Library systems should be strategic enablers. Yet too often they serve as strategic impediments. Today, I am proud to share with you OhioLINK’s vision for the library systems that would unlock the strategic potential of its members. 

Over the past year, colleagues and I have been collaborating with a working group of OhioLINK members as they developed their vision for a library system that could truly support the strategic directions their libraries are taking. This week, we co-published with OhioLINK an issue brief that describes that vision. “It’s Not What Libraries Hold; It’s Who Libraries Serve: Seeking a User-Centered Future for Academic Librarieslays out what OhioLINK would like to see in an innovative library system. 

The systems vision described in this new paper includes several key elements:

  • Libraries are reorganizing themselves to center on the user. Yet, every library system in existence today is centered around the collection of a given library.  Systems, like the libraries to which they provide services, must be completely re-architected to center on the user.
  • Today’s libraries are responsible for facilitating access to collections in a multitude of formats, through collecting, licensing, open access models, and an array of cross-institutional collaborations—yet library systems remain overly centered around the tangible collections of individual institutions. Systems must be completely re-architected to enable the facilitated collection.
  • The library is increasingly integrated into any number of research, teaching, and learning processes within a higher education institution. But, other than for basic business processes, its systems tend to remain all too siloed. Library systems must be completely re-architected to integrate effectively on a service and data layer with other systems that enable research, teaching, and learning.
  • In most sectors, digital tools have enabled the provision of vastly improved business intelligence. Modern business intelligence should enable libraries to analyze, improve, and communicate their value, optimize their operations, and strengthen their negotiating position. Library systems must be completely re-architected to provide modern business intelligence capabilities for individual libraries as well as their consortia.

The working group made no assumption that an even more integrated systems platform would be best positioned to address these needs. It could be that the time has come to envision a “dis-integrated” library system—one that makes a cleaner separation between the administrative functions, such as collections management on the one hand, and the user-centered discovery and access experience on the other. OhioLINK is interested in partnering with systems providers to make this vision a reality. 

We’re very much interested in understanding how the vision described in this paper resonates with others. Where else might we look for innovation that would better serve both end users and their institutions? Please share your thoughts below.