Lorcan Dempsey has a thoughtful post Discovery and disclosure, about making your content visible (disclosing its availability) in as many venues as possible.
As I indicated in a previous post, I think libraries are having a hard time thinking about availability, discoverability and creativity in an online world.
To me it is useful to understand these as a workflow:
- create content
- discover content
- get content (find out where it is available)
I am going to set creativity aside again, since I don't think libraries perceive they have a major role as e.g. video studios, audio recording studios, pottery studios etc.
I think the key is to understand that people always want to get (this is sometimes termed as "people want to find, not to search"). In the physical world, the library is a logical starting point for discovery, since it will also be the place where you get most of the content.
And lets be clear: the discovery process in the physical world is both complex and often unsatisfactory. The card catalogue plays a role, the physical shelving and proximity of the books plays a role, and the staff are essential. But a card catalogue is a pretty thin metadata source - there's a limit to how hard you can make those few items of data work.
Now, lets move to the online world. The workflow (I briefly wrote "worldflow") is the same, but the individual steps use different technologies in different locations. Again skipping creativity. As long as there is "enough" content online, the discovery will start online.
And, this is critical, it will start at whatever site offers the best discovery experience. Now, what data would you rather be mining: thin card catalogue data where the model is (or was until recently) exact title match, or rich full-text data that includes a web of interconnections.
Now remember, this discovery is just a starting point. Libraries bemoan losing the search experience to Google. But that's a false perception. How long are you actually on Google? Five seconds before you click on the first result? Less? It's not like Google has captured the user experience. Google is a brief stopover on the way to the web. What people want is the third step in the workflow: actually getting the content immediately from the web.
As long as you understand the library's role online as making content available, you can see there is still a role for the library to play. But, understand that people want immediate gratification: to the extent that the library can deliver immediate full text, they will be most interested.
Also understand, as I mentioned previously, that people are no longer interested in the book as container, they are interested in the book as content. That's why full-text search is so important.
Let's compare the user experience on the query xml soap outsourcing on WorldCat and Google Book Search
No results were found for: 'xml soap outsourcing'
1 - 10 with 26 pages
That is the critical difference in discoverability betwen library catalogue driven systems, and full-text search systems. I assert you literally can't make the cat data work hard enough to approach the discoverability experience offered by Google and Amazon. Therefore, surrender, and reposition yourselves within the workflow.
Let's explore this further. In the physical world, existence + location = availability.
If the library can tell you "we have Five Fists of Science" and it's on shelf X, or on loan and due back on date Y, it's available.
Available for you to come in person to the library and physically get.
Online availability is different.
Online existence + deliverability = availability.
It doesn't suffice simply to know that a book is in the library, what I want to know is when the book (or its contents) can come to me. That means online availability includes delivery options as a crucial element.
Can I get it immediately on my desktop as an e-book and/or audiobook? Can I have it on all my mobile devices? Can I get the book from the library in the mail? Can I get it couriered to me today? Can it be delivered with my newspaper tomorrow morning? Can I get it from Amazon? Can I get it used from Abebooks or Alibris? Does someone who lives near me have a copy? Is it on Project Gutenberg? Available as a book-on-demand printed copy? Can someone come read it to me? Can someone read it to me over the telephone? Is there a book club that is covering it? Can someone explain it to me? ...
You can see that in the online world, you're no longer in the warehousing business. You're in the logistics and collaborative partnership business. You have to decide where your library should fit, are you a single one of the above options, or are you an enabler for all of them?
There is no logic, to me, in the library trying to run this supply chain. I think libraries need to outsource and insource - connect out to partners as well as let them connect in to you.
What's your delivery strategy?
Have you considered partnering with:
- your postal service
- local and national couriers, e.g. FedEx and UPS
- other local delivery services, like your local newspapers
- volunteer organizations
- ebook and audiobook providers
- mobile device providers
- Google, Amazon, AbeBooks, Alibris, WorldCat, LibraryThing, Project Gutenberg, ...
I see WorldCat is making some tiny steps in this direction, offering the option to order from Amazon.com, and to even provide the affiliate money to a chosen library. Both of these are however US-only options. Amazon.ca and Canadian postal codes do not appear to be an option.
Steve Cohen also makes a good point that even if a book is available in a WorldCat library, you may not have permission to get it.