Magazine article Information Today

Selling Circulation Records (Well, Almost)

Magazine article Information Today

Selling Circulation Records (Well, Almost)

Article excerpt

Traditionally, information professionals, from those working in libraries to those working with information industry vendors, have spent most of their careers worrying about two things: content and users. But whether an info pro works on the selling or the buying side, the eternal struggle for both remains figuring out what content will appeal to users.

The newer vendors, such as Amazon or Google or any sizable ecommerce concern, automate the prediction process by analyzing individual purchases or search histories and any other customer data they can get. Their algorithmic mock reference interviews may even include imagining what individual customers might like (but never asked for) by comparing the activities of overlapping histories from other customers. Basically, the content that's most precious to online vendors these days seems to be customer data.

And that brings us to library circulation records. Decades ago, when Amazon was just a baby, I attended a meeting where a speaker explained this odd new development. Someone in the audience (OK, it was me) asked what data such a content promotion required. The speaker told us that all we would need was a clear identification for each content item and for each user. For one celestial moment, I heard the angels sing: card catalog/circulation record. But then I plummeted to Earth when I realized that librarians can't promote individual items when the principle of buy-one-read-many prohibited any librarians from attempting to lure patrons with the promise of a specific item's availability. Sigh.

Targeted Communication

But these days, we have ebooks; in the case of some ebook suppliers, we actually have multiple concurrent user availability, which changes the situation considerably. And even for print books, we could check circulation records and create a hold or a reserve for an item, particularly if we were sending customized announcements to individual patrons based on individual analysis of their interests. There wouldn't be a "C'mon down and read the nation's hottest bestseller" announcement sent to all, but rather, it would be a discreet, targeted, "I know what you like" communication.

Perhaps those circulation records of ours could do more good for our patrons and maybe do some good for libraries working with vendors. Of course, librarians are sworn to an ALA blood oath not to reveal individual circulation information. …

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