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Libraries Unite

July/August 2016

By Nancy Mann Jackson

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Newer types of collaboration allow research institutions to build off-site storage facilities where they merge their book titles and share the expenses.

As research universities deal with tightened budgets, collaboration and partnerships offer significant opportunities. Some institutions are turning to private developers to finance research park expansion.

Libraries are another component of the research university system that has found great success through partnerships, according to Jonathan R. Cole, author of Toward a More Perfect University (Public Affairs Press, 2016).

In recent years, a number of research libraries have accomplished cost savings as well as enhanced services by creating shared collections with neighboring libraries. Through cross-library borrowing, many university libraries have been able to cut costs by greatly reducing the number of titles to which they subscribe. And growing numbers of libraries have taken partnerships further, collaborating to build off-site storage facilities where they merge their holdings and share the expenses. Here’s how two library partnerships are helping university libraries better accomplish their goals through collaboration.

Chicago Collections

In 2004, when Mary M. Case joined the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) as university librarian and dean of libraries, “there were a number of new library directors in the area,” she says. “We began meeting together to talk about how we could work together, and one of our shared goals was to preserve materials focused on the history of Chicago.”

A number of the university libraries and museums in the Chicago area housed unique artifacts and collections focused on the history of the city, but a researcher would have to visit many libraries to locate all the information. “Scholars may come to one institution and not realize there are other facilities in the area with materials on the same topic,” Case says.

By 2011, the group of 13 organizations, which organized as the Chicago Collections Consortium (CCC), had secured a planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New York City, to develop an online portal of materials documenting the history of Chicago. That portal, which launched to the public in fall 2015, is freely accessible and has been receiving hits “from around the globe,” says Case, who serves on the CCC board of directors. It is the first step toward reaching the consortium’s goal to connect and preserve Chicago-focused collections, and to increase public and scholarly interest in and study of the Chicago region’s history and culture.

Each member of the consortium pays an annual membership fee, with three levels of membership based on the size of the institution. As a governing member, UIC pays $6,000 per year. The only other costs have been staff time for planning programming, Case says.

Eventually, CCC hopes to secure more grants to digitize the shared collections, add new content, and host events. “Already, we’ve seen larger institutions in our group helping smaller institutions with cataloguing and other tasks,” Case says. “It’s become a nice exchange system and community.”

And the project has attracted attention from other cities. “We’re beginning to hear from institutions in Toronto and St. Louis and other places that want to do similar projects,” Case says.

Other Partnerships

While the Chicago Collections represent a library partnership focused on a specific topic, it is only one of several types of partnerships in operation at UIC. For instance, the university libraries also belong to the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois, which operates a library management system for about 80 libraries in the state. “If we don’t have a book locally, CARLI will automatically borrow it from a partner organization,” Case says. “And it makes our dollars go further: If we had to take back management of our own library system now, we probably wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

In addition to managing collections, CARLI benefits member libraries through digital preservation efforts, building infrastructure, and joint licensing. “It reduces our local time negotiating prices with vendors, because CARLI negotiates a reduced rate for subscriptions for all 80 members,” Case says. “Libraries have been doing this kind of collaboration for a long time, and we feel it’s the only way we can really exist now because it’s so expensive to do it on your own.”

Streamlining Management

In February, the new Library Service Center (LSC), a joint project of the Emory University libraries and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s library, opened in Atlanta. With the new facility, both universities aim to accomplish shared goals of saving space and costs, as well as improving operational efficiencies.

“At Emory, we had been considering how to make the long-term archiving and retrieval of materials more cost-effective and operationally effective, making materials always available but not consuming the ever-growing needs for space on campus for materials not in circulation,” says Mike Mandl, executive vice president for finance and administration at Emory University, Atlanta. “We have strategic discussions with Georgia Tech on a quarterly basis, and they had similar needs, so we decided to collaborate.”

That collaboration resulted in a jointly governed 501(c)3 organization, EmTech, which constructed and financed LSC, where each university is housing “a couple million volumes,” Mandl says. EmTech was able to access “very cost-effective financing” to complete the project, and Emory reallocated some existing costs to apply toward the project, Mandl says.

The shared collection allows the libraries to trim their holdings by eliminating duplicates, and because the LSC has plenty of climate-controlled space to accommodate additional volumes (“as needed for the next 50 years,” Mandl says), it’s a long-term solution. It also allows both universities to free up coveted space in their campus libraries, which have become increasingly used for student gatherings, meetings, and group work.

“In my role as chief business officer, I’m often in strategic meetings about the physical needs of the library, and it had become clear that we needed to clear space in our existing main library,” Mandl says. “And while we had some materials stored in multiple sites across Atlanta, this solution allows us to keep everything in one place and streamline management.”

While patrons can visit LSC to peruse and check out materials, it’s not necessary. They can also order materials from their on-campus libraries, and multiple deliveries are made each day. “This is just an example of a clear solution to institutional problems that are much broader than what we’ve considered in the past,” Mandl says. “There is an array of nontraditional approaches and business solutions that can advance academic needs when you have the right minds and the right tools at the table.”

NANCY MANN JACKSON, Huntsville, Ala., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.


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Already, we’ve seen larger institutions in our group helping smaller institutions with cataloguing and other tasks.”

—Mary M. Chase, University of Illinois at Chicago