The Research Library Partnership – Qui Bono?

In a previous post, I gave you some statistics about our current partnership and where all those 153 Partner Institutions come from. Today I’ll talk a little about why those institutions decided to come together and form the OCLC Research Library Partnership.

Some of the Benefits of Partnership

First and foremost, the leadership at these Partner Institutions chose to join the Partnership in order to gain a seat at the table of the largest collaborative research and action-oriented organization devoted to the needs of research libraries. This means that they have a voice in advising us about our directions, a hand in testing our solutions and a participatory foot in the door of activities that push out the boundaries of what we can accomplish together. The Partnership is a venue for institutions ready to lead in shaping the future of research libraries and archives.

Second, Partner Institutions have privileged access to the outputs of our collective work. This is a new benefit this year – we’re experimenting with offering Partners exclusive, 30-day access to the wealth of materials and experiences being produced and shared under the Partnership roof. Published reports, survey analyses, webinars, videos and events are all available to Partners at no charge and before the rest of the community.

A third benefit is one that some Partners have already taken advantage of – direct consultative access to program officers and research scientists to advise on some of your thorniest problems. We’ve engaged in a range of consultations in recent years – Here are examples of three types of direct consultative access that had impact and influence over more than just a single institution.

In 2008, the Mellon Foundation — together with the Council on Library Resources — established a new national grant program in the US focusing on cataloging hidden collections in libraries and archives. Program officers worked in consultation mode with partner institutions, serving as objective readers on draft proposals and in offering advice to help strengthen proposals. Many of the proposals we advised on were ultimately funded! We think of this as a grant- or external, project-driven consultation.

One of our university museum partners got in touch earlier this year wanting to extend the capabilities of the OAICatMuseum software so that it could recognize and report deleted records. We worked with a software company and with the museum team to add and test this feature in April. We think of this as a business or technical consultation.

A few years back an institution reached out to us to participate in a campus initiative on evaluating risks associated with digitizing unpublished, in-copyright materials. We realized this was a shared challenge across the entire partnership. We scaled this into a programmatic effort and gathered community support for an agreed, new, common practice for those wishing to digitize and share images of this class of material. We think of this as a work process consultation, one where institutions both inside and outside of the partnership ultimately benefit from the seeds of one institution’s needs.

A related form of direct consultative access to staff is one of our most common inquiries. An example might be an institution with a strong photographic collection of Polar Explorations is looking for partners who hold personal papers or correspondence collections around some of the less well-known participants in those explorations. We can often be helpful in Match-Making. Sometimes this is one institution looking for one other institution but more often it ends up being a group effort and sometimes it turns into an issue that we pick up and run with as part of our Partnership work agenda.

A fourth class of benefit is entirely new this year and has been developed in response to expressions of interest from across the Partnership: an annual, individualized profile of each collection as represented in WorldCat and in sync with strategic priorities within the Partnership. This annual profile work will help partners plan and take collective action in areas of key need. In this first year, the profile work will be shaped by an Advisory Group (composition of which will be shared soon) – they will provide input into the sorts of analyses we should undertake.

A Final Word about Partnership Benefits

Deriving benefit from an institutional affiliation is not a unilateral proposition. Benefit is not measured solely by the number of opportunities presented; instead, benefit — or ROI — is best measured by the extent to which Partner staff act on those opportunities and participate in activities that help shape new solutions and services. Partners can watch for our weekly news updates, subscribe to our RSS feeds, read reports, download webinars. . . raise your hands and your voices when interesting opportunities present themselves – your colleagues within the Partnership will thank you and so will we.

Reach out to us, share your thoughts, help us to shape the future!

Nancy has worked with the research library community since 1984 when she took her first professional position at the University of Michigan. In 1989 she began work at RLG and for several years focused on developing standards and best practices for preservation microfilming. By the mid-1990s she had moved into the more generalized arena of membership development, leading efforts to attract and retain new members in Europe and North America. Nancy left OCLC in 2014.

3 Comments on “The Research Library Partnership – Qui Bono?”

  1. Hi Amy! Thanks for the clarification and it’s absolutely true of course for other agencies as well. Nothing offers a guarantee — there are just too many fabulous projects, ideas, and collections for them to all get funded the way they should. But more eyes on a proposal always help.

    As one of the program officers who has read draft proposals I feel that I benefit by gaining a better understanding what challenges (and opportunities) are out in the community. I can also make suggestions for contacts with other institutions that face similar challenges (or that have taken what we feel to be exemplary approaches in solving problems).

  2. We’re glad to hear that many members of OCLC’s Research Library Partnership have been successful applicants to our Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program! We at CLIR would just like to clarify that we cannot and do not endorse any particular consultancy or grant-writing program, and CLIR staff do not work with OCLC in any way on the consultations mentioned in this post. Due to the numbers of applications we get, our staff cannot read and give feedback on drafts, so we are glad to know that OCLC offers this service and it has proved helpful in the past. We do routinely work with our applicants through email and strive to answer questions as promptly and thoroughly as possible, and we also encourage any and all potential applicants to also visit our website, where they can find examples of successful proposals as well as general advice for grantseekers compiled by staff at CLIR, NEH, NHPRC and NYSA.

    All best,

    Amy Lucko
    Program Officer

  3. Thanks for the well-crafted summary/ I think ASERL Libraries would be very interested in learning more about the annual collection profiles that are under development. I look forward to hearing more about this in the days ahead.


    John Burger, Executive Director
    Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL)

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