From the outset, the research plan for my time at LIL was centered on the Library of Things and resource sharing. My project was described early on by a LILer as “ILL for non-normal ILL things” and yes, true, that was the essence of the idea at the beginning. The baseline assumption being that libraries:
[try their best to get materials to the people] + [have developed smart systems to facilitate sharing] x [are now collecting wacky new things!] = resource sharing for the Library of Things
So the original aim of the research was to figure out how we could adapt ILL for ‘things’ collections in libraries. We already share media, books, and digital resources through Interlibrary Loan — how could some of this institutional expertise inform a regional or national exchange of items from tool libraries, baking pan collections, musical instrument libraries, and maker equipment? It’s a valid question that has changed shape pretty rapidly over the course of the summer.
Very shortly after starting to collect information about what was happening at libraries that lend non-traditional items, I began to adjust the research questions that I was asking. Sure, we could toss some of these things into MARC records and upload them to WorldCat and try to move them around in our existing courier systems — no problem.
Yet it was clearly time to pivot after interviewing several librarians in the field who are building Library of Things collections. Sure, librarians can move things around from place to place, we can figure that out. Especially with the more compact items. We’ve done it before.
However feasible the idea might appear to be on the surface, a deeper look uncovered an flurry of logistical issues, including insurance, liability, accountability, tax-base turfwars, and most significantly, lengthy holds on wildly popular items as they move around for pickup. The initial questions about resource sharing led to more pressing ones about access, info sharing, assessment, and use. One question has led to another, in that way that an overly-narrow initial research question has a tendency to do. Here’s a rough outline of the other themes that surfaced:
Some libraries create skeletal catalog records designed for the sole purpose of monitoring circulation, and on the other end of the spectrum there are libraries doing a lot of [very] original cataloging at the item-level. Boldly going into the world of realia and borrowing here and there from CCO and RDA, these valiant experimental catalogers are doing some awesome work to get their collections out there to public. Since I’m not a cataloger I get to feel this way. Catalogers are
probably somewhat horrified. As of now, I can’t foresee PCC offering free training to Library of Things catalogers, so the creative cataloging must stand.
Another compelling direction for Libraries of Things and the catalog: subject terms can be used to co-locate ‘things’ with other relevant library collections, like books and media. E.g. you’re browsing the catalog’s resources on ornithology, and a bird watching kit pops up along with the books and DVDs about birds. Boom.
This one is fairly straightforward, but we need to do some serious soul searching here. Some libraries are advertising their ‘things’ collections with posters tacked up on the bulletin board out in the foyer. Some have beautiful static webpages but no catalog links. Some just go on word of mouth. It’s totally random. It was disappointing to discover that even libraries with amazing collections and stellar catalog records did not have any decent photos of their collection in action. Librarians aren’t always the best at promotions, that’s not really what we were trained to do. Plus side: lots of room for growth!
There has been a lot of buzz around these collections in the past 3-4 years. With each interview that I conducted and every article that I read, I learned about a new niche ‘things’ collection that I hadn’t come across yet. We need some sort of mega-database or a union catalog to collect all of the info about who’s got what.
Maker of Things
The Library of Things movement, to some extent, seems to be an extension or outgrowth of the makerspace momentum that has been sweeping the library world. They’re both energizing components of the lifelong learning, DIY ethos that libraries value. The programming that happens in makerspaces and small business centers of public libraries can have a huge impact on ensuring a well-used Library of Things that is responsive to the community it serves.
As more libraries catch the Library of Things bug, or simply move to add to their existing niche ‘things’ collections, it would be really excellent to be able to share best practices. Many libraries end up needing to add collection development policies, troubleshoot processing workflows, or make repairs to items in-house — how can we better share our triumphs and challenges? I’ve become increasingly focused on developing a participatory element to the research that I’ve been doing at LIL this summer, and I’m working out some ideas to assist in resource and information sharing between interested libraries. As a start, I drafted a Wikipedia article on the topic, please add to it!
The element of the project that was focused on Interlibrary Loaning has changed somewhat, in part because a lot of really messy logistical issues crop up immediately, and in part because this trend has only started picking up speed [again] in the last 3-4 years. We’re not quite there yet. Resource sharing between libraries is a great end goal for the day when these collections are larger and well-supported enough to travel between libraries. Researching access, programming, and collaboration has been way more rewarding than shoving cake pans records into ILLiad.
Next time: Consistently compelled by consortial purchasing for the Library of Things.
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