Sunday, September 27, 2009

Borrowing in the Future

Last week, I had the chance to attend a day of the Northwest Interlibrary Loan Conference, hosted at a local college. Though I believe that I'll probably wind up focusing on cataloging and systems in my degree, I am greatly intrigued by ILL. At my last review my boss asked me what interested me the most about my job. My answer was problem solving. I love it when someone hands me a problem or a question and then sends me off to discover the answer. Now, this does lead to a fair amount of frustration, but the result is so rewarding. I feel in cataloging the problem I'm trying to solve is "How do I represent this [book, serial, website, pony, atom] in this system so people will actually be able to find it and use it?" What a great question! It means I need to consider the users, the world they're in, the library I'm in and the limits and requirements of our systems, the rules and suggestions that others have created, and then an end product. Admittedly I'm a baby cataloger (editing established MARC and downloading into a local system), but the possibility is there.

ILL presents a similar sort of challenge - namely how do I decipher what it is the patron wants and how do I get it to them as quickly and cheaply as possible. Sometimes that does mean "I'm sorry, you will have to go downstairs and use the paper copy we have". Or it means spending fifteen minutes waiting for the NLM catalog to load (does it seriously need to be that slow?). Sometimes it means that I'm recreating their citation searching. Few things in life are as satisfying as finding what the patron wanted freely online and then sending them an email saying "Here is is right now and it's free". There are judgment calls to be made too - do I try to send this out or do I use a supplier? Do I cancel this request or do we try to see if we can get it? It's constantly piecing the puzzle together, since for articles we have a longer workflow that means I'm checking copyright, our catalog, the need by date, and then OCLC itself before sending out the request.

The conference made me decide to stick more systems, because I realized how much work I can do there to make ILL better (libraries, please do your Local Holdings Records. You will save us all a lot of time, including yourself when you need to cancel requests for things you've never owned). Cyril's lecture on the IDS Project and the GIST form and the future of ILL was eyeopening. In LIS 520 it was suggested that we can and should view consortia borrowing and ILL as an extension of the library's collection. It's stuff that we can provide to the patron, so we've "collected it" for them. Leading to ideas on cooperative collection development etc. But what the IDS project shows is that we can increasingly move towards that global system Sam Sayre is constantly talking about. That project is what could bring me back to NY. A large group of libraries who have just decided that they're going to work more closely to improve their ILL borrowing. It's magnificent. And they've created such great systems (a connecting database of all of the ISSNs and holdings so article requests can be routed with little intervention). What's also fascinating is that this is really a sort of informal gathering of libraries, all with a clear drive and desire to borrow and share.

But the GIST request form - which lies on top of the standard Illiad request form - is what really set my mind spinning. With this form, the role of collection development goes straight into the hands of the users - a frightening thought at first. This isn't the librarian mulling over suggestions or making educated guesses as to what the library needs. When a request is brought into the system, the library can decide to request or to buy - depending on which seems to be the cheapest option or the best for the library's collection. ILL and Acquisitions merging together into a larger workflow, which is entirely intuitive if you do work off the assumption that both are just workflows for bringing material into the library's collection and thus into the hands of the users. This blows my mind because it's one of those things that appears obvious, but that I couldn't have thought of in a million years. It is an act of faith and it is brought about by the idea that libraries are weeding at an incredible rate, so the cost of used books will be negligible for awhile.

I'm already starting to wonder how I can insert myself into this transition in the future.

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