Discovery, delivery, distributed inventory management

Lorcan 2 min read

Resource discovery has been a focus of much attention in recent years.
Once discovery opportunities are provided, a focus on delivery is inevitable. Folks want to have what was discovered delivered, to get as well as find. And delivery, broadly understood, has indeed been a major focus of recent activity. For licensed resources this has led to an explosion of interest in resolution, to get people from metadata about a discovered item to services on that item, including delivery.
However, I want to focus on the print collections in this post. For print materials we have seen growing interest in patron-initiated ILL and more sophisticated group and consortial arrangements. This is not universal, but many libraries now participate in consortial, state or national systems. For example, as I have commented before, in Ohio we are well placed to observe the good work of our neighbours, OhioLink, in providing an integrated discovery to delivery experience across library collections in the state.
Now, just as better discovery drives the need for better delivery, so will the need for better delivery encourage further thinking about how the collective book stock is managed across libraries or groups of libraries. Especially where there are strong consortial or collaborative structures in place which can be leveraged. Libraries have been optimized for local operation. Collections are local and are driven by local requirements. However, where libraries operate in collective systems of delivery and those systems become more important then issues of how to optimize collections for delivery on a systemwide basis become more important also. Interlibrary lending is an expensive practice, involving multiple transactions and extensive round-trip shipping of materials. So, a natural extension of OhioLink services, for example, would be to think about shared inventory management across the libraries it serves, maybe supporting its delivery service with consolidated storage of less used materials. Or working with its libraries to coordinate some acquisitions to better match supply and demand at the state level. Or thinking about how to cut down round-tripping by having materials returned to, and ‘carried by’, a library local to the user, until they are requested again. And so on.
Clearly this connects strongly to discussions of offsite storage, use of library space, collective collection development, mass digitization, preservation and other ‘collective collection’ issues. Some of these are new issues, some have been long-discussed but remain marginal or peripheral to the mainstream. Of course, one of the more interesting things about the growth in importance of the network is how network activity reconfigures physical activity. In coming years one interesting manifestation of this will be the selective reconfiguration of print collections – inventory management – in shared settings, to support better delivery, allocation of resources, and preservation.
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