Letter from the Executive Director, April 2022
Libraries rapidly change how they fulfill the needs of their patrons as the landscape shifts. As libraries moved to provide digital storage spaces, they adopted repository technology to provide storage services. As open access became an increasingly important method for distributing content, libraries stepped in to provide read-to-publish agreements, to smooth the transition to open access. With the expansion of data publishing and data management plans, librarians have stepped up to provide support to researchers on data availability options and metadata management expertise. When the pandemic struck, libraries pivoted to provide virtual access to an ever-greater slice of their resources through digital delivery to their communities, which couldn’t access the physical buildings. Looking forward, libraries are exploring other ways in which they can effectively serve their users in this new environment. One way in which institutions can do this is by working more collaboratively to ensure the best possible deployment of their resources to best serve their users.
In his closing keynote at the CNI meeting in San Diego, Lorcan Dempsey spoke about library service models and how they were tied to institutional missions and academic profiles. Some institutions were more focused on liberal arts teaching and others on research, while still others were focused on skills and workforce training. Dempsey connected libraries’ collections and services to institutional goals, which made obvious sense. He then went on to describe the roles of each group in the developing technology stack of content, repositories, data management, research assessment, and open access funding. He further viewed the contrasting role of the library as either drawing people inward—toward collections, toward services, toward resources—or sending the library outward, to open collections, by embedding librarians in workflows, and by connecting with other institutions. He ended by discussing elements of a collaborative environment that was described in a 2019 report he co-authored with Constance Malpas and Mark Sandler on the Big Ten Academic Alliance’s BIG Collective. This report describes the complexity and interconnectivity of libraries as they provide services to their users. It also describes the potential benefits and the many challenges of cooperative collections development.
Along these same lines, I also had the opportunity to speak about how libraries are trying to implement some of these transformations, during a session at CNI last week with Sebastian Hammer of IndexData and Boaz Nadav-Manes of Lehigh University. We discussed a proposal put forward for funding by NISO and NISO Voting Members, Lehigh University, and PALCI, in partnership with 28 other organizations. For the past eighteen months, a group of people from diverse organizations—individual libraries, consortia, publishers, and software providers—have been meeting to discuss how to advance collaborative collections in libraries. The goal of the proposal submitted and of the initiative overall is to support the development work necessary to build the infrastructure for cooperative collections development and management. This includes some technical middleware infrastructure, but equally important is the social and policy infrastructure that will enable the partners to work effectively together. The technical infrastructure would allow for cross-institutional discovery of what is available either to purchase or to lend, circulating items between systems, and assessing the use of items held across the network. It’s envisioned as middleware because it’s recognized that not every institution is running the same infrastructure stack, nor do we want to facilitate a new environment where the only organizations that can collaborate must be running the same infrastructure to work together. The social infrastructure would facilitate decision-making about collections development, help libraries distribute costs and other resources, and help manage governance of such a collaboration.
For years, institutions have sought to build their capacity to serve users through collaboration and resource sharing. It has been acknowledged repeatedly that institutions cannot collect everything their users want or need, but it’s also acknowledged that a significant portion of the materials they do collect are never used. In the digital realm, the focus has been on consortial license agreements with content or service providers. In the world of print resources, this has proven significantly more challenging. The costs of interlibrary loan are significant, and those structures are inefficient. Methods for moving physical items from one environment to another and then back again are wasteful. One way to address this might be through controlled digital lending. NISO began work earlier this year on another aspect of resource sharing, through a project on Controlled Digital Lending. We’re also involved in other resource sharing work both within NISO (on DDA, and physical delivery) and within the international standards community at ISO.
Collaboration among institutions requires technical interoperability, consistent terminology, and shared business practices. Each of those requires trust and coordination. Standards can be core elements of both things. This will be a significant area of work for NISO in the coming years, as the demands for greater collaboration grow. If you’re keen to get involved, please let us know!