current mood: sleepy
Lorcan has a good post talking about the long tail notion and its relevance to libraries. While I don't disagree with any of his observations, it did remind me a bit of a Woody Allen short story in which Allen describes a recurring dream in which he finds himself as Socrates under arrest and awaiting execution by the Senate. It includes the wonderful exchange:
Simmias: The senate is furious over your ideas for a Utopian state.
Socrates: I guess I should never have suggested having a philosopher-king.
Simmias: Especially when you kept pointing to yourself and clearing your throat.
Lorcan correctly notes that economic exploitation of the long tail requires both aggregation of supply and aggregation of demand, and has a good analysis of some of the issues around aggregation of supply, but he says relatively little about aggregation of demand. But there are two things that I think are worth noting about the aggregation of demand issue:
1. Libraries/archives/museums exist to server particular communities. Even the OAIS reference model includes discussion of the notion of a "designated community" and notes that part of an archive's fundamental job is monitoring that community and responding to its needs. Aggregation of demand, at least at the level which allows you to exploit the economies of scale necessary for a 'long tail' business model, means that you're going to have to abandon the notion of serving a particular community, at least in the sense that we have usually used the term 'community' in our profession.
2. Because of #1, any given library is incredibly poorly positioned to aggregate demand; it's simply not part of the mission of any library I know. Even Library of Congress goes out of its way to keep reminding people that they are the Library of Congress and not the National Library.
So, if exploiting the long tail requires aggregating demand, libraries aren't the institutions to do it. You would need another institution, perhaps one that already is engaged in the business of bringing together supply and demand for bibliographic data. And who could that be? Oh, I don't know, could be anybody really...like, say...OCLC???
I don't think Lorcan is being deliberately coy here, but he does note that the need for aggregating demand in the long tail world, and if that's going to actually happen, you need to create the 'one stop shopping' service for discovering bibliographic resources, and the only way I see that happening is by libraries outsourcing the entire job of having an OPAC to Google, or giving the job to OCLC instead.
It's certainly something to think about, and it may very well be a good way to allow libraries to continue to be survive, but I think it will fundamentally disrupt the notion that a given library serves its particular community. A given library instead would need to become part of a consolidated library system which exists to serve the whole world. Maybe that's good, maybe bad, but it has some obvious ramifications for public funding of libraries. We are able to get local/state tax money because we serve the residents of our community, not those in Canada. If the library world tries to adopt a model in which we try to improve the efficiency of delivering information on a national or global scale, I think we're going to need some new funding sources, because I don't think state/local governments are going to be thrilled about coughing up the money, and there's no chance that the federal government will be coming up with funding for such a thing any time soon.