Magic Mirror in My Hand, Who is the Fairest in the Land? How to re-structure information services

Beate Rusch


What kind of future information infrastructure do we need in order to deliver the most appropriate support to scientists in their digital workplace? Do the existing, scattered local structures in the library field provide the right solutions for urgent issues such as electronic media license management, support for Open Access, long-term availability of digital research data, and last but not least development and operation of smart virtual research environments? How can cataloguing be organized more efficiently? What would be a good ratio between libraries, consortia as service providers for libraries, and commercial software vendors in times of cloud computing?

In order to find the right answers to these questions, in 2011 the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat started a comprehensive procedure for evaluating the library consortia in Germany with respect to their suitability for the future. Although the six library consortia in Germany are very different in organizational structure, funding, size and systems architecture, they are working together in a tight web of cooperative relationships. The German interlibrary loan system for instance is regarded internationally as best practice. For historical reasons however there is only a national database for serials (, but not for monographs, e-books and the like.

Viewing the German library landscape as a whole, the experts acknowledge that there are substantial service and infrastructural redundancies (in the area of data for example) and recommend a structural reorganization in favor of a new innovative division of library services beyond local and federal borders (Wissenschaftsrat, „Empfehlungen zur Zukunft des bibliothekarischen Verbundsystems in Deutschland“, February 2011).

Since then a quite controversial fundamental discussion is going on. Questions are raised that are not only of interest for Germany but also internationally. How much redundancy is necessary? What is the significance of library data? In which field do we start in-house developments? What consequences follow from the Open Data idea? How centralized should data structures actually be? On the other hand, what new models of cooperation are possible? What discipline specific services are necessary? Where do generalized infrastructural services start and where do they end?
From the perspective of the smallest and youngest of the library networks, the Cooperative Library Network Berlin-Brandenburg (KOBV), the German discussion will be presented for an international audience with a wink, under the title “Magic mirror in my hand, who is the fairest in the land? How to re-structure information services”.
Beate Rusch is associate director of the Cooperative Library Network Berlin-Brandenburg (KOBV), Germany

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