Last Thursday, I attended a meeting of the Future of Resource Sharing Committee, a subcommittee of the Illinois State Library Advisory Committee, along with other representatives from RAILS, Heartland, and member libraries. (You can see the charges for these committees here).
We heard a presentation from Marshall Breeding, an independent technology consultant, about the current state of resource sharing technology and some future possibilities. He provided a lot of information about the state of the ILS marketplace, vendors with growing and shrinking customer bases, development work force supported by the various vendors, and other information all of which was very informative in understanding how the market place and the technology might be trending.
Marshall offered opinions and suggestions on how best for libraries to move forward and improve resource sharing. He shared his concerns about open source, based mostly on whether it is ready for large scale implementation and scalability; how well it works in the consortial environment; what are the development resources that libraries really need to invest in to get the most out of open source; and other questions like these.
He also strongly expressed the opinion that a single consortium is greatly preferred to multiple consortia and/or standalone libraries joining together through a discovery platform or direct consortial borrowing. He described the difficulty of getting the various platforms to work together and deemed the technology “fragile.”
There is no doubt in my mind that participation in a consortium is the best way for libraries to share resources; best for library finances and workflow and, most importantly, best for library users. However, I do think that there are issues of scalability with ILS software, which is an area where I disagree with Marshall. Is it really feasible for a thousand libraries, of different types, to share a single platform that provides a great user experience?
Catalog overlay products or discovery tools enhance resource sharing between existing consortia and standalone libraries. Are they a panacea? No. But if we can get one off the ground in RAILS, it will certainly improve resource sharing and may lead to more cooperation in general among the various consortia and stand alone libraries.
The RAILS Consortia Committee is going to be exploring the possibilities of a discovery overlay tool this year; we had our first meeting last week and a working group was formed to assist RAILS staff with the hiring of a consultant expert who will evaluate existing overlay projects and products that are currently working and available. Examples of these “virtual catalogs” exist currently in Massachusetts as the Massachusetts Virtual Catalog and in Michigan as MeLCat.
The main purpose of our library systems is to enhance resource sharing in Illinois. That is clearly stated in the Library System Act and it is certainly a personal passion of mine, as a lot of you know. I look forward to any enhancements that we can bring to resource sharing and the ability of Illinois residents and taxpayers to access the resources in Illinois libraries. We will continue to seek ways of bringing greater cooperation to and among Illinois library consortia so that we can make progress to an ideal future – whatever that may hold for us.