Notes of a Binge Thinker

Thoughts from NTLP's Executive Director

Libraries Working Together to Service our Communities

I hope everyone is having a good start to their holiday season.

This month on ntrls.org, we are focusing on Library Services to the Homebound populations.  We have just started three homebound pilot programs in our area with the hope of establishing some constructive guidelines in the form of a toolkit for libraries.  Hopefully, libraries interested in starting their own programs will be able to use these toolkits to help them along the way.  Please take a few moments to look over our website to get some good ideas and don’t forget to listen to our podcasts.

During the holiday season, we traditionally give and share more with each other.  In my family, like many, Christmas is a time to think about what you can do for others.  It is with this in mind that I approach my column this month:  Libraries working together for the betterment of all our communities.

I will be the first to admit, as anybody who reads my column on a regular basis, that I fear for the future of libraries.  There are so many events and trends happening so quickly today that lend individuals to devalue the library that I worry about our ability to change fast enough.  Just this last week, I have had two individuals tell me in emails that libraries are irrelevant in this digital age.  One was an author that did not like the idea of ebooks, but was very firm in her belief that libraries are a waste of tax money and a loss of revenue for her.  I received another email from an ebook vendor that was not sure he wanted to work with libraries because of their inability to change and fully embrace ebooks as a medium.  I know that libraries are much more than a “book place” and many library directors are gearing towards making the needed changes to retain their value.  We know this, but how many in the communities, especially the decision makers, realize what the library brings to the table.

I also understand the fiscal realities facing many libraries today as their budgets are cut, hours are reduced and staff eliminated.  How can a library expect to evolve to better accommodate today’s society when they are given less resources to provide the traditional legacy services?  What can a library director do to better position their libraries to realize more value?

One way for a library to go further with less is by collaborating with other libraries.  This philosophy is where the value of my organization comes into play.  We can legally contract with vendors for the betterment of our member libraries as can any membership-driven regional, state or national organization.  By coming together into larger bodies, libraries can interest most vendors into offering consortium pricing and consortium level of services. (Please note: Some vendors are not set up in a way to allow for consortium offerings.)  Consortiums offer vendors less work on their part, and although each library pays less, the amount of sales volume makes up any difference in pricing where the vendor is actually realizing a larger profit than by selling libraries individually. More often than not, it is a win-win situation for vendors and libraries.

There are also more subtle advantages to consortium.  Many of our consortium members realize great value in the built-in support and networking that comes with a consortium setting.  As members start to use a product or service, I have seen the librarians ask each other questions before approaching the vendor support.  I know from experience that many librarians will ask each other about things before going to someone else.  These consortiums offer up a more streamlined approach to seeking these opinions because they already know other librarians using the product or service.

Regional collaboration is also very impressive to grant making organizations such as foundations and government agencies.  Like any investor, these organizations like to ensure that their funds are spent well and the return is as great as it can be.  When several libraries join together, funders will be shown that there is larger need for the product or service than any individual library can claim.  For example, my organization is currently investigating a digitalization project for many of its member libraries.  Our first task was to see if any other regional organization had the same need and we also searched for a partner that had already done a large digitalization project, but might need additional grant funding to continue their own digitalization efforts.  We were lucky to find two other regional organizations that needed us as much as we needed them.  Between the three organization membership bases, we have built up a list of 47 libraries interested in learning more about the project.  I am encouraged by this development and I am more confident now that we will be able to find some funding for our digitalization effort.  None of this optimism would have been possible if I had not taken the time to ask.

You do not need a member driven organization to collaborate either.  Many of our libraries in the North Texas area were able to convince vendors to give them better than consortium pricing to two or three libraries that signed inter-local agreements.  If you are in the market for a product or service, then I encourage seeking out other libraries to discover if they have the same objective; if they do, approach the market with this in mind and negotiate with vendors that have a consortium mindset.

Finally, it is very fulfilling to me the good we do for the libraries’ communities.  Without the consortium, many of these libraries could not offer what they do to their patrons.  Here are the consortiums we currently have within NTLP.

Evergreen ILS – We have 14 libraries sharing resources and the Evergreen consortium.  Some of the smallest libraries can offer up a much larger selection to their communities because of the resource sharing arrangement made by the consortium members.

Overdrive – We have 18 member libraries circulating online audio books and ebooks through a consortium collection.  Without the greatly reduced pricing, many of these libraries would never be able to afford to offer Overdrive.

Learning Express – Many of our libraries were already offering this service to their communities.  By coming together, they now realize a lesser price than they did on their own.

Live Homework Help – Each consortium member would have to pay much more to set up a tutoring program for their community if they did not have a subscription to this service.  All libraries in this consortium realize a price discount.

Like I stated before, we are working on getting a digitalization consortium together as well as a literacy one.  We will continue to find ways to benefit our members by seeking out new consortium opportunities.

There has been much discussion in the library community that libraries will need to come together in some way to truly offer ebooks as a service to their communities.  The legal and cost realities are too much for one library, or one community, to tackle on their own.  The issues are too large.  In my opinion, it will take a national movement for libraries to offer ebooks in an efficient and effective manner.  The report, COSLA: eBook Feasibility Study for Public Libraries from the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies speaks very frankly on this topic and this report is where I am getting many of my impressions.

“One thing is very clear, though. It’s a good thing COSLA is an organization that has national reach. Nearly everything in this report benefits from or requires a national or large-scale approach to be successful. A local or regional innovation is more powerful when combined and shared with others. Public libraries must expand the ways they learn from and assist each other. If any ship has sailed, it is the idea that public libraries can operate individually or even regionally and still compete effectively for the public’s attention(emphasis is mine). Large-scale, cooperative efforts are essential for the continued health and vibrancy of public libraries because only enormous effort can make a dent in the marketplace of information exchange and capture the public’s attention.” (www.cosla.org/documents/COSLA2270_Report_Final1.pdf, p. 17)

I have had a motto here at NTLP since I started as Executive Director, “Nothing in Isolation.”  I believe this holds true more today than it did even four years ago.  Let’s not be islands, let’s be a cohesive library community ready to better serve our patrons.

Read the rest of my column.

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Written by amwlkaw

December 16, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Misc

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