Managing Physical Delivery – Collaborative Resource Sharing – Part 3

Much of the community’s attention has been focused on digital content over the past decade.  Strategies for managing purchase, discovery, integration, and reuse have been common themes of conferences and publications since the mid-90s.  Innovative work on metasearch, description, authentication and archiving related to digital content has made great strides in making sure that people can retrieve web-based content easily and quickly from nearly anywhere.  Of course, this is only part of the story of what is taking place in libraries. Libraries continue to maintain vast collections of physical objects and providing that content in physical form has been an area of innovation as well over the past decade.  

Collaborative collection development among regional partnerships has been one way libraries have been working together to maximize their acquisitions budgets.  During the Collaborative Library Resource Sharing meeting last week, Julia Gammon, Head, Acquisitions Department, University of Akron Libraries, discussed the work that OhioLink is doing to coordinate the purchasing work of libraries in Ohio. In her presentation, Julia outlined the steps OhioLink undertook so that it could manage a collaborative acquisition strategy. Among these was using a common book supplier, YBP Library Services and their GobiTween service to manage purchasing. According to Julia, using GobiTween has allowed OhioLink to better understand purchasing decisions across most institutions in the state and make more informed acquisitions decisions regarding how many copies will be needed. While this form of collaboration isn’t going to work for every institution or in every case, it is certainly a model that more consortia should explore to improve effective cost management within the member libraries.

In order to make a system of collaborative purchasing effective, libraries need to have cost effective approaches to sharing items among the member institutions. This was the theme of Valerie Horton’s, Executive Director, Colorado Library Consortium, presentation entitled: Moving Mountains: The Status of Library Physical Delivery Services. Valerie described eloquently the myriad ways that institutions and consortia are moving objects around their networks. From the USPS, to commmercial carriers, to courier systems libraries are investing heavily in moving objects from one place to another. One figure Valerie noted from an ICOLC survey in 2008, is that the Prospector unified catalog service in Colorado is sharing some 426,000 items per year, about the same amount as other consortia listed in that report. There is now a physical delivery subgroup of the rethinking resource sharing group that is exploring these issues to provide more efficient and effective end-user delivery services. According to Valerie, there is much that could be accomplished here and standard could help in several areas. Some specific ideas she gave related to common circulation policies, labeling, and packaging. These are the types of standards that shippers across the country and across the globe have agreed to long ago and the library community could learn much from.

This is a complicated issue, in particular, for publishers. While the thought of libraries sharing items among each other makes perfect sense and indeed will decrease costs among institutions, there is a downside for publishers. An item that is shared among libraries to serve patrons is viewed positively by the library community, it could be (and often is) viewed as a lost sale opportunity by the publisher community. One needn’t look beyond the precarious state of university presses and the challenges of their book sales model, which for decades had been predicated on the sale of scholarly monographs generally to the library community. This issue comes into sharper relief when considering e-books, a new area for library acquisitions and the prospect for sharing digital content. We’ll explore that in more detail in the coming weeks.