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But is it sane?

Earlier this month I attended the Charleston Conference, which focuses on issues in technical services. I attended a few years ago and the topics then were the emergence of e-books and e-journals, ERMs, federated searching and, of course, Google. While the topics haven’t changed much, the context was certainly different as we now know how significant the impact of these technologies has been. Patron driven acquisitions was a new highlight of the conference. Sites such as Amazon and Facebook clearly show us that patrons are used to getting what they want, quickly, and sharing their experience with EVERYONE. So, how does this translate into our business?

Rick Anderson from the University of Utah was the opening speaker. He attempted to address this question along with discussing what he sees as sane versus insane in libraries. Insanity: Doing the same thing repeatedly expecting different results. Raise your hand if you’ve seen this in your institution! So, what to do? Rick suggested that we stop trying to ANTICIPATE need but rather LISTEN. Our patrons are telling us what they want, whether it’s through purchase requests, suggestions or by referring to what is being borrowed internally and externally.

He talked more about ILL and loosely classified it into the insane category, which raised more than a few eyebrows. But I got his point. In an age of e-books, print on demand and document delivery, why are we pushing print back and forth? Is it cost effective? Is it timely? At his institution, they found one solution in the Espresso Book Machine. It’s pretty “sexy” as Rick described it. As he talked about clicking one button and watching it produce a whole book, complete with glossy cover, I had to agree. So much so, that I paid a visit to the vendor’s website. On Demand Books uses a definition to describe the product: “Espresso: something made to order, one at a time, at point of sale, quickly.” I can’t decide if I want a coffee or a book right now! But the concept is the same.Order it when you want it, in the quantity that’s needed, quickly. Of course, every new technology comes with a cost and it may not be economical now but it’s something to watch. So, is ILL insane? No. It is a necessity for many institutions but we must look ahead and continually ponder how to make access easier and faster.

No library conference would be complete without talking about the juggernaut that is Google. Rick suggests that Google’s success is due to “radical discoverability and access.” Attending some of the other sessions that talked about discovery layers, virtual services and simplifying metadata, I have to say I was encouraged and truly believe we are making many efforts to be more “radical” in what has been a very traditional profession.

The closing thought of Rick’s talk was finding your North Star. Meaning, think about ALL the things you’d like to see in your institution or personally in your career. The goal is not to reach the star but to use it as a guide to keep you oriented and moving forward. As I’m challenging myself to think about my north star, I encourage you to do the same and I look forward to seeing the results from all of us. Overall, the conference was a huge success and anyone interested in how new technologies are impacting acquisitions, serials and cataloging should plan to attend the next one if possible