January/February, 2000
Volume 18 Numbers 1/2


Earth's Largest Library Concept Causes Controversy And Inspiration


New Column! Web Citings

FEDLINK Technical Notes Changes Publishing Frequency

Editorial Staff

Earth's Largest Library Concept Causes Controversy And Inspiration

The Indiana Cooperative Library Services Authority (INCOLSA) sponsored and produced Earth's Largest Library, a one-hour long satellite teleconference, which FEDLINK downlinked live in conjunction with the Fall FEDLINK Membership Meeting last October. Steve Coffman, the author of the controversial article, "Building Earth's Largest Library," which appeared in the March 1999 issue of Searcher, spoke with great enthusiasm and conviction about his novel philosophy. His unusual approach to revolutionizing the nation's library system raises fundamental issues about the purpose of libraries and how they should be funded and operated.

Coffman is the Director of FYI, the fee-based business information service of the County of Los Angeles Public Library, and an editor of ALA's new Internet Plus Directory of Express Library Services. Since 1989, Coffman and the staff of FYI have used innovative approaches to the reference and research work of public libraries. FYI developed standardized business reference products abd functional library e-commerce sites on the Internet, outsourced selected research and reference work to major university libraries, and created several successful library/vendor partnerships. Recently Coffman created FYI Government Information Services to provide online municipal information products and services to Los Angeles County and 54 other city governments.

Public Libraries/Private Bookstores

Coffman's approach to reinventing the current library system by creating a single library based on the Amazon.com model is a reflection of his own experiences and convictions. He recalled his unsuccessful attempts at locating a copy of a 1920's book, the Flaming Arrow, at several public libraries in the U.S. and Canada. He contacted 11 libraries and discovered that none of these libraries had that book on their shelves. Many public library collections are small, with an average of 25,OOO titles on the shelf; but even larger libraries cannot stock all titles requested by patrons. Coffman said that public libraries fail to stock or locate patron requests more than 50 percent of the time.

Although the libraries he contacted in his search could have located the book through OCLC records and requested it through Inter Library Loan (ILL), only one of the libraries made the request. Coffman felt the reason why only one library used ILL was because it requires searching a separate catalog, involves extra procedures, and takes more time. Since ILL requests account for less than 3 percent of the total circulation volume in all libraries, he compared public libraries with private bookstores, that stock approximately 20,000 titles and can also special order items. For bookstores, ordering from Books in Print also requires more time and special handling than searching one catalog for a particular item.

Amazon.com Model

With these issues in mind, Coffman challenged the teleconference audience by posing several questions:

  • What if we ran our libraries like Amazon.com runs its online bookstore?
  • What if we could select any title from among the 40 million items in the OCLC WorldCat, and order any title, at any time, from one catalog?
  • What if we could stock only the most commonly requested titles and rely on other libraries, wholesalers, and publishers to supply the rest?
  • What if we used the Internet, electronic delivery and low cost shipping to deliver titles to library patrons and if need be, charge them for this service?

Coffman spoke about the emergence of Amazon.com two years ago, revolutionizing the ordering, purchasing, and delivery of books. The advantage of Amazon.com's "earth's largest bookstore" was that any book could be ordered via the Web, on a desktop computer at home or at the office, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, using just one catalog. Amazon.com needed to stock only a limited number of popular books in its warehouses, ordering other items that could be delivered within a few days. Because Amazon.com's bottom line was to offer more selections to the client in a more convenient way, a single record contains the complete inventory of any particular publication, regardless of location.

Coffman then discussed how libraries might apply the Amazon.com model to created the earth's largest library. Once adopted, the Amazon model would allow each library to house its own local collection and order everything else from one basic catalog. This basic catalog would contain approximately 43 million titles, combining the records of OCLC's WorldCat, Books in Print and other consortia, to become the single largest library in the world. Coffman claimed that a single catalog would be much easier to use and would make library resources easily accessible from anywhere in the world. Library patrons could than check out books online and have them delivered to their local library or to their individual homes.

