Strategic Success: Myth or Reality?


Michael Golrick, Director of the Southern Connecticut Library Council

Are multitype consortia successful? Can they plan to be successful? Is consortial success a myth or a reality? Let me try to answer this by first talking about consortia in my life, briefly covering the history of Connecticut library cooperation and then looking at some of the successful library consortia in the country.

Personal History with Consortia

Consortia have played a variety of roles in my life. I must have been all of twelve or thirteen when my local public library changed from the paper library card with a number (which you wrote on the book card) to the plastic Gaylord stamp card. Your name and address were embossed, and it was placed in a machine which imprinted your name/address onto tape which was peeled off the book card when you brought it back. It was a major step in patron confidentiality! When I received my new card they asked if I wanted it stamped. You know how kids are, and I of course said "Yes, what is it for." As best I remember the answer, it was all about reciprocal borrowing.

I did not pay much attention to the "stamp" until high school. Then the arrangements made by the Central Massachusetts Regional Library System became important. I often took the bus to downtown Worcester to use the much larger public library there. From the point of view of a member of the public, it was great! I could go and use the books, and check out whatever I wanted! This was well before the days of any kind of computer catalog. This was my first exposure to consortia.

I remember hearing in Library School about the Lincoln Trails Library System—and indeed the whole structure of the Illinois State Library's cooperatives. The sharing of reference resources and shipping of books was the major role. Back in the mid 1970s, Illinois was one of the nation's models with this service. [That is what they taught us at the University of Illinois Library School!]

In Arizona, there were county systems. But, there is still a great deal of territory to cover once you are outside Metro Phoenix and Tucson. The Tucson Public Library had funding from MURLS (Major Urban Resource Library Services—part of LSCA) which they used to run a second level reference service for libraries in the southern half of Arizona. This was a service where the local library would call with questions they could not answer. Dave Kendall ran the service out of a small windowless office tucked in a corner of the Main Library. He spent some time using the Main Library resources, but he also knew every small, special library in the area (in those days there were lots of mining companies, local bank headquarters, the local newspapers, etc.). He had the freedom to go to the University of Arizona Library (and all of its special collections). It was a different kind of service, but beloved and effective.

The Connecticut Story

When I came to Connecticut, I worked in a library which housed one of the library consortia. Actually, it was while I was there that it split into two! One focused on library automation. The other remained the "traditional" Cooperating Library Service Unit. How did they come to be?

For many years, the public and academic library directors in Fairfield County have met on a regular basis. They still do. They are vocal. They represent some of the best funded libraries in the nation. They are a force to be reckoned with in the Connecticut library community. In the late 1960s they created the Southwestern Connecticut Library System while corporate and other academic libraries created the Library Group of Southwestern Connecticut. Both had the same goals: a union catalog, interlibrary loan, and delivery. Much was done in a fairly unsophisticated way. One example was the "ring search." ILL requests were put on catalog cards which were looped together (on a ring). The driver/searcher went from library to library (in a ring) searching for the items on the ring. Crude, but it worked! A similar organization was born in the greater Hartford area.

In the early 1970s Connecticut librarians began planning for the future. A series of planning meetings took place and culminated in a multi-day planning retreat called Target 76. A number of current library services in the state are the result of this effort. They include Connecticard (ability to use you library card in any public library in the state), Connecticar (the delivery service which means that you can return a book to any library in the state—no matter its home), and the Cooperating Library Service Units or CLSUs. With the redirection of LSCA money towards library cooperative efforts, "the System" and "the Group" merged to form the Southwestern Connecticut Library Council (SWLC).

The CLSUs serve based on geography. They are creatures of the State Library with a separate line item in the budget. When the CLSUs were set up, they reported to a separate organization—the CLSU Review Board. Each office received a basic operating grant and any additional funding for additional programs was awarded on a competitive basis. When I say competitive, I mean it. I know from my years of service on the Southwestern Connecticut Library Council Board (including a year as President).

In the late 1980s a new state librarian arrived. He streamlined the State Library's advisory committees. Several Boards were eliminated (including the CLSU Review Board). In addition, hard times hit the state's economy. State agency budgets were level funded or even cut. As a result of the funding cuts the CLSUs had to work more efficiently which meant more cooperation and a reduction in the number of regions from 6 to 4. It was a very uncertain time—especially for CLSU staff. The old SWLC and Region One Cooperative merged into the Western Connecticut Library Council. Eastern Connecticut Library Association and the South Eastern Connecticut Library Association merged to form Eastern Connecticut Libraries.

