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In a critical analysis of Steve Coffman's Amazon-like model, the University of Michigan's Griffiths distills a valuable direction for library service on the web
IN AN INTRIGUING ARTICLE, Steve Coffman explores the reigning dot-com phenomenon, Amazon.com, and the transferability of its mode of operation to libraries. Citing Amazon.com's amazing growth, easy-to-use and convenient service, discount pricing, fast delivery to home or office, and the predominance of heavy library users among Amazon's customers, Coffman speculates that library users might prefer the Amazon model for identifying and borrowing books. He then proceeds to examine the key features of the Amazon model that have given Amazon a competitive advantage in the book-selling business: selection, convenience, quality tools, and personalized service. (For the complete article, go to www.infotoday. com/searcher/mar99/coffman.htm).
Amazon allows users to search through a catalog of all titles covered in Books in Print and Books Out of Print and more for a selection of more than three million titles. It is available around the clock and offers speedy delivery (shipping in 24 hours) for many items. Amazon supports typical searching of its catalog by author, title, and subject but also offers searching of significant enhancements to the base catalog record: cover art and text, tables of contents, full-text reviews, customer reviews, author interviews, and full-text excerpts of the books.
One can search for award-winning books, best sellers, and books featured in the media. Search results can be ordered by "availability" (i.e., time to ship), publication date, price, etc. The search engine is also tolerant of faults, offering "nearest match" items if an exact match yields no hits. Finally, Amazon offers a range of highly personalized services based on data collected from an individual's use of the web site. These include suggestions for titles of potential interest drawn from authors of previously purchased books; newly published titles in the categories from which you've purchased; the purchasing patterns of others with similar preferences; and gift wrapping.
Coffman then turns to a discussion of how libraries might incorporate elements of Amazon's business model, focusing on the collection, the catalog, and the circulation system, to overcome the limitations inherent in traditional bookstores and libraries. He suggests that libraries abandon individual library catalogs and work together to build a single global catalog. This would include all the items in the local collections, the OCLC WorldCat database, plus the three million titles in Amazon and all in Forthcoming Books. This monster catalog of more than 43 million items would dwarf Amazon's catalog.
Coffman further suggests catalog enhancement akin to those that Amazon has already implemented and through such additional categories as "Library recommended." The global library catalog would be built along the lines of OCLC's WorldCat database with a single bibliographic record for each unique title and attached local holding information at the copy level. The catalog …