NOTHING IS THE short answer. LAMDA is not exciting for the technophile. Some annoying problems to solve, yes, but nothing revolutionary about the hardware or software. Just standard PCs, scanners and printers, loaded with the tried and tested RLG Ariel software. Perhaps the most exciting technical development has been the JEDDS software, which will allow e-mail delivery of scanned journal articles to the users desktop, but even that will not cause a frisson of excitement in the computer science community. Yet, people are talking about LAMDA and want to know more about this ground-breaking service.
Even viewed as a resource-sharing service I wonder why it has generated so much interest. Libraries have been sharing their resources for centuries, to a far greater extent than library users realise. True, resource-sharing (or “access” to give it its current name) has never formed the major component in any library service. The emphasis has always been upon holdings (librarians are as acquisitive as magpies) and the needs of most library users are met that way. But the value of resource-sharing has always been greater than statistics would indicate. It may only be one out of a thousand routine visits to a library, but that one visit to request an item from another library may make such a difference to the users research. For the librarian also, resource-sharing may have political value out of all proportion to its quantity in showing that librarians do co-operate. Ironically, to be actively involved in resource-sharing may increase the librarians chances of getting an increase in the book-buying budget. And yet the value of resource-sharing is heavily influenced by its cost. Resource-sharing is expected to save money, and expensive resource-sharing is perceived to be a contradiction in terms.
I think that is the secret of LAMDAs success. It is lean and mean resource-sharing. It covers its costs and robs nobody but it provides good value. Commercial document delivery exists to make a profit for the document supplier. LAMDA exists to share existing resources. Commercial users may be prepared to pay the prices charged by commercial document suppliers, but LAMDA exists to meet the needs of an academic community which has been grumbling about the even the prices charged by the British Library Document Supply Centre. Many still perceive the BLDSC to provide good value, but the academic document delivery market is increasingly price- sensitive. LAMDAs current price of £3.60 per journal article supplied is good value and covers all the supplying librarys costs. If it does not rob the customer, neither does it rob the publisher, as the copies supplied are largely from low-use journals which have been purchased by one library but which will never be purchased by all.
There is nothing exciting about LAMDAs level of service either. The service is good, but no better than library users have the right to expect. There is nothing wonderful about LAMDAs speed of delivery - any document supplier ought to be able to achieve 48 hour turnaround …
LAMDA web site
Author DetailsMr Fred Friend
University College London