For the last five years the CLSUs have worked much more closely together. The funding is now divided using a formula, with a lump sum for each office, distributions for managing services offered statewide to CLSU members, and the remainder divided with 50% of the balance based on the number of members, 25% based on relative wealth of the towns covered, 15% based on population, and 10% based on number of square miles. Because there are no more fights about money, we can spend our energies on cooperating.

The Value and Necessity of Member Participation

I have been on both sides of the CLSU table—board and staff. I served six years on the SWLC (South Western Connecticut Library Council) Board including a term as President. I have now been five years at the Southern Connecticut Library Council. I can not state more strongly that every regional or cooperative effort, any consortia, is only as good as the efforts of the participants. I went to the dictionary to look up the etymology and meaning of the word consortium. It is Latin for fellowship. This has real implications when used in the business sense—or more properly, in the nonprofit world. We will be most successful when we work together as "fellow" colleagues. One of the very clear implications to me is that the effort needs to be put forth by ALL participants.

In talking about Connecticut's non-automation consortial history, I mentioned the role played by personal interactions. I solicited input about successful consortia on a national list. One of the Massachusetts automation consortium directors wrote back and said (in part) "Interpersonal networking was equally important. Though the libraries were close geographically, many of the librarians had never met each other, particularly at the staff levels, nor had they visited the other institutions." This visiting back and forth can be extremely valuable.

Success Stories

I started off by asking "Are multitype consortia successful? The answer to the question is clearly: "YES!" What are some of the success stories for consortia?

North Suburban Library System

The first multitype that came to mind is the employer of this year's ALA President, Sarah Long. Sarah is the Executive Director of the North Suburban Library System. At North Suburban, they were ahead of the Net craze. They began Internet access in libraries throughout the system area in 1993. Included with that they established NorthStarNet, a collection of home pages representing most of the communities in the area north of Chicago. [Note these are COMMUNITY pages, not just LIBRARY pages.] Their partnerships have included the Ravinia Music Festival, the Chicago Wolves' hockey team and the Chicago Tribune. One of the most interesting is the establishment of the North Suburban Library Foundation in 1995, an independent foundation that presents the Literary Circle, an annual author lecture series. Visit their web site for more information.

Chicago Library System

The Chicago Library System includes the Chicago Public Library among its members. Its web page was recently updated to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements (something we all should do). They have also set up a library related "chat room." As systems go, they are relatively young. They are in the process of celebrating their tenth anniversary.

Other related systems:
Alliance Library System.

A page listing ALL of the Illinois Systems

Mideastern Ohio Regional Library Organization

The Mideastern Ohio Regional Library Organization (MOLO) set up a rather extensive technology training lab, which enhanced their extensive and well-utilized continuing education program.

A page listing ALL of the Ohio Regions

South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative

Karen Hyman, Executive Director of the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative in New Jersey, reported that SJRLC's web page includes a Power Point presentation by the director on reference work in the digital age. Their budget and annual work plan is on the web page. Their annual budget is almost $1 million ($922,000) of which over 85% is from the state library.

Central Jersey Regional Library Cooperative

The Central Jersey Regional Library Cooperative has a very small staff (the term "lean and mean" comes to mind). They have training labs (can you tell that I am envious) and their web page has a list of local legislators with links for those who have email addresses! A great idea. . . I may have to steal that one! They also are working on ways to help libraries deal with helping patrons with technology. They have a section of their web page called Help for Patrons and a separate page with Help for Librarians.

A page listing ALL of the New Jersey Cooperatives

SEFLIN [South East Florida Library and Information Network]

The South East Florida Library and Information Network has a more traditional automation consortium aspect, but among other things, they also run a Free-net. Interestingly the bottom of each page has a "partner and supporter." Rather than business sponsors, they are the SEFLIN member libraries. (With full color logos!)

Tampa Bay Library Consortium

The Tampa Bay Library Consortium, directed by Diane Solomon, has a server is named "Snoopy." This means that in the full Internet address (email or web page) the word "snoopy" shows up. In addition to CE and a training lab, TBLC runs an automated system, ILL service and-most importantly-manages the statewide delivery/courier service. This service has successfully made the transition from fully grant funded to half grant and half library payments as of October 1 this year. Turnaround for sites with three and five day per week delivery is 48–72 hours from one end of the state to the other—Key West to Jacksonville or Pensacola are long distances. Solomon said, "We are looking forward to implementation of our Anywhere-Anytime Library for West Central Florida early in the new year [i.e. 2000]." In addition, there are a number of automation related services which they provide including inclusion of area library holdings in OCLC.

