A SERVICE FRAMEWORK FOR LIBRARIES
By Brian Lavoie, Geneva Henry and Lorcan Dempsey
Much progress has been made in aligning library services with changing (and increasingly digital and networked) research and learning environments. At times, however, this progress has been uneven, fragmented, and reactive. As libraries continue to engage with an ever-shifting information landscape, it is apparent that their efforts would be facilitated by a shared view of how library services should be organised and surfaced in these new settings and contexts.
Recent discussions in a variety of areas underscore this point:
Institutional repositories: what is the role of the library in collecting, managing, and preserving institutional scholarly output, and what services should be offered to faculty and students in this regard?
Meta search: how can the fragmented pieces of library collections be brought together to simplify and improve the search experience of the user?
E-learning and course management systems: how can library services be lifted out of traditional library environments and inserted into the emerging workflows of "e-scholars" and "e-learners"?
Exposing library collections to search engines: how can libraries surface their collections in the general Web search environment, and how can users be provisioned with better tools to navigate an increasingly complex information landscape?
In each case, there is as yet no shared picture of the library to bring to bear on these questions; there is little consensus on the specific library services that should be expected in these environments, how they should be organized, and how they should be presented.
Libraries have not been idle in the face of the changes re-shaping their environments: in fact, much work is underway and major advances have already been achieved. But these efforts lack a unifying framework, a means for libraries, as a community, to gather the strands of individual projects and weave them into a cohesive whole. A framework of this kind would help in articulating collective expectations, assessing progress, and identifying critical gaps. As the information landscape continually shifts and changes, a framework would promote the design and implementation of flexible, interoperable library systems that can respond more quickly to the needs of libraries in serving their constituents. It will provide a port of entry for organizations outside the library domain, and help them understand the critical points of contact between their services and those of libraries.
Perhaps most importantly, a framework would assist libraries in strategic planning. It would provide a tool to help them establish priorities, guide investment, and anticipate future needs in uncertain environments.
It was in this context and in recognition of efforts already underway to align library services with emerging information environments, that the Digital Library Federation (DLF) in 2005 sponsored the formation of the Service Framework Group (SFG) to consider a more systematic, comunity based approach to aligning the functions of libraries with increasing automation in fulfilling the needs of information environments. The SFG seeks to understand and model the research library in today's environment, by developing a framework within which the services offered by libraries, represented both as business logic and computer processes, can be understood in relation to other parts of the institutional and external information landscape. This framework will help research institutions plan wisely for providing the services needed to meet the current and emerging information needs of their constituents.
A service framework is a tool for documenting a shared view of library services in changing environments; communicating it among libraries and others, and applying it to best advantage in meeting library goals. It is a means of focusing attention and organizing discussion. It is not, however, a substitute for innovation and creativity. It does not supply the answers, but facilitates the process by which answers are sought, found, and applied.
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