DOES OLD IVY HAVE AN E-STRATEGY?
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:
- 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.
- 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
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
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
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.
- 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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 215-635-4084 PERMISSION IS GRANTED
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