Here’s a chance to contribute to some big questions

One thing ARL wanted to do this year is to talk about some “big questions” (and even the little ones). Our first topic is put forward by James G Neal, Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian Columbia University.

You are now invited to have a read of the information provided by Jim and then respond to the questions he has asked.  Thank you to Jim and thank you to everyone for your (future) contributions!  Let’s make it a lively discussion.

The questions:

1. How are new forms of collaboration different from the traditions of academic library cooperation?

2. How do academic libraries need to change in order to participate effectively in these new relationships?

3. How is library collaboration evaluated in terms of service improvements, user success, and financial cost/benefits?

The background:

Radical Collaboration:  Academic and Research Libraries Working Together in New Ways

Cooperation is part of the DNA of the academic and research library.  From the conditions of knowledge scarcity over the centuries to the oppression of information and data over-abundance in today’s and tomorrow’s library context, cooperation has been and will be a constant for service, success and survival.

But the definition and view of the academic library as an independent and self-sustaining organization, collaborating and sharing resources on the margin, has persisted.  The future health of the academic library will be increasingly defined by new and energetic relationships and combinations, and the radicalization of working relationships among libraries, between libraries and the communities they serve, and in new entrepreneurial partnerships.  The context for collaboration and innovation is rich and powerful.  It combines rapidly evolving user requirements, a recognition of the need to rethink redundant inefficient library operations, an increasing emphasis on unique resources, a focus on the need to achieve scale and network effects through aggregation, a mandate for systemic change, and the unprecedented economic pressures.

Radical collaboration encourages academic libraries to move in four new directions.  The first is mass production, including back-room operations like acquisitions, cataloging, electronic resource management, and preservation, for example, that might be based in regional distribution centers rather than in every individual library.  The second is centers of excellence, deep and shared polycentric strategies for specialized expertise or services.  The third is new infrastructure, building the technologies and functionalities for areas like digital ingestion, processing and archiving.  The fourth is new initiatives, new programs and projects based on shared investment in experimentation.  In all four cases, the measures of success must be quality, productivity and innovation.  Are we producing something new, saving resources, and achieving something better together than working alone?

2 Responses to “Here’s a chance to contribute to some big questions”


  • Proactiveness (?) and agility are important and necessary for the academic libraries. We need to be visible also outside the library networks, and where decisions are made in our institutions. An important question still to be asked are “how can the library participate in supporting the university vision and mission?” It is easy to cling to the old ways of acting and thinking, however, this is a dangerous trap whereby we risk losing all. There are many examples out there of academic libraries taking on new tasks and thus gaining a broader base.

  • I agree that collaboration has become a critical skill for the academic library. The library is challenged to become more integrated into the fabric of departments across the university in order to ensure that their changing needs are being appropriately addressed. Just as corporate libraries are moving to the embedded librarian model, academic librarians, particularly those with subject specializations, are moving to becoming active participants in the research and teaching undertaken by departments. At the same time, the library as an institution comprises a set of responsibilities and services that are distinct from those of a department. The traditional focus on access and preservation has not changed at a high level, even as the means of achieving those goals is changing dramatically.

Comments are currently closed.