SERVICES! for all areas of knowledge!

For the past three years at NYU Libraries, we have been thinking deeply about how libraries can support digital scholarship in a scalable and sustainable way. My colleague, Monica McCormick, and I gave a presentation on this topic at the Digital Library Federation in 2011, and a follow-up presentation there in 2012 with our colleague Annette Smith. I’ve written several blog posts on library service scalability and sustainability. And in 2012-2013, as we were developing a new Digital Scholarship Services unit at NYU Libraries, Monica and I wrote an article about how to do so scalably  and sustainably.

Feedback from the library community suggests that one of the most useful things to come out of our work is a diagram we created to help us visualize our own service landscape. We needed a way to articulate the relationship between the standardization of services and the numbers of users who can be served, to visualize service gaps, and to communicate more effectively about which services are designed for whom and at what service level.

Here is what we have been calling the service pyramid:


The bottom layer represents our core academic services offered at an enterprise level. The second layer has our core digital scholarship services, designed to satisfy the needs of the maximum number of scholars. The third layer recognizes the need, for select clients, for a certain level of customization to the core digital scholarship services the next level down (for example, designing a custom metadata input interface to our institutional repository). Customization requires greater staff time than enterprise, one-size-fits-all services. To keep this layer sustainable, you need to institute a selection process. The top layer is where applied research and development happens. This takes a great deal of staff time, but the payoff hopefully is that this research will allow us to roll out new, sustainable services at an enterprise level (levels 1 and 2).

We’ve heard a few people comment that the vertical, tiered layout of this model suggests that we place a higher value on the top layers (3 and 4) than the enterprise-level services in the bottom two layers, and that service work, and therefore service providers, developing and providing more selective (elite?) services would be more highly prized within the organization. This was not at all our intention and in fact totally contradicts our argument that we all (users, staff) benefit most when our services are designed in a way that we can sustain over time (levels 1 and 2). We highly value the work that goes into providing our standardized services and try to avoid, whenever possible, developing customized solutions to problems. The focus of my 19-year career in research libraries has been on providing high-quality, scalable services (reference, collections, media services, etc.) that have a broad reach for a wide variety of scholarly needs.

That said, I agree with the criticism that the diagram implies a hierarchy of value. One colleague suggested rotating the pyramid so the tiers are arrayed horizontally. She she also recommended using Alexander Rodchenko‘s 1924 poster for the Soviet publisher Gosizdat, below, as a model for redesigning the diagram. (Note that the model, Lilya Brik, is shouting “BOOKS! About all areas of knowledge”)RodchenkoI wouldn’t be the first to look to Rodchenko for inspiration:

franzferdinandSo here goes:


Thus Lilya, our services model (pun intended) is shouting: “SERVICES! about all areas of knowledge!”

What do you think?