Tile and organizational evolution

Lorcan 2 min read

A set of documents from the TILE project has appeared.
TILE continues the work that was done by this group on the ILS last year. It extends this work by looking at library systems and services in broader contexts. In particular it looks at the library in the context of Web 2.0 and of service frameworks.
And – full disclosure – I was pleased to see their use of the Concentration/Diffusion idea as a way of talking about Web 2.0, and their use of the modeling work of the DLF group on service frameworks.
I have not yet digested the full range of material they provide. On first impression, what I like about the approach is that it lifts the discussion very explicitly out of the single institution. It is clear that an institution-scale approach is not appropriate for various of the issues of working in a network environment. They then suggest a way of thinking about systemwide activities in a simple framework which makes quite a bit of sense (whatever about the choice of labels). They also take a ‘business’ approach, rather than a purely technical one. By this I mean that they are concerned about how resources are organized to achieve goals, which touches on issues of boundaries, roles, incentives, different models of resource allocation, …. The report does not simply talk about existing organizations making changes at the edges; it looks at systemic change across a range of players to adapt to modes of service more appropriate to a web environment.
This is only a first look, and I haven’t looked at those parts where I may be initially less interested. And I find the higher level discussion and framework more interesting than the e-framework style decomposition of processes/services which I think is probably somewhat premature.
Two more general points also struck me as I was glancing through the materials …
The first is that it will be interesting to observe what sort of organizational evolution there is as a result of TET (tough economic times). One can imagine more focused attention on collaborative structures to increase shared capacity, reduce costs and improve local effectiveness. There may also be greater willingness to outsource some activity to commercial partners. These trends will likely be reinforced by a focus on distinctive local impact. However, this in turn suggests the need for some broad agreements on what types of activity might move into shared environments (infrastructure, which tends to be common makes sense here, as does the management of shared print collections), and also organizational frameworks to channel shared activity efficiently. On the former, it will be interesting to see how many more libraries move to hosted ILS or repository environments for example, or move to shared systems environments within broader groupings. On the latter, we are likely to see some rationalization of existing organizations and the emergence of new ones (see the context for the Hathi Trust for example).
This prompts a second point about international differences. Reading the TILES material, as well as working for an international organization like OCLC, is to be reminded of the often very different scalar emphasis in different geographies. This report is written in a UK educational environment where national-scale activity is strong, through publicly funded education infrastructure and services. JISC, for example, has provided a national research network, national authentication services, national data centres, national advisory services, national content licensing services, and a range of other national infrastructure and support services. There is a natural propensity for institutions here to look to a national apparatus to move things along. And of course there are national union catalogue or library infrastructure services in many countries. The US is a much more decentralized environment, and national-scale activity is less strong. However, there may be a strong state presence (think of OhioLink here in Ohio) or there may be quite a lot of activity through consortia of various types, but this is variable and libraries are variably bound into larger groupings for these types of shared services.

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The social, cultural and technological contexts of libraries, services and networks

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