September 2006 RLG Programs Meeting—Discovery to Delivery for the Research Library

Date & Location: Friday, September 29, 2006, Columbia University, New York City, NY

On September 29th, representatives from 23 RLG Partner institutions met to discuss the "points of pain" that their user communities experience in the discovery to delivery traverse, what institutions are doing to relieve that pain, and what RLG Programs can do to help the group move forward through collaborative action. While RLG Programs had convened the meeting to discuss "discovery to delivery," it was clear from the outset of the meeting that these institutions concern themselves with an arc that goes well beyond delivery, and includes effective use of research materials. Additionally, discussion participants live in a world in which:

  • Users "do search" outside of the institution, at least some of the time. OPACs look cumbersome by comparison.
  • Google and others are digitizing books. This improves discovery, but it can’t always improve delivery.
  • Some libraries are improving delivery for their patrons, and find that it's expensive. Fear of incurring expense prohibits others from doing more in this area.
  • Teaching faculty lament the information-seeking skills of undergraduates.
  • Provosts fund under historic paradigms that no longer apply.

Grand challenges

  • Copyright and permitted uses. Five years from now a great many books will have been scanned, but copyright is seventy years. Anyone with a desire to examine this issue further will be a valued partner.
  • Delivery. Clearly, delivery receives more of our attention than discovery. We know how to succeed: be open 24 hours, offer a single point of delivery, deliver to offices, offer ILL to undergraduates, provide digital copies. Meeting the cost of successful delivery is one issue; making a smooth transition from varied and numerous discovery environments to delivery has become more of a challenge.
  • Assessment. We need to demonstrate value to provosts, etc. in an era of seamlessness when users shouldn’t need to be aware of our intervention on their behalf.
  • Selection. Supporting selection by users is important to make delivery affordable. We don’t want fast, convenient delivery to become a kind of very expensive browsing. We need to disclose whatever information supports informed selection by users before they request something for delivery.

Common views

  • We’re not the only ones providing discovery, and that's fine; we need to get our metadata into the evolving information ecosystem.
  • Delivery is not the end of the arc; use and publication are equally important parts of the process.
  • We ought to be looking at our efforts from our users' perspectives, rather than our own. Commercial, rather than academic, assessment methods may be helpful.
  • We ought to differentiat uses, not users. Advanced researchers and undergraduates typically make different uses.
  • One meaning of "collection"—what a library buys from a certain fund or keeps in a certain place—is less and less important. Other meanings involving context, provenance, and level of service grow in importance. User-created collections and virtual collections grow in importance.

"Stiffening" points

  • A great many works will be digitized in five years, but copyright is 70 years.
  • Barriers to joint ownership.
  • Is collection development really serving its purpose in a digital environment?
  • How much should—and can—we guide undergraduate discovery?
  • Is seamlessness that makes us invisible to our users really okay?
  • Is it time to part with the OPAC, or is there still value there?
  • Does parting with an OPAC mean parting with traditional descriptive efforts?
  • How much and what kind of metadata needs to be exposed?
  • Our values: rich metadata, selecting/vetting understanding, wanting users to get the materials they need.
  • How can we benefit from the descriptive competence of faculty and others?

If you have questions, contact Merrilee Proffitt or Karen Smith-Yoshimura, program officers, RLG Programs, OCLC Programs and Research.

We are a worldwide library cooperative, owned, governed and sustained by members since 1967. Our public purpose is a statement of commitment to each other—that we will work together to improve access to the information held in libraries around the globe, and find ways to reduce costs for libraries through collaboration.