content.   We spent a great deal of time talking about how libraries can do this.  I’ll write in more detail about some of the specifics that were discussed later this week. 

NOTE: Presentations from the event will be posted to the agenda page later this week as well.