Building a Business Plan for Earth's Biggest Library

By Hoffman, David | Information Today, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Building a Business Plan for Earth's Biggest Library


Hoffman, David, Information Today


After the splash that Los Angeles County Public Library's Steve Coffman made with his March 1999 Searcher magazine article "Building Earth's Largest Library"-- for which he was just awarded Bell & Howell Information and Learning's 1999 Excellence in Writing Award, by the way-- Internet Librarian conference organizers decided to help keep the ball rolling with an all-day track devoted to the concept. Coffman was there, front and center, to moderate through a day of practical-minded discussions. Session titles--each prefaced with the question "How Would It Work?"--included Building the Catalog and Inventory System, Building an Ordering and Shipping System, and Calculating Costs and Revenues.

Coffman opened by framing the concept laid out in his article: the mega-collection of book titles and other items (43 million of them); the enhanced catalog (think Amazon.com-like "finding" and "discovery" features); the circulation system plus delivery and return logistics; and cost and funding issues.

What followed was a series of sessions in which speakers and audience members defined the logistical scope, proposed numbers and models for funding, and debated the feasibility and, intermittently, the philosophical validity of the project. Coffman brought the experience of experts to bear. Just to name a few, we heard from Terry Noreault, director of the office of research at OCLC, an institution that, in Coffman's words, "has the necessary parts [for such a project], but scattered around"; Bob Doran, of Baker & Taylor's Electronic Business Information Services--which was heavily involved in the construction of some of Amazon. …

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