Collateral Benefits

Coffman anticipated that the collateral benefits of the earth's largest library would be seen in the fields of cataloging, collection development, and library automation. First, the cost of library automation systems for individual libraries would become much lower. In the cataloging area, one complete bibliographic record would be required for every title, supplemented with local content and holdings data. One catalog would also reduce the need for limited bibliographic records, lower catalog backlogs, eliminate linked systems, and require less local technical services. He also envisioned improved collection development because one catalog and a faster delivery method would help create a single large collection. Fewer books would take less shelf space and save collection development budgets. With a lower collection failure rate and better centralized collection development, local collections would concentrate their holdings on more popular items such as school materials and books of local interest.

The earth's largest library would also improve library automation by using one catalog and one book circulation and check out system. Interlibrary loan functions would also play a role with customer and item status records maintained locally for privacy. Libraries and information centers would also spend less money for software and hardware, and reduce the size of their local automation systems staff. For example, the current cost of library automation systems for 96 public libraries and 94 academic libraries is 475 million dollars per year; the earth's largest library concept would reduce annual costs to 1.1 million dollars (or less than $6,000 per library) with a streamlined automation system implemented in each library.

Quality of Library Collections

Although some librarians question whether the earth's largest library would actually work in the real world, Coffman cited several examples of library systems already using the model on a smaller scale. These include library systems such as Ohiolink, IlliNet, the Library of California, and a few other state and regional library consortia. Some critics also claim that the quality of the library collections would deteriorate in the earth's largest library concept. Coffman counters that Amazon.com has already proved that none of the above needs to be true, especially since no book would ever be considered to be out of print and a backlist would always be available.

Pass Through Sales

To fund and subsidize the earth's largest library, Coffman suggested pass through sales, delivery and convenience fees, used book sales, subscription fees for outside users, and underwriting. If the new system still costs too much, Coffman believes that it is better to offer the services of the earth's largest library to all library patrons, even at the risk of charging patrons for some of its services.

For more information on Coffman's proposals and his critics, or to order copies of the video teleconference, visit INCOLSA's Web site link to the teleconference at http://www.incolsa.net/HTML/teleconf/coff.htm.



PAIS and OCLC Merge

OCLC and Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS) have finalized negotiations to merge the two organizations, effective Jan. 1, 2000. Already serving over 36,000 libraries in 74 countries, OCLC's merger with PAIS, which publishes the PAIS International database, allows members new access to over 460,000 records of abstracted and indexed literature from over 120 countries to member libraries. The joining of resources of the two entities is expected to support the enhancement of the PAIS database, which is currently available via the OCLC FirstSearch service.

"This alliance will benefit libraries, PAIS and OCLC," said Jay Jordan, OCLC president and CEO. "It will provide libraries with low-cost access to global content in the social sciences; it will allow us to repackage the PAIS abstracts and indexes and link them to WorldCat to create greater value; and it will bring important editorial skill sets to OCLC."

Based in New York City, PAIS is a not-for-profit educational corporation founded in 1914 by librarians; chartered in 1954 by the Board of Regents, Education Department, State of New York; and dedicated to providing better access to the literature of public affairs-current issues and actions that affect world communities, countries, people and governments. The PAIS International database contains records abstracted and indexed from literature originally published in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. PAIS publishes indexes and abstracts that help people identify and locate documents about important political, economic and social issues in public debate throughout the world. More information about PAIS is available at http://www.csa.com/factsheets/pais-set-c.php.

OCLC Board Studies Strategic Directions and Governance, Appoints Special Advisory Council

The OCLC Board of Trustees has hired the consulting firm of Arthur D. Little to study OCLC's strategic directions and governance structure. The board has also appointed a special advisory council to guide and direct the study.

"In the 21st century, OCLC's vision is to be the leading global library cooperative," said William Crowe, chair of the OCLC Board of Trustees, and Spencer Librarian, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas. "We want to help libraries serve people by providing economical access to knowledge through innovation and collaboration. The study will help us determine how OCLC can best organize its governance to achieve this global vision."

