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Right-Scaling and Conscious Coordination: New Context for Collaboration between Institutions

By Lorcan Dempsey

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Introduction.  There is a rich history of consortial activity and a variegated pattern of consortial affiliation across North American academic libraries. A library may belong to a variety of consortia, which operate at different scales (e.g. university system, state, regional/national), include different types of libraries, and serve different needs (Malpas, 2014; OCLC, 2013; Guzzy, 2010).

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Consortia create scale. As libraries continue to leverage scale to increase efficiencies and impact, we will see consortial activity evolve and diversify. This is the context in which Wilkin and Courant (2010) talk about a growth in ‘above-campus’ library services and Neal (2010) talks about the benefits of ‘radical collaboration’.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The motivations for such collaboration are clear: efficiencies and impact. Libraries create efficiencies through resource and system sharing, cooperative licensing, shared training, and so on. And they create impact by working together to amplify their reach (union catalog, consortial borrowing, etc).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 An analysis of North American ICOLC members (85) shows the following as the most often mentioned consortium services: cooperative negotiation and licensing of electronic resources, training, interlibrary loan/document delivery, and collection sharing (Malpas, 2014). An OCLC survey of US consortia (101) reported that the most used consortia services were ILL/document delivery, shared online catalog, and cooperative purchasing. It reported the most valued aspects of membership by libraries as: professional networking and cost savings.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Looking at these numbers it seems reasonable to suggest three broad activity areas for collaborative activity: shared service infrastructure; cooperative negotiation and licensing; and professional development and networking. Here is a note on each.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Shared service infrastructure. It is natural to scale infrastructure provision in a network environment and this will happen in two ways. First libraries may unbundle activities and source capacity with third parties (preservation with Portico, for example). Second, libraries will look to collaboratively source more of their infrastructure within consortial arrangements. This will happen within existing consortia or within newly formed ones as new needs arise or where there is no available option. Recent examples of new consortial arrangements are HathiTrust for management of a shared digital resource or WEST for shared print.  We noted earlier that libraries will increasingly collaborate around such systems infrastructure and that richer patterns of sourcing are emerging.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 There is a variety of models of integration here. For example, the adoption of a shared library management system infrastructure by the Orbis Cascade Alliance involves tight integration between individual library operations (Helmer et al., 2013). A consortial borrowing system layered over individual library systems is less tightly integrated. While a completely shared infrastructure is not appropriate for all groups, we will see a growth in tighter integration as groups go to cloud-based shared infrastructure and benefit from more data sharing, group analytics, and streamlined operations.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The recent focus on shared print provides an interesting example of emerging shared infrastructure and decision-making (Dempsey, 2013b). The progression from discovery, to deliver, to shared inventory management is a natural one, so we can expect to see shared print grow as an interest within existing consortia. At the same time, many libraries do not have a pre-existing consortial arrangement on which to hang this new interest, so we have also seen some new organizations emerge to manage shared print approaches. This is a naturally consortial activity as libraries prefer to manage down print in groups.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Another likely area of growth is infrastructure for digital preservation or data curation, and new collaborative structures are emerging here also. Consider the Digital Preservation Network (DPN) and the Academic Preservation Trust. This also illustrates a trend we have noted elsewhere, where library agendas increasingly overlap with those of other campus partners. At the same time, existing groups may extend their capabilities.  In Ontario, for example, OCUL provides support for Dataverse, as part of the Scholars Portal suite.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Cooperative negotiation and licensing.  Negotiation and licensing is the principal reason many consortia exist, leveraging combined buying power while reducing the interaction costs of negotiation. Changes in the commercial publishing environment are discussed elsewhere in this volume. While this remains an important role, it may change as publishing changes. Guzzy (2010) notes the high costs of such negotiations and reports views that the savings achieved may not justify the effort. At the same time, if the scope of shared activities broadens other negotiation and procurement areas emerge.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Professional development and networking.  Training is an important aspect of current consortium activity, which will continue to be the case in a time of change. However, the ‘soft power’ of consortia in allowing library staff to network with each other, to discuss direction, to come to shared decisions, to ‘pool uncertainty’ should not be underestimated. The costs of building new shared initiatives are high – building trust and good working relationships take time. Community cannot simply be created. Where existing consortia can provide strong trust networks and a platform for future development they should be well-placed to evolve.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 In this context, consortia also have a role in providing a venue for staff development, exploration and sharing of experiences and learning. As they build new shared services, libraries are looking at ways of engaging more effectively with research and learning behaviors. They are building new research and learning support services and are developing new capacities. They are moving into areas where patterns do not necessarily exist. Consortial consultation and support is potentially valuable here, in providing a community within which to learn and develop.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Issues and directions.  While we believe that consortia or collaborative activities will become stronger, there are some counter-pressures. Guzzy (2010) and OCLC (2013) both report that funding pressures are a principal concern of consortia, especially as many are tied to state or other public funding sources. This raises an important issue for consortia. Library activity is institution-based and it may be politically difficult for some libraries to transfer activity to a shared setting. Or libraries themselves may be reluctant sometimes to cede control or responsibility to a shared framework. At the same time, libraries will need to find good ways to meet their administration’s need to reduce cost or to reallocate resources to new forms of engagement with research and learning materials.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 While we have spoken about consortia generally here, as requirements and network affordances change demands, it may be that some existing consortia are sub-scale or do not make the transition to a new environment. We have seen some mergers between consortial organizations.  At the same time, as libraries’ interests intersect with other campus players, libraries will be more involved in more general university initiatives. Ultimately, consortial activity is about right-scaling, finding the optimal level at which activities should be carried out. Libraries are going to have to think harder about both sourcing and scaling. What does it make sense to do at institutional level? What does it make sense to do collaboratively at a different scale? What should be left entirely to other providers? The recent decision to incorporate the Kuali Foundation as a for-profit enterprise is a signal of how these decisions are becoming more complex. It also suggests that there needs to be more conscious coordination of discussions around shared infrastructure needs, especially as core library responsibilities are transferred into shared arrangements. Shared print and digital preservation provide good examples here.

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