But what of the notion that libraries, particularly college libraries like my own, should provide their users with a strong general collection in line with their institution's curriculum? In the long tail, hybrid print/digital environment of the early 21rst century, this idea of a broad and shallow local collection perhaps doesn't make as much sense. As we try to expand our patron's information universe with consortial borrowing and large aggregations of e content, not to mention awareness of what's out there on the web, the idea of a limited general book collection seems quaint, like your neighborhood book store.
Somehow, we still want our patrons to be able to be able to identify the most important works in a subject area without getting overloaded with choices. One might argue that Google's success is based on doing something like this for the web as a whole. Google is able to reliably pull up the most popular and trusted websites on a given topic.
Our discovery systems need to do a better job of giving some relief to the information landscape. Our users should be able to tell if some titles are more popular, more widely cited, etc. than others. If a text is a classic work of literature or a classic in the field, it should be obvious s in search results.
Ranking search results based partly on the number of holding libraries like WorldCat.org does is a step in the right direction: the collective intelligence of collection development work, if you will. FRBRization is another one. Use of citation analysis could be another. Folksonomies and recommendation engines another. Human curation also has a role.
The commercial world is getting good at using these techniques. Libraries really have a chance to lead in the FRBRizaton arena, I think. This is something the commercial world hasn't figured out, as Mike Shatzkin points out out here:
Recommendation engines aside (”based on what you bought before, have we got a book for you!”), online book retailers have a long way to go to enable the customized curation that seems both possible and desireable in the digital age. Even as sophisticated a retailer at Barnes & Noble will present multiple duplicate entries of a public domain scan from Google to an ebook search for a Shakespeare play. And even as sophisticated a retailer as Amazon will sell you a Kindle ebook that is a self-published tome in a way that is indistinguishable from a book from a legitimate publisher. These are failures of curation.