Lorcan Dempsey — “Moving to the network level: discovery and disclosure”

Lorcan Dempsey
Vice President and Chief Strategist, OCLC
“Moving to the network level: discovery and disclosure”
ALCTS 2007 Midwinter Symposium: “Definitely digital: an exploration of the future of knowledge on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of ALCTS”
Jan. 19, 2007


The digital environment hasn’t merely changed people’s workflow, it has BECOME their workflow. This is true for us librarians, but especially for our patrons.

Our relationship with networked sources is part of that workflow. Hand in hand with unbundling is rebundling (of work processes).

Then: users built their workflow around the library. Now: The library must meet the patron in their workflow.

Then: Resources were scarce, centralized in library, and users’ attention was abundant. Now: Resources are abundant and decentralized, and our users’ attention/time are scarce.

Long tail information providers (like Amazon.com and Google) are successful because of the way that they aggregate the supply of information and resources: unified discovery: low transaction costs (for user). They spend BILLIONS getting into users’ workflow, with toolbars, one-click setups, etc.). And aggregation of demand: mobilizing large numbers of users over a unified set of resources, you DRIVE people down the long tail, ie. provide more information, more resources, in the long run.

How does this apply to libraries?

Well, looking at the Google G5 libraries (the academic libraries who are working with google to digitize their collections): OCLC has found that 60% of their aggregate collection is owned by ONLY one of the libraries. In other words, most of the collection unique. Rarity is mush more common then anticipated, ie. a long tail. Also 20% of the aggregate collection accounted for 90% of use, a typical long tail profile. The same is true for WorldCAT, where the top 10% of WorldCat records account for 80% of total holdings. In these G5 libraries, 75% of ILL requests are directed at the HEAD, only 25% at the TAIL. Conclusion: the long tail of G5 library collections are being underused. (Interesting? Surprising?)


The network rewrites the library in re: discovery and disclosure.

BYPASSING on-site navigation, getting to content through search engines, link servers, rss readers and blogs. How to position our resources towards them? We tend to think people love our website as much as we do, and will take the time to learn how to use it, develop expertise. But in a crowded networked world, people don’t want difference, fluff. How to reach them? Make data work harder (Endeca), integrate access to locally managed resources, escape from ILS limitations.

Examples: Ferberization: all iterations of a work are pulled together. Instead of being assigned by people, determine the audience levels of works by comparing ownings data in OCLC, ie. if it’s owned by a lot of school and public libraries, the book may be for children; if it’s owned by a lot of academic and public libraries, the book may be for adults.

Shared discovery experience: Increase impact – create gravitational pull, aggregate demand and supply. (Most important aspect, in my opinion:) Integration of Discovery to Delivery. When a patron has found something, it is already on its way to the patron.

Syndicated discovery experience: Google book search includes a borrow this book search that sends you to Worldcat. Put the data where the people are, don’t expect them to come find you. Syndicating services: RSS portlets, APIs, protocol based, projects, sakai library. Some special collections and archives are MANUALLY adding links to Wikipedia pages that relate to their special collections; put digital photo collections out on Flickr that link back to the site.

CONCLUSION: The library website is NOT the front door for all patrons. We need to connect to multiple discovery environments, put resources in users’ workflow, place resources in systems that aggregate demand, and follow through with timely delivery.

Blogger: Bob Conrad

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