Wednesday, July 30, 2014

managing e resources in a modern ILS: shared work or vendor provided service?

The Orbis Cascade Alliance Summer Meeting happened a few weeks back in downtown Portland. It's an exciting time for the Alliance as we enter the home stretch towards the migration to a shared integrated library system. The feeling is very much a different one than previous Alliance meetings--there is a much deeper sense that we are working together.

One of the most exciting things about the Alliance's SILS project is the possibility sharing tasks across Alliance institutions. For example, the Alliance now loads the records for the electronic books in it's demand driven program centrally whereas previously the task was repeated locally at all 37 Alliance libraries.

The Network Zone where Alliance members share bibilographic records set now has the capability to manage shared sets of bibliographic records for the entire consortium or even subsets of the consortium. The SILS environment holds great promise in shared cataloging, acquisitions, collection management and discovery.

But even as we see the possibility of more efficient workflows in the integrated library system, there's a case to be made that as resources go more digital, the work traditionally done in the ILS should shift away from to vendors or other network-level providers.

In some ways, I want our ILS to act as a seamless layer between content providers and patrons. When my library decides to subscribe to an e book package or  a new journal, I want it to be as easy as purchasing a Kindle book on Amazon. We select the resource, pay for it, and it magically becomes findable to our patrons. Acquiring and loading files of MARC records and then updating them periodically should be a thing of the past, tasks absorbed by the ILS vendor or some other network-level intermediary,

We're getting close to this reality. Activating a package of e-books can be as easy as clicking a box in our new system. But often enough, there is still much local work that needs to be done in terms of purchasing and loading records to make things findable.

As vendor-level services for e resources get stronger, I wonder what role the collective technical services workforce of the Alliance can play in the electronic resources ecosystem? Discoverability of e-content is about more than MARC records these days and often involves vendors giving discovery providers and search engines access to the full text of content.

I'm guessing that even as the mainstream processes for making e resources discoverable get less labor intensive for libraries, there will always be exceptions and special cases where institutional and consortial expertise are needed to make things discoverable.  Libraries will need to work together to create and load metadata for that obscure set of video recordings or ebooks.

The Alliance is now in a position to be a powerful player in this space and really define ways that libraries can add value in the area of electronic resource discoverability. For a single library cataloging an entire set of e books seems out-of-reach, but a consortium, if well organized could do so with its collective workforce.

I'm looking forward to seeing how things shake out.

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