Multiplying the power of place

Katie Birch

power-of-placeIt’s easy to find digital items online—pictures, videos, maps, etc.—that can connect you to another place, person or library. What may not be as immediately apparent is that physical objects can also connect users to libraries in many different places. As someone who works with our interlibrary loan data, I see fantastic examples of distant libraries establishing relationships that leverage physical collections. In doing so, they improve how local users experience their local library.

It’s not just the long tail

There are some popular misconceptions about interlibrary lending and resource sharing. Yes, it’s sometimes about “the long tail,” which for libraries usually means difficult-to-find items and out-of-print materials. But often, it’s not. Best sellers make up a large portion of the top ILL requests we track because ILL helps libraries fill needs wherever they find them, not just for highly specific, academic resources.

One of the reasons I love being part of the OCLC resource sharing community is the strength of the community itself and its desire to fill those needs. Resource sharing librarians are some of the most gregarious and tenacious people I’ve ever met, and you can see that sense of purpose in how they take care of their users—and in the stories they tell about their favorite ILL relationships.

Transatlantic “Quests”

While reviewing ILL data and trends recently, we came across some great examples of stories like that. For example, we found that Johnson County Library in Kansas, USA, was requesting titles from Hertfordshire Public Library, just outside London in the UK. Johnson County wasn’t requesting from other UK libraries, just this one. Why?

We dug a little deeper and we found that the titles were from two juvenile fantasy series, Beast Quest and Sea Quest. In talking with Linda Riehl at the Johnson County Library, she mentioned a patron who has requested many of the 78 titles in the series. She established a relationship with Tracy Jackson in Hertfordshire—as they have the entire series available—and so far, Linda has borrowed 38 from the series for her patron. This is a great example of how global cooperation helps get people what they want from their local libraries, even if the materials have to cross the ocean to get there.

Mars, prisons and Hollywood

Every year, we publish our top ten most-requested titles. These titles are always best sellers or titles like The Martian that have recently been made in to a film. Along with the ILL community, my team and I enjoy predicting what’s going to come up in the coming year.

But what’s also fascinating are the titles that stay in the most-requested list. One such title has endured for six years now—it’s called The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. It is a US best seller, having moved more than 1.2 million copies. No one on my team had heard of this book, and we’re all avid readers, so we did a bit more digging. What we found was that the libraries requesting this title were doing so on behalf of the prison libraries they serve. It seems that The 48 Laws of Power is something of a cult title, read as a guide to establishing influence and authority by both the Hollywood elite and prison inmates alike.

Every story tells another story

What can we learn about the future of resource sharing from these stories? What can you learn about the community you serve from their requests? These are questions we need to be answering based on real data, interviews, research and follow-up.

OCLC’s Kathleen Gesinger recently wrote about breaking the “curse of knowledge”—our tendency to assume other people know what we do. We all make a lot of assumptions about library users. With more than 8,000 libraries in the WorldCat resource sharing community, we can certainly pool our stories, ideas and data in order to better serve users’ actual needs, not just our impressions. Adding that kind of rigor to the compassion and energy I see every day from resource sharing librarians would be awesome.

Question…What surprising requests have come through your resource sharing services? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #OCLCnext