Supporting Infrastructure

I recently read a quote in OCLC’s report, “Libraries at Webscale”: Leslie Crutchfield says that “The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons that collective efforts fail.” That quote really stuck with me because it so aptly describes the project I’ve been working on for the last nine months. It’s a difficult project to describe, but I think this idea of creating a supporting infrastructure makes it a little easier.

In PAPR, we’re building the supporting infrastructure for one of the largest library collaborations being undertaken right now: The WEST project. I’ve talked about WEST here before, but a quick recap: WEST (Western Regional Storage Trust) is a collective serials preservation project being undertaken by approximately 100 libraries in the western United States. These libraries are coming together to make decisions about which libraries will continue to hold print copies of specifically chosen journals in order to allow other libraries to jettison that weight and free up storage space. The hope is that through cooperative collection analysis and selective archive building, everyone will be able to make more strategic de-selection decisions. Cooperative collection management moves like this will better allow us to adequately preserve what needs to be preserved, while not requiring that every single library hang onto everything forever.

I think WEST is a harbinger of things to come for libraries. We’ll be making many more decisions on a larger scale, and collaborative with each other to make the best decisions, not just for our own communities, but for the global community. But collaborative work like this, as Crutchfield points out, requires infrastructure. It requires a system to manage and analyze the massive amounts that will be generated once you start working on a larger scale.

I’m hopeful that what we’re building will prove to be a useful supporting infrastructure, not just for WEST, but for other libraries that decide to collaborate in collections management and preservation. Working together is, after all, our best chance for survival, the best chance, in fact, for us to thrive.

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