How flexible is your future collection?

Katie Birch

FlexibleFutureCollection-A

You can’t predict the future. But together we can prepare for it.

What attribute of your library is most valuable to your community? For a long time, the answer to that question might have been “our collection.” For generations, libraries have spent much of their budgets on acquiring and managing local materials, but that is shifting. These days, what the library owns isn’t as important as how it supports its users and community. Access to materials must keep up with needs that are changing faster than any one institution can manage.

It is nearly impossible for any one library to hit the moving target of comprehensive access to relevant content. Working together, however, libraries can take advantage of a characteristic that may be the most important for collection access going forward: flexibility.

Opening the stacks even further

As a 2015 OCLC Research report demonstrates, putting the library in the life of the user is key to our future success. Being where your users are—on social media, on their devices, in their lives—is a given requirement today. To do that, libraries have been shifting journals and other print resources to online collections. This has had the additional benefit (or challenge) of reducing stack space. These areas can then be turned into common gathering and study areas, giving users a place to collaborate and learn new things.

All of which is great. But how do you decide which physical materials to share with nearby institutions? Which should go into off-site storage? And which can be safely deaccessioned? All while still giving people access to as much content as possible?

The key is to offer flexible services that provide users with resources in a responsive and timely way. This may mean fewer materials in the local collection, but much broader access outside the building. To do this, more and more libraries are expanding resource sharing options and exploring consortial borrowing plans to meet needs. Sustainable Collection Services’ (SCS) decision-support tool, GreenGlass, helps libraries manage physical collections in a systematic way to support that kind of informed flexibility specifically by providing data about the scarcity and ubiquity of your collection in comparison to other libraries’ collections.

E-sharing on the fly

With the shift to electronic collections, libraries have not only opened up their physical space, but they’ve also further supported research needs by providing nearly immediate access to information. Just as with the physical collection, libraries don’t need to have licenses to every e-resource their users might want—through interlibrary loan, information seekers can often get e-resources within hours of requesting them. To support today’s information seekers, this speed is essential.

A few years ago, we introduced WorldShare Interlibrary Loan (ILL), which now connects the collections of nearly 7,000 libraries. It’s remarkable that every 18 seconds, libraries supply an item that a user wants but can’t access through his or her own library. The lending library could be down the street or halfway around the world.

Staying flexible in the future

At OCLC, we see these trends as only accelerating. Our response is to make significant investment in resource sharing services that give libraries even more flexibility to meet user needs. In addition to SCS, GreenGlass and WorldShare ILL, we have a comprehensive strategy to support resource sharing for the future.

Just last month, we introduced Tipasa, a new cloud-based ILL management system. Tipasa reimagines features and functionality of the Windows-based ILLiad service and moves them to the cloud. In addition, we also announced plans to acquire Relais International. The Relais D2D (Discovery to Delivery) solution is the market leader in consortial borrowing and continues to grow, and it is consistent with our vision for a new service to address the needs of consortial borrowing users.

Resource sharing can help your library stay flexible enough to accommodate the expectations of your users. Collectively, we can make informed decisions about what should remain local without sacrificing access to the long tail of content that may be essential, yet rarely requested.

Together, OCLC members can leverage the content and expertise of thousands of libraries. And when you know your colleagues have your back, you can take more risks and innovate locally. Broad-based access combined with local expertise—that’s the future of resource sharing.