Radical research revolution

Originally published in MOREnetworking Vol. 2 No. 5, Jan. 2006

MOBIUS transforms the library experience for higher-ed students, researchers and staff

“I cannot live without books,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. But in Jefferson’s time, and up until only a few decades ago, scholars, researchers and book-lovers were either forced to travel, make do with resources in their local library or personal collections, or endure lengthy paperwork and wait times for interlibrary loans.

With the advent of the Missouri Bibliographic Information User System (MOBIUS), a consortium of 60 academic and two public library systems plus the Missouri State Library, Missourians can view the catalogs of the entire state’s academic libraries from a computer in any one of them, and requesting a book is as simple as pressing a button.

The largest single MOBIUS project, The Common Library Platform (CLP), began in 1998 and established a single centrally-managed system that allows faculty and students at member libraries to easily request materials using any personal computer in any location with Internet access. Membership in the network provides enormous savings for institutions that otherwise would not have the resources to establish and maintain separate systems. MOBIUS also negotiates prices and manages electronic resources for member groups.

Academics across Missouri recognize the value of MOBIUS in research and education. “If an army runs on its stomach, a college runs on its library,” said Dr. Steven Long, Assistant Professor of English at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo. “Without library resources, you don’t have a good library. More than half of the resources I use come from MOBIUS. Without MOBIUS, I don’t think I would be an adequate scholar or educator.”

Larger libraries such as the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Ellis Library may tend to lend more resources than they borrow through MOBIUS, but they also benefit from access to the state’s various holdings. “As a net-lender, the MU Libraries lend a great many resources from our collections to Missouri academic libraries to benefit many students and faculty all around the state,” said June DeWeese, Head of Access Services at MU’s Ellis Library. “We also borrow books to benefit MU faculty members’ teaching and research, students’ classroom assignments and research, and staff in their work and lifelong learning. Both borrowing and lending of materials are efficient, with an average turnaround of only a couple of days. Patrons are very happy about our participation in MOBIUS.”

According to MOBIUS Executive Director George Rickerson, one of MOBIUS’s most interesting success stories has been an increase in member libraries’ circulation of printed material.

“Before MOBIUS, our member libraries had noticed that their circulations were being affected by the Internet,” Rickerson said. “But after MOBIUS was implemented, they saw increasted interest. So it turns out that the Internet has actually helped increase circulation of printed materials by providing access to many more resources.

“Certainly there’s a lot of information on the Internet, but much of our recorded knowledge isn’t and may never be online, in part because a wall-to-wall conversion to electronic formats is cost-prohibitive,” Rickerson said. “Missouri’s print collections are also an enormous investment, estimated to be valued at over $1 billion. So it makes sense to use the Internet to make it easier to get at those print materials.”

“The key to the development of the CLP was the existence of the MOREnet network infrastructure,” Rickerson said. “The CLP could not have been built without it, and the continued viability of the CLP relies on the continued availability and viability of the MOREnet infrastructure.”

So what’s next for MOBIUS? According to Rickerson, a task force is examining expanding membership to Missouri’s public libraries. It’s a future full of challenges, but MOBIUS is well-accustomed to leading the way.

Currently, only two public libraries are MOBIUS members: Springfield-Greene County Library and Missouri River Regional Library. A recent survey found a number of other library systems interested in joining the network.

Some initial concerns about including public libraries as members turned out to be unfounded, Rickerson said. “We didn’t know if the public library patrons would be interested in the resources available through MOBIUS, and there was some concern whether the popular books would disappear from the public libraries. In fact neither of those things turned out to be true; borrowing and lending with the public libraries is about equal, and the collections have turned out to be very beneficial for both groups.”

In addition, public libraries are becoming more and more important for Missouri citizens taking distance-learning courses. “Springfield-Greene has a conscious goal of serving college students as well as supporting the general public. With the rise of distance education, there are many students in Missouri who take online courses but have limited access to resources because their local libraries are so small.

“I’ve been in a tiny library in Fisk, Missouri. The library is in one room; all the books are donated, all the workers are volunteers. I asked if they had patrons who were taking classes, and they said, ‘all the time.’ If a library like Fisk’s had access to MOBIUS, it would transform the experience and opportunities for those students.”

“If I were predicting, I would predict MOBIUS would expand its presence in the public libraries,” Rickerson said.

MOBIUS has become an integral part of the higher education landscape in Missouri, Rickerson said. “We’re at a point where students in Missouri have always known MOBIUS as a service. Certainly, some don’t realize that it was just a short time ago that the service didn’t exist. But if you told students that MOBIUS was going away and the only library they could use was the one on their own campus, they’d be shocked.”

For more information about the MOBIUS, visit

The Benefits of MOBIUS

  • Expanded Access to Knowledge: From a single computer, you can view the holdings of nearly all academic libraries in Missouri, as well as two public library systems, totaling some 14 million volumes.
  • Speed: Need a book for that paper next week, but it’s across the state? No problem. Most requests are delivered in two days or less.
  • Walk-in Convenience: If you’re a patron of any MOBIUS library­, you can walk into any other and check out books.
  • Saves Money and Time: Libraries can devote more time to directly serving patrons and building collections instead of constantly filling out paperwork or trying to maintain a costly separate system. In addition, you have more access to database resources, because MOBIUS negotiates better prices on behalf of members.

hendersonl | Sunday, January 1, 2006 | |


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