OCLC, the library vendor run by librarians, continues to push its services and the services of the libraries it serves into a more demanding user environment. By the standards of an internet age, its speed may seem more evolutionary than revolutionary, but its pace is steady and its direction consistent. After several years of pilot projects, it has officially committed to a service called WorldCat Direct that can deliver books directly to patrons in their homes and offices. Another new pilot project will test direct delivery of full-text articles in PDF formats. Libraries licensing digitized books through ebrary can expect to find the ebrary catalog integrated into WorldCat. Down the road, libraries may even see the application of "recommender engine" technology to WorldCat data, leading to an ability to generate automatic recommendations and reading lists. (As reported in a recent NewsBreak, ebrary already has begun work on building recommendation features into its collection, a feature much easier to implement considering the unlimited access offered to subscribing libraries' patrons.) And, oh yes. You can also now reach WorldCat on Twitter.
According to Tony Melvyn, product manager, OCLC WorldCat Resource Sharing, the new WorldCat Direct service has had "a long evolution." OCLC began testing the idea of home delivery with the Montana Home Delivery/NCIP Pilot Project (June 2007-May2008). More than ten public libraries in Montana participated in the study designed to test best practices, cost issues, etc. However, Melvyn stated, "we needed a more thorough study that would work across different types of libraries. That second study ended 18 months ago. It involved volunteer libraries from two main groups- public libraries and academics-of different sizes-small, medium, and large. The public libraries saw the value from the perspective of offering added service to patrons, while the academic institutions saw the value to distance learning." Though the Montana project had tapped into participating library collections, the second project worked with Better World Books (aka Qumpus, Inc.), an Indiana-based online bookstore that defines itself as "the online bookstore with a soul", a social enterprise that supports worldwide literacy efforts and also draws much of its used book collection from library weedings.
So how does WorldCat Direct work? OCLC tags the WorldCat entries matching the 2.5 million new and used books made available from Better World Books' six million-plus inventory of used and new books with one of two tags. The BWBKS tag covers the majority of books and indicates a $15 charge, while the QUICK tag applies to newer books and carries a $25 fee. Participating libraries pay the fee through the Interlibrary Loan Fee Management (IFM) feature in WorldCat Resource Sharing. According to Melvyn, WorldCat Direct is open to "U.S. OCLC members only, no overseas or Canadian at this point. In the U.S. maybe 8,500 plus libraries participate in WorldCat Resource Sharing." The service is subscription-based. As Melvyn describes the IFM service, libraries estimate their interlibrary loan usage for which OCLC gives them a subscription quote and then divides it into 12 equal monthly payments "plus an access fee for cataloging and resource sharing After the year is past, if the amount of usage is less or up then we reset the fee and go ahead."
The bill for payment falls on the participating library. Melvyn made that perfectly clear. "The borrowing library is responsible, including for ‘lost' books [unreturned by patron]." If the library wants to get payment for using WorldCat Direct from the patron, that is the library's choice and its job to execute. Melvyn thought that-at least initially-"libraries will probably only make it available to staff who will decide on the home or office delivery." However, if the library wants to make direct unmediated patron requests for the service an option, for example, in the cases of virtual universities, that will be the library's decision, according to Melvyn.
When OCLC's WorldCat Resource Sharing receives a form requesting patron delivery, "it checks the requesting library's profile to find out if it is WorldCat Direct-enabled," said Melvyn. The borrowing library designates the patron's address as the shipping address. OCLC forwards the request to Better World Books and notifies the patron that the book is coming from Better World Books. The library can monitor the transaction by checking the record status. The book arrives with a prepaid mailer for returning the book along with a card promoting the library, OCLC, and Better World Books. In fact, according to Melvyn, if the patron decides he/she want to keep the book (which is on a 30-day, non-renewable lending period), the card also carries a toll free number for calling Better World Books to perform a credit-card purchase. When the book is returned and/or payment cleared, Better World Books and OCLC "scrub" the records for privacy protection.
Although at present the WorldCat Direct service only uses books from Better World Books, Melvyn assured me that other online bookstores are definitely "on the table" if the service, which only went into production at the end of May proves successful. "It's definitely viable. We already have other vendors, e.g., Alibris. We might even sell books on the OCLC service."
WorldCat Loads ebrary
While the WorldCat Direct service applies only to the transmission of print books and does not involve the physical collections of participating libraries, a new arrangement will integrate service for digital books licensed by many libraries into WorldCat. OCLC will soon begin adding records for some 170,000 ebooks from the ebrary catalog into WorldCat with links to the ebrary platform. Libraries subscribing to ebrary can have the holdings set automatically for relevant records. Users authenticated for WorldCat Local service will then be able to link directly to ebrary ebooks from the WorldCat records. If WorldCat.org users search and find an ebrary ebook of interest, they can read a preview and contact their library to find out how to access it. Ebrary also can host digitized content provided by libraries, e.g., theses, dissertations, special collections, and other digital documents.
