Research Consortiums: What Can Academic Libraries Do Today?

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A report from the Association of Research Libraries (pdf) offers four scenarios for predicting the research needs that faculty, students, and other researchers will have in the year 2030, and offers strategic objectives for academic research libraries who will need to build capacity and collections to meet those needs. One of those objectives involves building capacity through consortiums and other cooperative efforts between research libraries:

"Collaborative capacities serving groups of research libraries or the full community of research libraries allows for increasing opportunities to develop a strategy for maintaining and sharing open and rich general collections. Opportunities for cross-pollinating research activities and the potential for shared endeavors are also viable strategies."
From The ARL 2030 Scenarios: A User's Guide to Research Libraries

Paul Gandel, professor of information studies at Syracuse University and a thought leader on this issue, points out that research libraries are caught in a Catch-22, in two ways. First, academic libraries need to share resources in order to build capacity, but that sharing has competitive implications. "Most universities have invested in their collections as a competitive advantage," Gandel notes. "To open up those resources to everyone has political implications, because the institution has made a significant investment in them."

Second, libraries are having to take action in the absence of clear policy at either the national or institutional level; individual libraries and groups of libraries have been faced with the need to come up with solutions without the guidance of a collective strategy for which resources to share, why to share them, how to share them, and whom to share them with. "We need a policy that recognizes previous investments," Gandel remarks, "and clarifies where it makes sense to have institutions compete and where it does or doesn't make sense to have them share research and resources. Building research consortia is not just about technology but about determining what policies will govern access to information. What resources and collections does it make sense to share? Where can sharing build and add to strengths of the institution or of society in general? What resources represent unique competitive advantages to the institution and make no sense to share (unless of course gains in other areas outweigh the disadvantages of sharing)?"

Library leaders will need to actively solicit the views of their institution's president and provost, and seek at least policy guidelines on the institutional level. This in turn will require that library and university leaders build a common understanding of what library resources and services provide real value towards achieving institutional goals. Such an understanding would go a long way in helping libraries identify their strategic direction and their best partnership opportunities.

There are several proactive steps library leaders can take today in the absence of clear policy. Gandel suggests that it's critical for library leaders to first establish a specific vision of how their library will add value to their institution's research endeavor and then use that vision as a compass for guiding investments both in building collection capacity in house and establishing strategic partnerships with other research entities to further boost capacity.


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