Magazine article Information Today

Technologies for Sharing Library Resources

Magazine article Information Today

Technologies for Sharing Library Resources

Article excerpt

This strength-in-numbers approach helps libraries offer more services

The latest library trend is based on the need to form partnerships to share resources. Libraries must provide ever-increasing services without increasing their budgets or staff. We're challenged to deliver new suites of digital resources, as well as maintain our traditional operations and services.

In the digital age, the need to function efficiently, find cooperative arrangements, distribute services, and share resources has become an important component of the library's overall mission. In this column, I'll look at some of the technologies and methods that facilitate cooperative resource sharing and describe some approaches in very broad and general terms. In the sidebar, I've listed Web links to more detailed information.

Strategic Partnerships

Libraries can increase the services they offer to their users through cooperative alliances. With few exceptions, no one library can collect all the literature in all areas of interest and academic disciplines. It makes good sense then for them to form relationships and collection-development strategies. In such an alliance, each library collects in its specialty areas and makes a conscious decision not to purchase extensive materials in other areas. But for this strategy to work, libraries must implement effective and efficient ways for their users to gain access to the materials they need, even if those materials reside in a partner library rather than the users' local library.

Sharing a Common System

One of the basic technologies that supports resource sharing among library groups is an online union catalog that represents the collections of each of the individual libraries. In some cases, because all the libraries may employ the same library automation system, a single combined database might already exist. This is a typical library consortia model, through which users can easily search either the comprehensive union catalog or limit their queries to a single library. With this model, a library patron can use the automation system's basic circulation features to request an item not available locally but held in a remote library within the consortium.

The shared-system, union-catalog approach works well for libraries that are closely knit, or that share a common funding agency. Union catalogs are quite common. School districts, state university systems, and even many statewide, multi-type library consortia rely on this approach. Libraries that have the luxury of participating in a network that shares a common automation system gain a great technical infrastructure for sharing materials, performing cooperative cataloging, and employing strategic collection development.

Connecting Diverse Systems

Libraries that are more loosely related may want to share resources as well. Such a library group will likely not have a shared database, and each library may use a different automation system. In these cases, a "virtual union catalog" can be created. All the major library automation systems on the market support the Z39.50 search-and-retrieval standard. With the right software, you-can use Z39.50 to create a union catalog among a set of diverse library automation systems. Such software needs to function as a Z39.50 client, have the ability to execute a search on multiple servers simultaneously, and collate the results. Using the Z39.50 protocol, the virtual catalog software submits the user's search to each of the represented libraries' Z39.50 catalogs and gathers the resulting records. In a basic system, the results from each library can be presented to the user separately. In a more sophisticated environment, all the results are combined, duplicated, and sorted.

One of the important features of a virtual catalog is the display of not just the bibliographic information in the results, but also the circulation status of each item with detailed copy, location, and holdings information. …

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