Hallmarks of library cooperation

Collaboration Continuation from waibel-erway Think Global Act Local 2009The OCLC Research Library Partnership offers opportunities for staff to learn from peers in other countries. Hideyuki Seki of Keio University took advantage of this opportunity to ask the OCLC Research Library Partners Metadata Managers Focus Group members for examples of their most successful collaborations with other institutions’ libraries and the factors that contributed most to their success. He wrote:

In the US, many cooperative activities or collaborative projects among research libraries are in progress. In contrast, it is difficult to organize tangible projects among university libraries in Japan. The reason of the difference between US and Japan on this issue might be explained by the differences in cultures, customs and structures of the organizations, but I hope we could learn some hints for invigorating cooperative activities among Japanese research libraries by studying the actual situations in other countries in more depth.

The focus group members responded with an impressive list of successful collaborations to share discovery, collections, expertise and standards development. Examples included: Arabic Collections Online to digitize public domain Arabic language texts and provide a unified publication and discovery platform for the digital objects; Articlereach; Australian Newspaper Plan (ANPlan) (a program to collect and preserve every newspaper published in Australia); Biodiversity Heritage Library; Borrow Direct; the Copyright Review Management System, a collaborative effort to help provide copyright determinations for volumes in HathiTrust; Emblematica Online portal; Getty Research Portal; the Kuali Open Library Environment (OLE) project; Libraries Australia; the National Bibliographic Database in Australia and the National Union Catalogue in New Zealand; NACO and the Program for Cooperative Cataloging; NSLA (national libraries of Australia and New Zealand, and the State and Territory libraries of Australia working collaboratively to strengthen the information infrastructure in Australia and New Zealand); the NSLA eResources Consortium (an e-resources purchasing consortium); Primeros Libros de las Americas, digitizing surviving copies of the first books published in the New World prior to 1601; the OCLC Research Library Partnership’s SHARES program; Trove; the UKB, the Dutch consortium of thirteen university libraries and the National Library of the Netherlands.

On a smaller scale, members noted inter-institutional cooperation agreements for shared storage such as the Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST); digitizing materials held by other institutions; the Columbia and Cornell 2CUL partnership to pool resources to provide content, expertise and services and its current Technical Services Integration; the Indiana and Northwestern Universities’ Avalon Media System project to develop an audio and video repository; the CIC Cooperative Cataloging Initiative; the California Digital Library’s  offerings of system wide preservation and access services; Stanford’s collaboration with the Bibliothèque nationale de France on the French Revolution Digital Archive; Hong Kong’s Joint University Librarians Advisory Committee and its Hong Kong Academic Library Link (HKALL) for resource sharing; the Manhattan Research Library Initiative (MaRLI) to coordinate collection development and resource sharing among NYU, Columbia and the New York Public Library; New Jersey’s Digital Media Repository (NJVid); the Orbis Cascade Alliance; the University System of Maryland and Affiliated Institutions (USMAI).

Factors that contributed to success:

  • Project Scope. Clearly articulated project scope and expectations.
  • Common goals. The partners need to have values that align, a common understanding of the desired outcomes. The benefits of the partnership must outweigh any risks.
  • Clearly understood roles and responsibilities. Each partner needs to bring something of value to the collaboration; e.g. funds, skills, knowledge, data/content.
  • It must be a true partnership in which the collective contribution of the partners creates more than any could have achieved individually.
  • Administrative support and funding. There needs to be support for the partnership at high levels in each organization, and the willingness to invest in it.
  • Governance. The nature of the partnership needs to be understood and agreed, with written agreements in place. In addition, there needs to be explicit decisions made about financial administrations, governance, and ways to resolve issues that arise.

These success factors reminded me of the five “Catalysts for collaboration” in the 2009 report, Think Global, Act Local – Library, Archive and Museum Collaboration written by my colleagues Ricky Erway and Günter Waibel. Excerpts:

  • Vision – For a collaborative idea to succeed, it has to be embedded in an overarching vision all participants share. This vision is what makes it worth the effort to overcome obstacles.
  • Mandate – A mandate, expressly conveyed through strategic plans or high-level directives—as well as less formal modes of encouragement—can kindle and direct enthusiasm for collaboration. (On the flipside, the absence of a mandate can have a corrosive effect on activities as uncertainty about administrative backing dominates discussions.)
  • Incentives – Staff evaluations and departmental assessments should include collaborative activities in their appraisals. Collaborative work should be supported through promotion, monetary incentives and public recognition.
  • Change Agents – At every stage, collaboration can benefit from the presence of a “change agent”—a trusted individual, department, or program that keeps the effort alive, injects it with a dose of resources (ideas, technology, staff) at the right time and keeps participants focused on the overall vision to which they are aiming.
  • Mooring – Collaborations thrive and survive when they have an administrative mooring or a home base from which they can conduct operations, communicate with others, and incorporate their efforts into the broader mission of their institution.

The “Collaboration as a continuum” graphic which precedes this blog entry is from that 2009 report.