Cooperation among libraries in the United
States is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating from
1876 when Samuel S. Green, librarian of the Worcester
Massachusetts public library suggested in the very first
issue of Library Journal:
"It would be add greatly to the usefulness of our
reference libraries if an agreement should be made to
lend books to each other for short periods of time. It
happens not unfrequently that some book is called for by
a reader・which he (the librarian) finds in the
catalogue of another library, but which does not belong
to his own collection."
While it was common for libraries to loan books to
individuals at a distance the possibility that a library
could borrow such a book had not been generally discussed
before in the United States.
Mr. Green continued:
"Perhaps those libraries which now allow books to be
taken out by certain classes of non-residents would like
to have applicants introduced through the libraries of
the towns where they live, and instead of sending books
to individuals would prefer to send them to libraries to
be delivered by them to applicants, and to be looked
after as they look after their own books."
Mr. Green's suggestion struck a chord with his colleagues
and interlibrary loan was born and the topic began to
fill subsequent issues of Library Journal. By 1891, Mr.
Green had become president of the American Library
Association and in his presidential address singled out
the Surgeon General's library in Washington (a non-circulating
library at the time) for their generosity in frequently
loaning to other medical and university libraries.
Interlibrary loans had become so common by 1892 that
abuses were already being reported! Melville Dewey wrote
in the July (1892) Library Notes:
"Inter-library loans which were a little while ago
almost unknown are now of daily occurrence. The spirit of
helpfulness and wish to have the library used is I the
ascendant. We are, and have been from the first, earnest
champions of this, but a not of warning is needed. In
their zeal to serve one, some libraries are abusing the
rights of many. Trying to be useful to scholars who can
not afford to come to the library they sometimes simply
encourage indolent and presuming selfishness."
Mr. Dewey felt that some took advantage of the generosity
"It is fairly noted also that the book that can not
be had elsewhere are just the ones against the loss of
which the library should most carefully guard, and just
the ones which some other scholar, too modest to ask the
mountain to come to him, will come a long distance to
see, only to find that his less considerate co-worker, in
a distant state, has stayed at home and enjoyed the
privilege which he has missed. Fate seems to ordain that
a book which has not been off the shelf for years, if
sent away, will be badly wanted before it gets back. In
summary the, while highly commending the spirit that
leads to inter-library loans, we foresee abuses that make
it necessary to watch carefully lest we serve one at the
cost of many."
Despite Mr. Dewey's concerns, the practice grew. In 1896
the Boston Public Library loaned 63 books to other
libraries. The applicant library agreed to be responsible
for the care of the books and to submit to reasonable
penalty for loss or mutilation:
"The whole system is subject to the following
limitations: (1) the books asked for must be one out of
the ordinary course-not such as it is the ordinary duty
of the applicant library to supply; (2) it must be
required for purposes of serious research; (3) it must be
a book which may, without injury, be sent by express; and
(4) it must be a book which may be spared for the time
being, without inconvenience to our local readers."
Here you can see the beginnings of the guidelines which
govern most current interlibrary lending activity
At the American Library Association conference in 1899,
Dr. Ernest Richardson delivered a paper entitled "Cooperation
in Lending among College and Reference Libraries" in
which he lamented the lack of books in American college
"The greatest handicap comes from the fact that the
majority of books cannot even be found in America, the
next from the difficulty of finding where in America such
works as there are located, and a third from the great
expense involved in travelling even to American books."
Dr. Richardson suggested that lending books by one
library to another might solve the problem, but felt that
the difficulty of knowing where to borrow placed too
great a burden on the larger libraries. He advised the
creation of a central lending library with branches in
various parts of the country to handle loans. While this
never happened formally, an informal network with the
Library of Congress at the center and the major research
libraries scattered across the United States did, in
practice, fulfill Dr. Richardson's vision.
I provide this history of the earliest examples of
library cooperation to reinforce the fact that this is a
relatively new phenomenon in the United States. But
haven't we, as a global information community, come a
long way since that time?! Bibliographic utilities such
as OCLC and RLIN and national libraries with electronic
locator services now make it so easy to find out who owns
a book. Sophisticated software programs manage the
lending process. Often libraries enable their users to
directly request materials from other libraries in
While interlibrary loan is the grandfather or grandmother
of library cooperation our experience in other forms of
cooperation and collaboration is even newer, still
emerging, and has many faces.
Having now lived in two very different collaborative
environments, I thought it might be useful, given the
theme of this symposium, to talk to you about the two
consortia with which I am most familiar, comment on the
common features of collaborative efforts in the United
States, share the successful aspects of such
arrangements, and finish by outlining those factors which
inhibit true cooperation. Library cooperation has been
described by a colleague as an unnatural act and I would
like to explain why!
My goal is to give you enough information to stimulate
your thinking, not overwhelm you with too much
information or bore you, and to leave lots of time for
questions. I always get more out of the question and
answer sessions at these kinds of meetings that I do from
the formal presentations!
THE BOSTON LIBRARY CONSORTIUM
I spent 31 years in the libraries of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in a variety of capacities,
including interlibrary loan and interlibrary borrowing
and reference. I was part of the small committee which
coordinated MIT's joining the Boston Library Consortium
in 1972, which gives me some 24 years of experience with
this cooperative arrangement.
