Online Fundraising Resources Center


Implications for the Library

Copyright © 2000, Adam Corson-Finnerty

So Old Ivy is at a fork in the road, and could take either direction. But let's assume that Old Ivy decides to compete aggressively for new customers in cyberspace. What might be the implications for its Library?

There are several likely outcomes:

  1. First of all, the strength and availability of the school's "Digital Library" will assume great importance. After all, it can be a "competitive advantage" and can be part of the school's marketing strategy.

    Therefore, Old Ivy will want to have a first-rate web-based library, filled with full-text resources, and a wide range of databases that will interest the professions: Lexis-Nexis, MathSciNet, Medline, PSYCHInfo, ABI/Inform, and so on. To remain competitive, Ivy may want to publish and offer unique or new resources. For instance, Old Ivy might be the first to make a licensing deal with a major publisher whereby new titles are offered in full-text online. Since the publisher would want to restrict access to these titles, Old Ivy would de facto have a unique resource, at least until other universities made similar agreements.

    If students will be coming in through the Internet to use Old Ivy's Digital Library, then that space will not only need to be content-rich, but it will need to be well-designed, robust, capable of handling burst loads, and able to support high-bandwidth as well as low-bandwidth users-and applications (like streaming video).

    The Library will of course want to have automated and intuitive user support software, so that "self-help" can be the default model for access. Yet the Library may also need to provide "live chat" reference and even 800-number support for researchers who may be new to the system, or may be making new demands on the system.

    However, if a university already has a good Digital Library, none of these demands are that revolutionary. From the Library's point of view, Old Ivy will simply be adding new patrons, and expanding along the lines it has already established.

  2. A much more significant change may occur when Old Ivy wakes up to the fact that its Digital Library is its most-visited and "stickiest" portal. A "sticky" portal is one that keeps visitors involved and clicking, and has them coming back for more. For Universities, the admissions portal is an example of a popular but "non-sticky" portal, usually attracting a lot of one-time visitors. The Digital Library is an example of a frequently visited and very "sticky" portal. Businesses measure stickiness by minutes. Anything above 15 minutes is considered fairly substantive use. But the Digital Library routinely hosts visits that go on for *hours,* and the users are back the next day for hours more.

    Listen up: In the New Era, Old Ivy's Digital Library may be the most important marketing tool it has. More powerful than a good football team, more attractive than a green campus, more compelling than a slew of big-name faculty members. After all, when cybernauts visit virtual campuses, what will they be looking for? *Resources that will be useful to them on a 24-7-365 basis, from any location.* A fabulously stocked Digital Library may be Number One on any cyber-learning list.

    Library staff may find themselves becoming uncomfortably popular. The Director of Admissions may want a makeover (less text, more pictures, and a direct link to the admissions office). The President may want to place a video "message to visitors" on the main Library page. The alumni office may want to offer a package of digital library services to all alumni, whether they are "distance" students or not. The Development Office might want to put a "donate" button on the home page, with a message about Old Ivy's glorious capital campaign.

    Voila! The Library goes from being taken for granted, a campus utility, like heat and electricity--to being the "crown jewel." Libraries were once "crown jewels," weren't they? Perhaps our time has come again.

  3. However, there is a third possibility to consider. The architecture that allows for a great academic digital library also allows for the possibility of eliminating most academic digital libraries.

    After all, what makes a great digital library is primarily the packaging and customized delivery of other people's content. Is there any reason that a truly top-notch academic digital library could not extend its footprint to include patrons from other institutions of higher education? Become a regional digital library? Become a national digital library? Become...? The short answers are no, no, no and... no.

    When the automobile was first introduced, thousands of local car manufacturers sprang up. These companies competed with each other, but they also cooperated as well. One aspect of that cooperation was the standardization of parts. Standardization lends itself to consolidation. Think how many automobile makers we have today.

    Ditto for digital libraries. The Internet has already evolved to the point where a commercial or non-commercial institution can deliver services to anyone with a connection. (The limitations are last-mile limitations having to do with bandwidth, and many campuses are already lush islands of high bandwidth. Thanks to AOL-Time Warner, Disney, and companies like MCI-Worldcom and Qwest, even individual subscribers will soon have fat pipe delivery.)

    So here is the question: Should a top-flight academic digital library be thinking about offering services to its have-not and have-less siblings? Conversely, should smaller colleges, junior colleges, and community colleges be considering contracting their digital library services from a leading library? Should second-tier universities spend tons of money to try to package and deliver information services to their students and faculty, when it would be cheaper and more effective to license what they need from a first-tier research library? Will Duke, or Berkeley, or Old Ivy become the General Motors of the digital library world?

    Not so fast. Other contenders include Knowledge Universe, Northern Light, netLibrary, Healtheon/WebMD, AOL-Time Warner, even Yahoo!

    Stay tuned.



Adam Corson-Finnerty is Director of Development for the Library of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the co-author of Fundraising and Friend-Raising on the Web (ALA Editions, 1998). For other articles by Adam Corson-Finnerty, see the Online Fundraising Resource Center website (/musings/index.html). Does Old Ivy Have an e-Strategy, Parts 1 & 2 are copyrighted by the author, February, 2000 The opinions expressed are those of the author. Adam Corson-Finnerty 215-635-4084 PERMISSION IS GRANTED TO FORWARD, COPY, AND DISTRIBUTE THIS DOCUMENT, SO LONG AS THERE IS NO CHARGE FOR SUCH DISTRIBUTION, AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, EMAIL ADDRESS, AND COPYRIGHT ARE INCLUDED.


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