Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Moneyball and Libraries

Moneyball, soon to be a major motion picture, wasn't written by a computer, like some people think. Michael Lewis, writing in the New York Times Magazine, studied the operations of the Oakland A's baseball team, and it's general manager (GM), Billy Beane, in particular. The A's couldn't, and can't, financially compete with the Yankees, getting outbid for free agents or scouting international players, but Beane figured out that some skills were underpriced. He then drafted and signed players who had those skills.* The result: Beane took over as GM in 1998 and the team had winning records from 1999-2006, making the playoffs in five of those seasons. Why haven't the A's made the post-season since 2006? Other teams caught on and began to value the same skills as Beane. Case in point, the aforementioned Rays. In sum, Beane exploited market inefficiencies to successfully run his team.

Libraries aren't baseball teams, but if they were, mine couldn't compete with others in the area. We don't have the resources. And this is where moneyball comes in. There are market inefficiencies for libraries, that librarians and library staff should be exploiting them. A couple stand out.
First, we are surrounded by a wealth of data about how libraries are used, how many books get checked out and if a run of call numbers is particularly popular, when the building sees the most foot traffic, which databases see the most use,... I could go on. All of these are measurable, and decisions on resource allocation should be data-driven. Let's go out there and collect that data. It's free, and under-utilized.

Second, and also free, librarians should be educating patrons (and faculty and students, in that order, if you work in an academic library) about the free scholarly resources that exist online. In particular, I'm thinking of the Directory of Open Access Journals. Compared to the cost of databases that aggregate journals and their articles, open access can't be beat on price. They don't cost libraries a thing. They are priced inefficiently, but never mind that; get those DOAJ titles into your catalog, or link to it from your library's homepage, or promote it on a blog, or tweet it, or all of the above.

That's two to start with, but I'm sure there are more out there. Let's start a discussion, shall we?

* For those interested in baseball, the underpriced skills mentioned above were the ability to get on base (as opposed to the ability to hit for high average), defensive excellence (which also plays a role in the recent success of the Tampa Bay Rays), drafting pitchers with college experience, and utilizing statistics called sabermetrics.
And yeah, I'm going to link to Wikipedia. I vetted both those entries and they look fine to me.

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