Commenting on the announcement, Chip Nilges, OCLC vice president for business development, stated, "OCLC continues to partner with organizations to improve the ability of WorldCat to point to all types of collections, such as Google Books, the HathiTrust Digital Library, database providers, and ebook providers such as ebrary. We will continue to work with partners to maximize the visibility and value of libraries' full collections."
(By the way, Credo Reference has announced integration of ebrary content listings within their 9,000 Credo Topic Pages customized to library licensed ebrary content.)
Coming Soon?? Direct Request for Articles
OCLC has a pilot project underway with the IDS project and Atlas Systems to automate the delivery of full-text articles in PDF format. The project will build knowledgebases and electronic rights management tools into WorldCat that will expedite delivery through Atlas' ILLiad. Melvyn sees this effort as "a continuation of OCLC's push to move interlibrary loan to the patron level." He describes the goal of the project as building "a knowledgebase of knowledgebases from member libraries. Members would add information from their SFX/Serials Solutions knowledgebases to give us basic information on which libraries license which databases by journal title. A license manager would then connect to the knowledgebase and let the library tell OCLC which ones can handle an interlibrary loan for an article and which can't. We'd have all the information needed to identify by title and find which libraries have interlibrary loan rights in their licensed digitized journals. Some publishers won't give such rights; some insist that libraries print from a scan and mail. Lenders could choose to charge or not. One consortium already in the pilot charges outsiders to the consortium, for example. We'd be able to send requests from patrons all the way through the interlibrary loan process with minimal mediation from the borrowing side. A deep link to the actual PDF would let the user click to the item or we could email the PDF or transmit it to ILLiad or Ariel. If the publishers insist on print and mail, then we could do that."
The pilot project should begin in mid-July, according to Melvyn. "Several libraries are already involved, having come on board in the last six to eight weeks. I hope to have it ready for the fall semester. It's an academic library kind of thing. Public libraries don't do a lot of that kind of document delivery. We have geared the pilot to free lending relationships. We're looking at more libraries. Once libraries know who offers interlibrary loan for free, they can manage it through our services. Checks of the knowledgebase will find a list of libraries then go back reach for the free libraries first." However, Melvyn did point out that the pilot would not focus on a knowledgebase working at the article level, just the journal title.
Down the Road
For targeting individual items to individual patrons' needs, you need another kind of technology and more information. OCLC Research has announced a multi-year, collaborative project with the University of Sheffield funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. The 3 year joint Doctoral Award will explore using library catalogs to build recommender systems based on the requirements and preferences of users. Two lecturers-Dr. Paul Clough and Ms. Barbara Sen-from the Information School at the University will join with Dr. Lynn Silipigni Connaway senior research scientist at OCLC and former vice president of Research and Library Systems at the NetLibrary division of OCLC, the ebook service recently sold by OCLC to EBSCO.
While databases servicing the content libraries provide, particularly academic libraries, often contain recommendation features ("More Like This"), these are traditionally based on metadata, behaving like mini-searches. Recommender engines such as those used by Amazon.com rely on usage patterns ("Frequently Bought Together," "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought"). The project would look at building recommender systems that could retrieve journals, books, digital media, and video records of interest using the "world's largest library catalog" (or "catalogue" for the Sheffield crowd). As a rule, the broader the base-e.g., extending beyond one institution-the more effective the recommending.
However, this is no slam-dunk project. Connaway remarked more than once during an interview that not all research projects succeed. However, she hoped for the best. "This is not new for us. We've laid the groundwork with testing data and interviewing users already for the past several years. We've worked with some large libraries with anonymized circulation records-no demographics even-just testing circulation data within subject ranges. When we combine library holdings data in WorldCat so the algorithm covers both holdings for titles combined with circulation, it becomes much more relevant."
The project is very demanding. "It takes a lot of time to massage the data. Librarians have to normalize and scrub the data. The big question is how we would get a system into operational production, all of which has to be automated. Right now some of the work is manual. We might not be able to automate the process completely. But we're working with multiple ebook providers too. The more digital content we have the better."
As for reaching WorldCat on Twitter, go to #Ask4Stuff. For details, try http://community.oclc.org/coop_config/mt-tb.cgi/10et\ and, if you have thoughts or comments on this experiment, send them to OCLCiLab@gmail.com.