According to Crowe, the consultant, in his study of strategic directions and governance, began meeting early in the year with the OCLC Board of Trustees, OCLC Users Council, Strategic Directions and Governance Advisory Council, OCLC-affiliated U.S. regional networks, international distributors, OCLC participating libraries, and libraries that do not currently use OCLC services. By examining environmental factors likely to have an impact on OCLC, including the economic environment for libraries, the rapid development of the Web, telecommunications and computers, and initiatives by commercial entities to provide information services directly to end users, the consultant will identify possible roles for OCLC in the evolving global library and information infrastructure and recommend a governance structure appropriate to OCLC's public purpose.

The advisory council will review and revise the consultant's recommendations and present them to the OCLC Board of Trustees for action at its November 2000 meeting. Should the board recommend any changes in the OCLC articles of incorporation and code of regulations as a result of the study, it will require ratification by the OCLC Users Council.

The Strategic Directions and Governance Advisory Council consists of leaders from the library and information community. Nancy Eaton, Dean of University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University, and member, OCLC Board of Trustees, is chair of the advisory council. Eaton has served on the OCLC Board of Trustees since 1987, and was board chair from 1993-1996. She was elected to the board by the OCLC Users Council, where she served as a delegate from 1980-1981 and 1986-1989.

Other members of the advisory council are: Larry Alford, Senior Associate University Librarian, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and President-elect, OCLC Users Council; Min-min Chang, Director, Library of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Christine Deschamps, President, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, and Member, OCLC Board of Trustees; Brian Follett, Vice Chancellor, University of Warwick, United Kingdom; Maurice Glicksman, Professor, Division of Engineering, Brown University, and member, OCLC Board of Trustees; Martin Gomez, Director, Brooklyn Public Library, New York; Deanna Marcum, President, Council on Library and Information Resources; Kate Nevins, Executive Director, SOLINET, and Chair, Regional OCLC Network Directors Advisory Committee; Sara Ann Parker, State Librarian, Missouri State Library; Winston Tabb, Associate Librarian, Library of Congress; and Jonathan Zittrain, Executive Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Lecturer, Harvard Law School.

Serving as ex officio members of the advisory council are Cees Datema, Chair, Pica Foundation, and the following members of OCLC senior management: Jay Jordan, President and CEO; Jim Houfek, Vice President and General Counsel; George Needham, Vice President, Member Services; and Phyllis Spies, Vice President, Worldwide Library Services.

Arthur D. Little was also the consulting firm that helped develop OCLC's present governance structure, which was adopted in 1977. That structure consists of general members, Users Council and Board of Trustees. General members are those libraries that contribute all their current Roman-alphabet cataloging to WorldCat (the OCLC Online Union Catalog). There are nearly 9,000 general members of OCLC. An additional 27,000 libraries use various OCLC services such as Interlibrary Loan, FirstSearch and SiteSearch but do not contribute all their current Roman-alphabet cataloging to WorldCat and are classified as participants rather than members.

General members elect 60 delegates to the OCLC Users Council. Currently, the apportionment of delegates among networks and service centers is based on cataloging and interlibrary loan activity. The Users Council meets three times a year to provide advice and counsel to OCLC; its principal governance responsibilities are to elect six members of the OCLC Board of Trustees and to ratify changes in the articles of incorporation and code of regulations of OCLC.

The 15-member OCLC Board of Trustees has fiduciary and policy-setting responsibility for the corporation. Six trustees are elected by the Users Council, eight are elected by the board itself, and the president and chief executive officer of OCLC serves as a trustee by virtue of the office. Three of the eight trustees elected by the board must be members of the library profession.

GPO Produces 43 Millionth OCLC Record Number

On Dec. 14, the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), the largest single disseminator of U.S. Government publications, produced OCLC record number 43 million. The record was for "Federal Royalty Certainty Act: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Energy Research, Development, Production and Regulation of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, United States Senate, One Hundred Sixth Congress, first session, on S. 924…May 18, 1999."

Bob Luoma, one of 17 catalogers in GPO's Cataloging Branch, entered the record. "I had been entering records for about 30 minutes," said Mr. Luoma. "I noticed that there were a lot of nines showing up, but I didn't set out to hit it." Mr. Luoma said he did not mention getting the record until one of his fellow staff members wondered aloud who had hit it. Mr. Luoma has been with GPO for nine years.

