Sunday, May 07, 2006

What Would You Say? Re-engineering?

Rip away the tears,
Drink a hope to happy years,
And you may find,
A lifetime's passed you by.
...What would you say?
(“What Would You Say?” – Dave Matthews) [Wikipedia entry ; web site]

It was a great pleasure to have Cyril Oberlander, Director of Interlibrary Services, University of Virginia, visit with OCLC Research in conjunction with his attendance at the recent meeting of the OCLC Resource Sharing Advisory Committee. Alane and Cyril met at a conference this past Fall, and Alane put Cyril in touch with me to arrange for some quality time with OCLC Research while he was in Dublin.

(As an aside, OCLC is very fortunate to have several advisory committees. Three of the committees are composed of respected experts in various operational areas of library services and are selected through a process of nomination/consultation with OCLC’s Regional Service Providers, and a fourth, the Research Advisory Committee, is composed of invited scholars and researchers. These advisory committees provide valuable input into OCLC products, services, OCLC community guidelines, and research directions.)

Between Cyril’s own research, his innovative ideas about how libraries should leverage technology to enhance operational efficiency and better meet the needs of users, his interest in work underway at OCLC, and our interest in return in his work, we built a very full days’ itinerary for him. The day also included a rich and thought-provoking, wide-ranging presentation [ppt or speaker notes] from Cyril that merits a more capable distillation than yours truly has managed to do, but with due apologies, here are the high points in more my words than Cyril’s:
  1. Surface to succeed: Users will naturally seek to save their own time – the library is frequently only one option among many for discovering and acquiring satisfactory content. Our services need to visible and desirable vis-à-vis alternatives like iTunes, etc.

  2. Harness non-library sources: ILL traditionally networks the existing stock of library collections, but the Web makes extending the ILL network’s resource base to include the stock in online bookstores, online music vendors, etc. very feasible and desirable.

  3. Streamline delivery: Library approaches to delivering sought content must evolve. Often it’s cheaper – and faster – to buy used rather than borrow. We can significantly re-engineer the “delivery” piece of the discovery-to-delivery chain to automatically identify multiple options (e.g., buy e-book, buy physical book, borrow) and then based on cost, desired delivery window, etc. automatically supply via the cheapest, acceptable option.

  4. Sweat the small stuff later: While our traditional just-in-case inventorying processes made a choose-acquire-catalog workflow libraries’ approach of choice, just-in-time delivery patterns are better served by an acquire-choose-catalog workflow. Collection decisions can be made post-fulfillment for most lower-cost items – if the library doesn’t want to keep the item, buying and then selling or discarding is still faster and less expensive overall than traditional roundtrip ILL for a significant part of ILL traffic. It means some process adjustments for libraries, but the benefits can be large.

  5. Bend to win: Referencing a post by Lorcan, Cyril concurs with Lorcan that libraries must move from our longstanding expectation that users will modify their work-/learn-flows to interface with libraries’ delivery mechanisms. Rather libraries must meet the user where the user is by building library services that interface gracefully with users’ preferred discover-to-delivery patterns. This may well require reshaping traditional library operational boundaries and processes.

  6. Collaborate, educate, and innovate: Libraries in concert are powerful change agents and form impressive delivery networks, but they must evolve. We must invest in continuous improvement of staff skills, expanding and updating our own and our colleagues’ professional knowledge, and be willing to try the new and unfamiliar. Innovation is often best accomplished by empowering the many to make a few changes on a frequent basis. In short, encourage experimentation by staff. And be willing to throw some money at trials of promising but unproven technology that your staff is championing.

  7. Intelligent business requires business intelligence: Although not an explicit point in Cyril’s presentation, his extensive use of carefully compiled and analyzed data point up the value of good data to building evidence-based cases for change. So my observations from his observations: good numbers yield truth, and truth can drive constructive change.

Our thanks to Cyril for the excellent presentation and for his various conversations with various OCLC staff  – it was a very engaging visit for all concerned. If you have a chance to hear Cyril speak, do so (BTW he’ll be speaking at the PALINET ILL Conference 2006 May 11-12, 2006).

So, gentle readers, what library processes would you re-engineer?

(P.S. A special note of thanks to Matt Goldner and his staff for helping to arrange an extended trip for Cyril, and also to Bob Bolander for working to make the PowerPoint and speaker notes available. And my thanks as always to my colleagues in OCLC Research who trustingly assent to meetings-with-visitors I volunteer them to attend.)

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