Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Consortia: not flaky, but unique

Kathy Perry reminds us that library consortia are not new; libraries have been cooperating for more than a hundred years (1876 - ALA committee on cooperation in indexing and cataloguing college libraries, and cooperative purchasing "expedition" started in 1913!) Since then, statewide consortia have sprung up - Ohio broke the mould by getting (new) state monies for this in 1987. ICOLC has been meeting twice annually since 1996 and now comprises 211 consortia representing over 5000 libraries, with particular growth outside the US in the last 10 years. Kathy quotes Merryll Penson (Galileo): "consortia are like snowflakes"; not flaky - "unique". Most have very low staffing and rely on volunteers.

Priorities are changing for consortia - tasks that wouldn't even have been on the radar some years ago are now among the top priorities - training, digital initiatives, next generation catalogues. Budgets are a problem here as everywhere - when asked how they are addressing this, one respondent to Kathy's recent survey said "Prayer". Tom Sanville, OhioLINK guru commented that "Flat is the new 'up'." Curiously, "negotiating contracts" is given as a 'new' priority - I don't understand how this wasn't already a priority for consortia! I was pleased to know that "advocacy / marketing" is a growing aspect of consortia's budget management - I think measurable end user engagement and traffic will be key to justifying and growing budgets ongoing (later, in the context of training, Kathy talked more about "justifying our value to our decision makers"). Very few consortia have research projects and very few are working together on issues related to archival storage of print collections.

During questions, Peter Burnhill suggested that a lot of information discovery, retrieval and usage is happening outside the library - between peers in both formal and informal contexts. How can libraries and consortia engage with this? Kathy's initial thoughts: this is why libraries and consortia are prioritising next-gen catalogues, to "more readily reflect the world as we know it". We're also working with products like Zotero to help researchers collaborate in a way that reflects not just scholarly publications but web-based materials and conversations. Libraries are trying to engage at this level. Jill Taylor-Roe adds comments from the OA perspective - we're managing a lot of the OA payments to publishers that we're also licensing big deals from, and there should be some synergies in managing the fiscal movements in a more cohesive and efficient way. Hugh Look notes the skills shortfall in this area and the lack of guidance. We need more investment in these skills that would be transferrable to many other areas.

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