The Long Tail in PINES (and the larger potential)

A couple of us came across an entry in Lorcan Dempsey’s Blog about the “long tail” argument, and we started thinking about it in the context of PINES Consortium and Evergreen. So, I started digging around in the PINES data, and discovered some really interesting numbers.

  • Over 1.9 million holds have been placed in PINES.
  • Those 1.9 million holds have been placed on a total of approximately 371,000 titles.
  • The title with the most lifetime holds (and this won’t surprise anyone) is the Da Vinci Code, with just over 8,000 holds.
  • Now, to the tail: out of those 371,000 unique titles, 348,000 have had 10 or less lifetime holds.
  • Further, 195,000 of those titles have had just a single hold ever placed on them.

I’m no statistician or library data expert, and I’m sure there are all sorts of complex formulae that could be applied to the data, but that seems to be a pretty long tail to me. Over half of the titles that have been placed on hold in PINES have had just a single hold ever in their PINES lifetime.

Whenever we do presentations about PINES, both locally and outside of the state of Georgia, we emphasize the economy of scale it provides the libraries as well as the library patrons. This economy is provided in two ways. First, there is one system administrator, one central helpdesk, and one support structure surrounding the ILS, rather than a separate instance per individual library system. Second, we all enjoy the larger, collective collection, if you will, of the PINES consortium. Patrons in a small library are not bound by the collection of the physical building they are standing in, but rather they have the collection of over 250 libraries at their fingertips. But also, (and this is important) on the other end of the spectrum, patrons in a large library are not also bound by their collection, and we’ve found that many of our smaller libraries have rare gems in their collection. A gem that the larger, maybe more affluent library, may of discarded years ago.

When PINES migrates to the new Evergreen software later this year, we expect the number of holds to increase, since the new OPAC will be more user-friendly and easier to place holds through. I wonder how much longer the tail will get after the Evergreen migration?

Obviously, a big part of it is about ease of use and convenience. The internet-based commercial sector is seeing this long tail, largely, because it is easy for the consumer to create that long tail. Businesses like Amazon want to sell more, they want their customer to be able to find that particular widget they want, and they work very hard at creating user-friendly interfaces and processes to accomplish that.

The other day, I was talking to the nice lady that cuts my hair, and she asked me what I do for a living. I tried to explain to her that I work for the state library, I work for the PINES program, and I tried to explain how the PINES consortium works. I explained that if you couldn’t find what you needed in your local library, but another library in PINES had it, you could get that material sent to your local library free of charge. She sort of grimaced, and said something about the library catalog being difficult to use, and it would just be easier to buy what she wanted through Amazon, and get it sent directly her her house via UPS.

How can you argue with the clear logic of a web-savvy consumer? Obviously, she can afford it, she has internet access at home, etc. Her situation is not the same as, say, an academic researcher, who may need access to expensive medical journals or something similar. And I’d bet that researcher probably knows how to use the library’s catalog as well as a typical librarian, because he has to in order to do his work. A typical patron doesn’t have to.

But I digress. To focus in a more local issue, we have an opportunity here in Georgia to make the depth of material immediately available to the patron much deeper, and to extend the long tail even further. For years, there has been talk about hooking together PINES (the public library consortium in Georgia), and GIL (PINES’ academic library counterpart) together via NCIP, giving patrons on either side of the public/academic fence access to a wealth of information and resources from the other side.

In support of this greater goal, and with the move towards Evergreen, PINES started working on an NCIP interface, in cooperation with the OpenNCIP project. To our dismay, what we’ve found is a “standard” that is basically unsupportable. Two ILS systems can each have a perfectly functional NCIP interface, but be unable to communicate to one another, because of implementation differences. I realize I’m stepping on toes here, and I apologize in advance, but it’s a shame that the library community can’t come up with something better than what we have in NCIP. And I think that’s where the longer tail starts for us.