Collaborating to better understand collaboration

The following post is part of a series  highlighting the OCLC Research project Library Collaboration in Research Data Management.

A successful collaboration depends on surrounding yourself with good partners. We took this principle to heart as we assembled a set of case studies as part of our Library Collaboration in RDM project. Our case study partners are indeed exemplary, and we are excited to work with them to develop a better understanding of library collaboration. In this post, I’d like to introduce our case study partners and say a little bit about each of them.

First, a little background on the project. Multi-institutional collaboration to acquire capacity is a choice that needs to be taken strategically. While collaboration offers real benefits to academic libraries as a way to address mutual needs, it also entails real costs, such as the time it takes to form and run a new partnership. As academic libraries respond to a relentlessly dynamic environment, collaboration is often seen as an inviting or even preferred option for sourcing capacity, despite the costs.

OCLC Research’s Library Collaboration in RDM project explores collaboration as a strategic sourcing option. In the first phase of the project, we are developing a set of frameworks and tools to assist decision-makers in evaluating the collaboration option and communicating the rationale behind their choices. In the second phase, we are adapting the results of the first phase into an analytical frame to examine a set of case studies. Each case study represents a group of institutions that have chosen to source research data management (RDM) capacity through a collaboration. We will draw out lessons learned and recommendations from these case studies to deepen our understanding of collaboration in practice and help guide future library collaborations.

In selecting our case study partners, we focused on a few broad criteria:

  • RDM-focused, multi-institutional collaboration 
  • Libraries are a leading actor in the collaboration
  • Case studies should collectively address multiple RDM-related service areas: Education, Expertise, Curation
  • At least one case study should involve a new grouping of collaborating institutions, and at least one should involve collaborating institutions that come from an existing association (e.g., a consortium)

Case studies of inter-library collaboration in RDM

In consultation with the project advisory committee, we identified three collaborations that fit these criteria, and were delighted when they accepted our invitation to work with us. Our case study partners are all excellent examples of libraries working together to develop and share RDM capacity.

Texas Data Repository (TDR)

The Texas Data Repository is a collaboration among members of the Texas Digital Library, a consortium of Texas higher education institutions. Members who opt in to the TDR service gain access to a shared data repository that will accept data sets from any discipline in a wide variety of formats. TDR enables cost savings by leveraging a shared infrastructure across many institutions – cost savings that for some members might be the difference between having data repository capacity or not. While TDR is a shared data repository platform, members can create branded data collections and offer specialized services to meet local needs. 

Portage Network/Digital Research Alliance of Canada

Portage is a collaboration among members of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries to provide a national network of experts, services, and infrastructure to support stewardship of research data. A fundamental principle underpinning the effort is that collaborative approaches lead to collective expertise, and ultimately, cost savings. Portage offers a range of shared resources to its members, such as repository capacity, tools, guidance, training materials, and a network of experts that can provide advice and consultation on stewardship practices throughout the data lifecycle. In 2021, Portage was integrated into the Digital Research Alliance of Canada/Alliance de Recherche Numérique du Canada, a national not-for-profit organization created to support the Canadian research community and sustain its global competitiveness. 

Data Curation Network (DCN)

The Data Curation Network is a collaboration among 13 US universities, an independent data repository, and a philanthropic foundation to pool expertise in research data curation. DCN began with the recognition that research data comes in many forms, each requiring special curation expertise and skills to ensure long-term availability and use. No single institution can realistically gather this diverse and specialized curation expertise locally; however, by sharing their collective expertise through a cross-institutional shared staffing model, DCN members can draw on a network of experts to cover a much broader range of research data types and formats than any single member would be able to support on their own. 

Next steps

All of these case study partners are examples of library-led collaboration around capacity to support emerging needs in RDM, an area of strong strategic interest to academic libraries and their institutions. Yet each illustrates a unique perspective on how library collaboration operates in practice, and in doing so, contributes to a deeper understanding of the collaboration option for all libraries. For this project we chose to focus on North American examples of library collaboration, but the experiences of our case study partners should resonate in other national contexts as well. 

We are in the process of interviewing project stakeholders and gathering additional information that will be compiled in an upcoming OCLC Research report.

Whether in the form of an existing association of academic libraries expanding the scope of their collective effort to meet an emerging mutual interest, or a group of libraries choosing to form a new collaborative partnership to address a shared challenge with collective action, the collaboration option is an important strategy for libraries as they acquire new capacities to support the ever-evolving needs of their research communities. We are grateful that our three case study partners – TDR, Portage, and DCN – are willing to contribute their time and effort to collaborate with OCLC Research to share their experiences with, and perspectives on, collaboration.

Thanks to my colleagues on the Library Collaboration in RDM project – Amanda Rinehart (Ohio State University Libraries) and Rebecca Bryant (OCLC Research) – for their helpful advice on this post!