The "Federal Royalty Certainty Act" is but one of more than 1 million U.S. Government publications that GPO makes accessible in paper, microfiche, CD-ROM, or online formats through nearly 1,350 federal depository libraries. Publications cataloged and disseminated by GPO provide information of current and enduring interest on a broad assortment of topics, including congressional documents, federal research, business, science, technology, statistical data, law, medicine and federal regulations. GPO cataloging records, maintained in thousands of library online public access catalogs, provide access to an ever-increasing number of online titles via GPO servers and to publications maintained at federal depository libraries.

"GPO's catalogers have a well-deserved sense of accomplishment for making U.S. Government publications accessible to the public," said Thomas A. Downing, chief, Cataloging Branch. "OCLC's persistent uniform resource locators, or PURLs, help these efforts by creating an environment for maintaining access to thousands of online works via GPO's server. As we look to the future, we will continue to meet national standards for cataloging U.S. government publications even as we work with other CORC participants to assist OCLC with developing new initiatives for capturing online information."

For more information concerning the Federal Depository Library Program and how to obtain access to the universe of government information available through GPO, visit the GPO Access Web site at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/index.html.



New From the FLICC Web Page

Need a quick reference on FEDLINK benefits and services? Ten Reasons to Use FEDLINK is now on the Web at http://www.loc.gov/flicc/ia/2000/reasons.pdf.

This two-page fact sheet presents the basic benefits and services available through FEDLINK in an easy-to-read format designed for those new to the program. The fact sheet outlines how FEDLINK assists members in acquiring goods and services, managing their accounts, and meeting federal regulations, all while saving time and money.

To read the file, you will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader plug-in for your browser. For information on Acrobat Reader or to download the file, go to http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep.html.

Preservation Manual Available Online or in Print

Northeast Document Conservation Center (NDCC) offers its Preservation of Library & Archival Materials: A Manual at http://www.nedcc.org/plam3/manhome.htm. The third edition of this online manual "provides basic and practical information for non-conservator staff of libraries, archives, and museums to plan and implement collections care programs. It is intended for those who must make decisions that affect preservation of collections, or who want to upgrade standards of care in order to better preserve materials." The manual is also now available in a print edition.

Citings Wanted

Have you just released a new resource on your Web site? Recently released or redesigned your home page? Want to share your latest news with other federal librarians? Please send information about your Web page by email to [email protected] so we can highlight your latest URL efforts here!


FEDLINK Technical Notes Changes Publishing Frequency

Beginning with this January/February Issue, FEDLINK Technical Notes will begin a bimonthly schedule. The change will allow us to do more in-depth reporting on issues important to our readers and save our members money! Each issue will continue with the volume series and have two numbers assigned so that there will be no changes in numbering.

In this issue we have also added a new regular feature "Web Citings" which will feature new developments on the FLICC/FEDLINK Web site and highlight new resources and information from our members' Web sites. If your agency is developing or building Web sites with new services or using innovative information technology, please send the details and your URL to [email protected].

We love to hear from our readers; so if there are areas you would like to see covered or have comments on the stories you read, please send letters to the editor by fax (202) 707-4825 or by email to [email protected].


Editorial Staff

FEDLINK Technical Notes is published by the Federal Library and Information Center Committee. Send suggestions of areas for FLICC attention or for inclusion in FEDLINK Technical Notes to:

FEDLINK Technical Notes
Federal Library and Information Center Committee
Library of Congress, 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20540-4935

Phone (202) 707-4800    Fax (202) 707-4818
Email: [email protected]    Web Site: http://www.loc.gov/flicc

FEDLINK Fiscal Operations:
Phone (202) 707-4900    Fax (202) 707-4999

Executive Director: Susan M. Tarr    Editor-In-Chief: Robin Hatziyannis
Contributing Writer: Irene Kost   
Editorial Assistant: Mitchell Harrison

FLICC was established in 1965 (as the Federal Library Committee) by the Library of Congress and the Bureau of the Budget for the purpose of concentrating the intellectual resources of the federal library and related information community. FLICC's mission is to foster excellence in federal library and information services through interagency cooperation and to provide guidance and direction for the Federal Library and Information Network (FEDLINK).


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