Monday, April 22, 2013

Convenience and the Long Tail

You may be aware of the "Long Tail" theory of marketing applied to the Internet by Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine. Briefly, the long tail refers to the shape of the statistical curve (compared to the normal bell curve) which illustrates the existence of niche markets made possible because the web gives voice and access to infinite number of small unique demographic audiences. The high point or head of the scale shows popularity of certain items whereas an infinite number of items comprise the tail that goes on forever.

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How does this supply and demand marketing theory affect library collections? In her book on the subject (Neal-Schuman, 2011) professor of Library Science, Vicki Gregory, explains that traditionally researchers were satisfied with what was locally available at their library because they had no choice and because they didn't know any better. But now, because the World Wide Web has "expanded our awareness of resources," much more is expected of our local libraries. People can discover what's "out there" in a simple Google search and they can often get it delivered to their doorstep tomorrow with free shipping from Amazon Prime. How convenient! Besides the fact that it is usually free for a member of the community to use the library, how can the library compete with that?

New Testament scholar, professor, and blogger, Scot McKnight, in his address to the American Theological Library Association (ATLA) annual conference in 2011, says that "convenient is the new local." For the emerging generation of seminary students, their local library is now on their laps. The most convenient thing may be the only thing they will use in their research. Therefore, libraries must make scholarly resources as convenient to discover and get as using Google, Wikipedia, and Amazon.

On Friday of this week I am bringing guests from the Bread of Life Theological Seminary - North America, in Irvine to the Southern California chapter of ATLA (SCATLA) meeting. They, like many other institutions of theological higher education are interested in meeting the information needs of their students. They are particularly interested in online resources. Aren't we all? I warned them that we will probably have a spirited discussion about how little is available to libraries in this subject area - but at least they'll be in good company.

To come back around to the long tail and how it relates to our library, WorldCat Local has taken the place of our library catalog. It is a "discovery tool" with which users can discover "everything" in our library (not just books but articles) as well as in libraries worldwide. That which is held locally at HIU floats to the top of the results list, followed by relevant items in nearby libraries, and finally, in libraries around the world. (You can change the sort order to "relevance only.") It is convenient to be able to find everything with one search. But if we don't have it, getting it from another library is not always overnight.

The Darling Library offers a wealth of resources that are conveniently accessible both inside and online but there is still a long ways to go to providing everything students might need to support their learning at Hope. As the very nature of supply and demand continue to morph, the library will monitor opportunities, adapt, and work with other libraries to advocate and provide for our patrons. In fact, new services are coming soon that will be aimed at making materials from Libraries Worldwide even more conveniently available... no matter how far down the tail they might be.


Anderson, Chris. The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (Hyperion, 2008).

Gregory, Vicki L. Collection Development and Management for 21st Century Library Collections: An Introduction. (Neal-Schuman, 2011)

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Robin Hartman is Director of Library Services at Hope International University. She is curious about how the organization and communication of information shapes society and is committed to equipping students to impact the world for Christ.

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