Wikifixity, or, To Buy, Borrow, or Rent: That is the Question.
Wikifixity is a word of my own design, a contradiction in terms that attempts to describe
the complex nature of library collections today. “Fixity”, a stable state, is how we have
always looked at our collections, buying to own and building a traditional library.
Electronic products are the amorphous part of the collection, creating a fluctuating
reality akin to the wiki software used in collaborative websites. While electronic
collections seem a fixed entity, at any given moment the content can and will change
because that is the nature of all things electronic. Quickly (as in the Hawaiian word
“wiki”) evolving, the content, not fixed by nature, has become a fixed service at Maag.
It is here today and different tomorrow-- wikifixity. But how did we get here and where
are we going?
In the heyday of library budgets, we bought as much as we could get our hands on.
When we outgrew our buildings, we simply built new ones, expanded to subject-specific
libraries, or moved our unused items to storage facilities. We acquired all that we could
“just in case” someone needed it. Today, as library budgets shrink, publishers produce
hundreds of thousands of books every year. Decisions on digital items further complicate
acquisition decisions. The cumulative effect is that thirty years after building a facility
to hold our burgeoning collection, we find ourselves offering more of a “just-in-time”
approach to collection building than that of “just-in-case.”
In October 1976, Maag Library, ensconced in its crisp new building, installed its first
public services computer terminal in the pristine Reference Room. The terminal
accessed a database of electronic cataloging records of more than
600 member libraries. Now known as OCLC Online Computer Library Center, the system’s
electronic records form the core of automated library catalogs worldwide.
With that one computer, Maag offered its first public access terminal. All libraries today
compete with the hype of the Internet, while patrons struggle with both the volume of the
offerings and the legitimacy of the information. In spite of the lure of cyberspace, I am
convinced that there will always be the printed word and that we will continue to buy print
materials when appropriate. Computer servers are a new “shelf location” and libraries must
make increasingly difficult decisions about which “shelf” makes the most sense.
Whether we buy, borrow, or rent, consortia participation is the most cost-effective way to
have it all. Cooperative efforts, such as OCLC and OhioLINK, aid us in grappling with the
wikifixity of our collections. Consortia have created a vehicle that affords us the best of
both worlds—strong just-in-case buying and even stronger just-in-time service.
With OhioLINK as a fixed entity, we can rely on its consortial strength to build our local
and virtual collections. Its unrivaled buying power for both print and electronic resources
and streamlined access to materials we do not own, allows Collections Services to reinvent
day-to-day business practices.
The “wikifixity” of today’s library collections is the challenge we face. While every day
at Maag Library is a celebration of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, it’s shaping
the future in a wikifixity world of information that makes it all worthwhile.
From the Closet to the Desktop: Interlibrary Loan at Maag
When the doors of Maag Library opened in 1976, the library world was undergoing a sea change;
the first steps were taken from card catalogs and limited access to the wide-open applications
of computer technology. Interlibrary loan was one library service that immediately
benefited from applying that technology.
Before computers, the interlibrary loan process was long and tedious. To find requested
items, one had to rely on both the previous experience of the staff and the National Union
Catalog, a multi-volume set of cumbersome oversized books with limited information.
Requests and the transfer of materials utilized the postal service; response times were
The advent of computer networks changed everything and the library staff worked to keep
in the forefront.
By 1977, the library processed interlibrary loan requests via a telex machine connected
to a fledgling OCLC national digital catalog. “The telex was housed in a small storage
closet to muffle the sound,” Debra Beronja remembers. “I spent a lot of time in that
storage room. It was dark, crowded, and really cold.” As the technology continued to
advance, the quality of interlibrary loan service kept pace.
Thirty years later, interlibrary loan experienced another transformation. YSU’s participation in OhioLINK, a statewide consortium, provides patron activated borrowing from the 10,000,000 unique titles in Ohio. Even more efficient is the digital transmission of scanned items, often directly to the requestor’s computer desktop. “Digital loans are both cost effective and environmentally friendly,” comments Ellen Wakeford-Banks, who currently oversees interlibrary loan. “Many patrons no longer want or need hard copy for their research.”
In 2036, when Maag Library is 60, our current technology will be as archaic as the card catalog is now. Yet, just as they did in 1976 and 2006, the Maag staff will work to keep the YSU campus on the cutting edge of information access.