Wednesday, April 6, 2011

checking in from CLIR/NITLE Summit

I flew to Washington DC yesterday to attend the CLIR Symposium and NITLE Summit. I'm looking forward especially to hearing the keynote by John Seely Brown tonight. I am participating in the session on Library Collections: Strategies for Access and Preservation. Ahead of that discussion, I'll put down one idea that I have about a "liberal arts college digital library."

The Orbis Cascade Alliance is working on a demand-driven shared e book collection. Lewis & Clark is an enthusiastic participant in this endeavor as are our partner Alliance Libraries. I am concerned, however, that this endeavor might run up against some limitations because of the heterogeneity of Alliance Libraries, both in terms of size and the academic programs they support.

I'm wondering if there might be bigger opportunities for collaborating on purchased/licensed digital resources if a large group of libraries with similar budgets and academic programs pooled resources together. Say 100 liberal arts colleges came together and built a "liberal arts college digital library" stocked with e journals, research databases, electronic books and a top-notch shared web presence. The goal would be to cover say 70%+ of the average library's information needs with this shared digital library, which would be priced at a certain cost per FTE. The remaining 30% would be reserved for print books and journals, electronic resources not included in the deal, special collections, etc. There would be savings because of collective bargaining power but also through lots of staff time saved because selection, evaluation, and cataloging of resources and perhaps even the web portal would be done centrally.

A few potential gotchas: vendors might not give dramatic enough price breaks to make the electronic resources included in this package greater than what the average library could get for their money with current ala-carte consortial pricing; it might be hard to get libraries to pull out of state or regional consortial deals already in place; choosing a one-size-fits-all set of resources might be hard given that there are real differences in academic programs; how would previously purchased e resources fit in?; also, if we did use a shared web portal, integrating local-only resources could be a challenge. Some kind of study would need to be done to figure out how big these obstacles really are.

There is a rightful wariness on the part of libraries towards "the big deal," a sense that each library should be free to buy only what it needs. This would be the mother of all "big deals," but the package of resources selected would be done presumably by a a nonprofit collective with input from member libraries, not a vendor (though one could imagine a vendor inserting itself into this position at some point).

In a networked environment, why should 100s of libraries that basically serve a similar set of users all be devoting staff time to selecting, evaluating, purchasing, and organizing a similar set of resources? In a sense, I think the Tri-Colleges already do something similar to this proposal, but only on the scale of three institutions.


  1. Hi Mark!

    I'm not a librarian myself, but I attended graduate school in Ohio and made generous use of the Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLink). Is what you're describing at all similar? They've established a digital resource commons ( shared by a number of public and private colleges. They also publish student theses and dissertations and make them available to all participating institutions.

    I imagine what you're describing in sharing licensed digital resources may be more complex.

  2. Neat idea, Mark. And good to see you! Still traveling?

  3. I had a similar idea this past week. I was thinking of resources that support some of the health sciences areas -- nursing, pharmacy, and other programs - and we purchase ejournals, ebooks and databases in those areas for interested libraries. Vendors could allow us to share access within a subset of libraries. It moves us away from the direction of one collection for the entire Alliance but it could help address certain areas.

    My hope is that the DDA pilot will still provide a decent range of subjects for institutions. It is a challenge...I won't deny it.

    Emily - OHSU

  4. Thanks for the comment, Emily. I'm excited to see how far we can take the Alliance DDA pilot. You and the team have done some great work on that.