Modelling The Demand For Learning Resources In Academic Libraries

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Library and Information Research Volume 32 Number 101 2008 _______________________________________________________________________________

Modelling the demand for learning resources in academic libraries
Jon Warwick


System dynamics is a relatively young discipline having been in existence for just 50 years. With close links to systems theory it offers an holistic approach to modelling and focuses on the analysis of the feedback structures existing in complex systems that give rise to observed behaviour. This paper gives a description of some of the classic archetypal system structures that commonly occur in system dynamics models and interprets them within the context of modelling an academic library system. The paper summarises the process of modelling with system dynamics and gives examples of some behavioural insights that emerge from a simple interconnection of archetypes to form a qualitative model of part of a library system relating to loan and duplication policy.

In 2007 the community of researchers and practitioners working within the field of system dynamics celebrated 50 years since the founding of the discipline (Sterman, 2007). Given its relatively short history, the study of system dynamics has made significant contributions to the understanding of system behaviour and policy formulation within a wide range of contextual areas including business, management, engineering, and medicine. That it has made an impact in so short a time is testimony to the value of the insights system dynamics can provide on the behaviour of complex systems, yet despite some interest in applying general systems theory to a number of education related problems there have been few applications of system dynamics within library and information science. In this paper, we illustrate some of the commonly recurring system dynamics feedback structures that have been observed over the last 50 years and show how these also occur in the description of academic library systems. Further, the paper illustrates the use that can be made of these system archetypes (as they are termed) in building qualitative models that help managers to appreciate the cause and effect relations that are at play in any complex system.

_______________________________________________________________________ Author

Dr. Jon Warwick is a Professor of Educational Development in the Faculty of Business, Computing and Information Management at London South Bank University. E-mail:
Received July 2008 Accepted August 2008


Library and Information Research Volume 32 Number 101 2008 _______________________________________________________________________________

Taking a systems view

The application of quantitative and qualitative modelling to the analysis of academic library systems has long been of interest to those responsible for setting and delivering library policy and those within the management science community who find the types of problems associated with modelling such systems challenging and fraught with difficulty. The application of general systems theory to planning and resource allocation in higher education institutions has attracted a good deal of interest over the last 10 years or so. Suggested areas of application have included the development of training and education programmes, effecting organisational change within institutions and also the sector as a whole, understanding the nature of learning at the individual or organisational level and the development of course or learning support processes. The last of these is of particular interest here as course and learning support processes will include library and learning resources. If, for the purposes of this paper, we restrict our discussion of library systems to consideration of loan and duplication policy within a university library then a starting point for analysis of the system (assuming that we are, in some way, trying to