A page with a clickable map of ALL of the Florida Cooperatives

Southwest Area Multicounty Multitype Interlibrary Exchange (SAMMIE)

The seven multitype cooperative systems in Minnesota are a little different from most states as they operate in parallel with the twelve regional public library systems. Most have been in operation for 20 years this year, with the original pilot region operating for 25 years.

Western NY Library Resources Council (WNYLRC)

New York has nine multitype consortia. The Western NY Library Resources Council (WNYLRC) focuses on consortial pricing for online databases, training, library advocacy, regional automation, and resource sharing. One of the more interesting services they provide is their Hospital Library Services Program. This service has four staff, and (if I understand it correctly) provides "circuit hospital librarians" to some of the very small hospitals in the region.

Central New York Library Resources Council

The Central New York Library Resources Council has mounted some digitized collections of local history materials. This makes those materials available not only outside the library, but to the whole world!

South Central Regional Library Council

The South Central Regional Library Council (also in New York) recently received an IMLS National Leadership grant to collaborate with the other 3Rs in New York State to develop a prototype statewide virtual catalog. This will be based on existing regional efforts to develop virtual catalogs. Their LakeNet service provides Internet service for rural libraries, Web pages and other Web services for libraries that can't or don't want to do them themselves, including hosting discussion groups, etc. They have also established an innovative solution to distance learning for their large, rural region—two sets of eleven laptop computers that can be networked to each other and to the Internet through a hub and modem and one telephone line (each laptop thus has its own IP address). The network staff take these on the road and teach hands on classes; the training goes to the participants rather than the participants to the training.

A page with a clickable map of ALL of the New York Cooperatives

North Bay Cooperative Library System (California)
Enter "guest" as the patron ID

North Bay Cooperative Library System in California has a great success story to share. They have a fully automated patron initiated interlibrary loan system called SuperSearch. SuperSearch ties together the online catalogs of 16 out of 33 member libraries to create a virtual union catalog. The VUC is accessible from home, work, school, or library. Users with valid library cards can request items that are not owned by their local library and the item will be delivered to the branch of their choice. There is no cost to the patron for using this service because it is so time efficient for the libraries. It takes seven minutes for staff to process a SuperSearch ILL request as opposed to 25 minutes for an OCLC ILL request. In an email about the service , Director Annette Milliron wrote, "Of the seventeen 'unconnected' member libraries, three will be added to the virtual union catalog by the end of 1999. Two more libraries use SuperSearch as borrowing libraries only because the libraries are not automated and therefore cannot lend via the VUC. The remaining twelve members are either new members that haven't addressed the issue of joining a VUC yet or are members with political battles to conquer about lending." She continued, "We have statistical proof that no one has suffered resource rape during the three years we've been operating SuperSearch. We also have proof that patrons love the service. But some members still have to proceed slowly."

INCOLSA (Indiana Cooperative Library Services Authority)

My last example is from Indiana. There the former regional services united in 1995 as the Indiana Cooperative Library Services Authority (INCOLSA), a multitype network of 759 member libraries including college and university libraries, public libraries, as well as school districts and corporate libraries. Also housed at the INCOLSA building in Indianapolis is the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana (PALNI), a consortium of private academic libraries in the state. INCOLSA offers Wheels, a statewide delivery service which allows many more libraries to participate in ILL and allows costs of ILL to remain low, and INSPIRE (INdiana SPectrum of Information REsources), a suite of online databases offered to the entire state of Indiana from library, school, office, home, or anywhere with an Internet connection. INSPIRE Kids is the children's interface for INSPIRE geared to grades K-7. They also offer technology training, consortial purchasing, reference, and special programming. Working with the Indiana Library Federation, they produced a great set of PSA videos promoting this service and giving their legislature credit for the funding.


I asked whether consortia are successful. My research shows that there are a large number of successful consortia. If a consortium is not on the list I made, it does not imply that it is not successful, only that I don't know about it.

Can consortia plan to be successful? I believe that to be successful consortia must plan. Success does not just happen. Each of the consortia above listens to its members. Each one plans what they do.

Is consortial success a myth or a reality? I believe that it can be the reality for any consortia which wants it. Consortia and their members control their own destiny. Each of the success stories above has one element in common: they identified a need and proceeded to meet it!