As a result of extensive consultation, we know that libraries want to make data-driven decisions about the management of their collections but the data currently available to them simply doesn’t allow them to do so with confidence.
We also know that libraries want to ensure that researchers and learners have sustainable and convenient access to digital books, but it is not always obvious what’s available, or what could be made available.
Where we are now
The problem is to do with both the quantity and quality of data that is available.
There are existing services (for example, Copac) that bring together bibliographic data but they are only working with a subset of UK academic and specialist libraries. Also, they are – by design - geared towards end-user discovery of printed items (which in the case of Copac principally means ‘books’).
What we need and why
What libraries increasingly need is a convenient, reliable and comprehensive way of checking their collection against other collections; and against what they are able to access digitally, either under licence or globally via the open web.
Why the increasing need? Well... firstly, it’s because libraries need to compare what they have with other libraries so that they can most efficiently manage and develop their print and digital collections.
But secondly, it’s because most universities are under pressure to create more learning and study spaces. Libraries need to make sure that they are making the very best use of physical library space through careful management of their print stock.
What can help libraries do to take on these challenges?
We are working on a national-scale shared service that will tackle the data challenges associated with these collection management objectives. The national bibliographic knowledgebase (NBK) will aggregate bibliographic data at scale; link with a number of other data sources to inform library and collection management decisions; and help users to find, access and use print and digital books more effectively.
Copac currently gets data from around 90 libraries. The aim of the NBK is to get data from well over 200 libraries. This bibliographic data will then be integrated with usage data and availability data.
What will happen to Copac?
Once the NBK is fully up and running, it is anticipated that Copac will become an obsolete service and will be retired. In the short-term, however, it is absolutely clear that Copac is valued by the community and that it needs to keep delivering a high-quality service to its users.
The NBK is being funded separately during its ‘build’ phase and will not impact on current levels of investment into Copac or affect the quality of service that it delivers. As the NBK takes precedence, staff working on Copac will continue to be the first engagement point with the library community but will also work on new initiatives that exploit the potential of the data within the NBK.
Improving the quality of data for libraries and their users
This is a tough challenge but is achievable if the library community works together, and alongside service providers and vendors, to collectively standardise practice across what is effectively a metadata ecosystem.
Libraries acquire books from a wide range of sources but in the case of e-books, the metadata that is supplied along with the resource is often of variable quality. Sometimes libraries enhance metadata records themselves before passing them onto aggregators. Other times they obtain records from specialist metadata suppliers; but the records from those suppliers may be an amended version of records from elsewhere.
All of this churn and exchange leads to inconsistency and a lack of clarity about who owns the data and who is responsible for data quality.
The national bibliographic knowledgebase will be a shared community endeavour, and the data foundation for the emerging concept of a ‘National Digital Library’1 . It will, wherever possible, use standards-based data and identifiers and will encourage institutions and service providers to adopt similar practices.
When is the NBK coming?
We have awarded OCLC the contract to partner with Jisc to build and deliver the NBK. OCLC are uniquely positioned to connect library data hubs at scale to the global network and are able to leverage the power of WorldCat, the world’s largest aggregation of library data. They make data sharable and reusable by all contributing libraries and organisations, and also support the discovery and enhancement of the data. They already provide bibliographic infrastructures to several other countries; Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands to name a few.
Jisc is working closely with Research Libraries UK (RLUK), the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL), the British Library, and individual representatives from academic libraries to ensure that the NBK is closely aligned with the evolving requirements of the community. We’re also working with publishers, licensing organisations, and service providers, in order to have a broad spectrum of input from experts and those on the ground who will use the NBK on a day-to-day basis.
The project is due to start this month and is scheduled to go into a beta phase of service delivery from January 2018.
Following the beta phase, we anticipate that the service will be capable of delivering demonstrable benefits to libraries in the form of savings and efficiencies. Even using fairly modest estimations of improving efficiency, it is clear that the NBK can easily provide a positive return on investment if the service is widely supported and used.
The future for the NBK – what’s ahead?
By 2020, we expect that the NBK will have supported a significant shift in the way that libraries manage their print and digital collections and in the ways that learners and researchers access those resources.
But we can’t do it without the library community; and we will also need help from various service providers, content suppliers and intermediary organisations. There is a great deal of work to do but the outcome could really transform the way libraries work.
Update - February 2017
This blog has been updated to include information on our collaboration with OCLC to build and deliver the national bibliographic knowledgebase (NBK).
You can still read the original version of the blog via the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine).
- 1 Taken from Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL)'s strategy 2016-2019 http://www.sconul.ac.uk/page/sconuls-strategy