Having hot-footed back from the Interlend 05 Conference in Swansea, I thought I would post on my brief sojourn there.
I was very grateful that the FIL committee invited me to speak at the event, and it turned out to be a very interesting experience for me, so I hope the same can also be said for the audience.
I was invited to present the findings of a report that Talis and The Combined Regions commissioned last year. The report entitled “A Review of the Future of Resource Sharing and Interlending” can be found on our website. The report is focussed on trends within UK interlending, and is predominantly concerned with the public sector, although the nature of interlending dictates that the HE sector was referred to throughout.
There were two key issues that resonated with the audience and which really stimulated some lively debate at the end of my session.
1) First of all, the report states:
“Because no single body or co-operative organisation is taking a national lead regarding ILL in public libraries, a plethora of uncoordinated initiatives is underway within the interlending sphere. This is not necessarily a disadvantage but does risk duplication and unnecessary competition. There is, however, no strategic context for development to which there is broad agreement. The major players who could be national leaders have taken policy decisions to be providers of services, or plead lack of funds to sponsor developments, or are simply waiting for someone else to step forward. This vacuum is unhelpful and potentially dangerous in terms of the future of development of ILL services in the public library sector.”
This vacuum was widely discussed by delegates. The general feeling amongst delegates was that unless DCMS stepped forward to take an active role in coordinating activity at a national level and across sectors – public and HE, then interlending activity in the UK, will continue to be difficult. A definite role there then for various library bodies..like FIL, CONARLS, SCL, TCR et al to start lobbying government to take an interest in resource sharing.
It makes sense to do it now, the timing has never been more important. Why? Because ILL has in the past beenlargely perceived as a backroom activity, not meriting attention at a strategic level. I think this perception has to change. With Google, Yahoo, MSN and other search companies now able to crawl over library catalogues on the web and display their contents (look at OpenWorldCat as an example of this), it is only a matter of time before web users start requesting access to some of this stuff! Suddenly resource sharing takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes a web front-end activity. So, perhaps if the UK Government were to actually engage in some joined up thinking as they have done in Denmark, we may see a really positive outcome soon to the current predicament we find ourselves in.
On the subject of Denmark, Poul Erlandsen gave a really interesting and informative Keynote speech on the current developments in Denmark, very refreshing to see resource sharing being backed at the highest level by government.
2) The second theme which really struck a chord – particularly with the public library members in the audience was the rift between public library ILL service and HE services. The Report exposed that some (but by no means all) HE and FE libraries were sending undergraduates (usually first year students) to public libraries to make ILL requests. Why? Because their own ILL policy restricts them from making ILL requests on the student’s behalf.
Couple this trend, with the fact that so many HE libraries are unwilling to have their holdings data displayed in union catalogues like UnityWeb to assist in ILL activity, and you get a huge burden on public libraries to satisfy requests, and incidentally they are also picking up the tab.
When this point was raised at the conference, some academic librarians questioned, whether undergraduates – particularly first year students – really needed to be making interlending requests. Surely, they could get what they needed from the range of resources available in their academic library? Its an interesting point, but as somebody pointed out, students do go home in the holidays and they want to try and get hold of materials sometimes from their closest point of access. Secondly, should we really be questioning why students are doing this? If they are doing it, then we should accept this and try and find ways to share the burden across the HE and public sector, rather than leaving the few to shoulder the burden of requests.
Again, I think more joined up thinking between HE and the public library sector could make a huge difference in resolving these issues. If we are truly meant to be a knowledge economy, and if we are placing greater importance on the acquisition of knowledge, we have to tackle these practical issues to stop impeding progress.
I can’t end this blog without saying that system vendors do themselves come in for their fair share of criticism. It is all very well to talk about collaboration, but where are the collaborative efforts of system vendors to make the systems used in interlending more interoperable? I had to hold my hands up to this one and say that we have been guilty in the past at not working with other suppliers in the community to ensure that workflow efficiencies could be achieved.
But, times are changing…and we issued a general invitation at the Conference to talk with any system vendor with a stake in resource sharing activity, to come and talk to us. And, we shall definitely be talking with like-minded vendors to ensure that greater service benefits can be realised.