The Boston Library Consortium was founded in 1970 with
the purpose of sharing human and information resources so
that the collective strengths of the group advance the
research and learning of the members' constituents. The
Consortium supports resource sharing and enhancement of
services to users through programs in cooperative
collecting, access to electronic resources, access to
physical collections, and enhanced interlibrary loan and
document delivery. There are sixteen members, mostly in
the Boston, Massachusetts area, including: Boston
College, Boston Public Library, Boston University,
Brandeis University, Brown University, Marine Biological
Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern
University, State Library of Massachusetts, Tufts
University, five campuses of the University of
Massachusetts, and Wellesley College. Faculty and
students in Boston are extremely fortunate to have access
to this massive collection of collections.
Total holdings of the member institutions total almost 27
(You may be wondering why Harvard University is not part
of the Boston Library Consortium. The 96 libraries at
Harvard do a very good job of meeting the information
needs of their users from their own collections and have
not felt the need for such cooperative arrangements. In
1996, for the first time, however, we did negotiate a
reciprocal borrowing arrangement between Harvard and MIT
for faculty and graduate students.)
In addition to direct patron borrowing for all members of
all institutions (faculty, graduate students,
undergraduates, and staff), Boston Library Consortium
Facilitated Interlibrary Loan. Members provide special
ILL services to other member libraries, including high
priority treatment of requests, electronic transmission
of articles, and a courier service to deliver books and
Cooperative Collections Agreements. Members develop
agreements to share and coordinate the building of
subject collections. Current agreements for print
materials include Asian Business and Economics serials,
Biology serials retention, Chemistry serials retention,
Film Studies journals, Latin American Women's Studies,
Neurosciences serials retention, and Small Press poetry.
Electronic Cooperative Collections. The Boston Library
Consortium negotiates joint licenses for the electronic
information resources provided by the libraries so that
the member libraries can pay the lowest prices possible
and get the best user access terms from the producers and
vendors. Since license language governing access and use
of electronic information resources varies greatly from
one product to another negotiating appropriate rights is
an important role for the Consortium.
Union List of Serials. This is a catalogue of more that
235,000 serial titles owned by the sixteen institutions.
Brown University, the newest member, will be adding their
titles soon, bringing the list to 260,000 titles.
Interest Groups. The Boston Library Consortium offers
opportunities for staff from member institutions to meet
colleagues, share information and expertise, and explore
topics of mutual interest. Interest groups typically form
around a specific topic or professional area and hold
informal meetings to address aspects of that topic.
Current interest groups include: Art, Asian Business and
Economics, Chemistry, Circulation, Delivery System,
Government Documents, Interlibrary Loan, Music,
Neuroscience and Biology, Poetry, Reference Managers, and
Programming and Staff Development. A First Tuesday
Seminar Series provides another opportunity for member
library staff to meet and discuss current library issues
in a seminar setting: speaker followed by group
discussion. Recent topics have included: "The
Virtues of the Virtual Catalog," "Webstars:
Engineering," and "The Role of the University
Library Director." In addition, staff development
programming for all members in areas of basic and
advanced management are offered to member libraries.
Employment Opportunities. The Consortium Website lists
jobs currently available in the member libraries. As you
might expect, given the close proximity, there is a lot
of movement among the libraries!
The management of the Boston Library Consortium is
accomplished by a fulltime staff: executive director,
assistant director, office manager, and one program staff
member. A Board of Directors and Management Council,
composed of senior staff of the member libraries provide
Consortium governance. The real work of the Consortium
occurs in the committees staffed by representatives of
the member libraries. These committees include:
Cooperative Collections, Information Technology, Program
and Staff Development, Public Services, and Union List of
THE TRIANGLE RESEARCH LIBRARY NETWORK
Cooperation among the academic research libraries of the
Research Triangle in North Carolina dates to 1933 when
the presidents of Duke University and the University of
North Carolina created the Committee on Intellectual
Cooperation. Library cooperation became the strongest and
most enduring component of the 1935 Program of
Cooperation of the universities. This cooperation later
expanded to include the libraries of North Carolina State
University and the libraries of North Carolina Central
University. For most of its history, the cooperative
programs consisted of coordinated collection development
and resource sharing.
Library cooperation was revitalized in 1977 when the
Triangle Universities Libraries Cooperation Committee (TULCC)
was formed to develop a technical and organizational
support system for resource sharing. The name Triangle
Research Libraries Network (TRLN) was adopted in 1980.
The first Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 1984
and revised in 1987. The first agreement focussed on a
rather narrow mission of developing and maintaining a
network of online catalogs and other automated library
systems. The 1987 revision broadens the purpose statement
to incorporate the traditional programs of cooperative
collection development, resource sharing, and technical
innovation, with new concepts of collaboration for
leveraging institutional resources to improve access to
information for our users in a technologically advanced
Holdings of the four universities total more than 13.5
The mission of the Triangle Research Library Network is
to marshal the financial, human, and information
resources of our research libraries through cooperative
efforts in order to create a rich and unparalleled
knowledge environment that furthers the universities'
teaching, research, and service missions. By leveraging
resources, TRLN hopes to extend the scope of information
resources and services to our users through libraries and
campus networks, to create new library and information
services, to make information accessible to users among
member institutions in a convenient and timely manner, to
develop and pursue strategic partnerships that enhance
our ability to deliver information and services, to
provide a forum for discussing cooperative library and
information issues, and to seek external funding in
support of these goals.
TRLN abides by a set of principles of cooperation agreed
to by all institutions which asserts that collaboration
among a diverse set of libraries serving a broad range of
clienteles must be based upon a set of commonly held
values and an understanding and acceptance of certain
principles under which effective cooperation can be
realized. Working in a consortium, members demonstrate
the importance of collaborative activity and recognize
its value. Through consortial effort, results can be
achieved greater than those any single library might
accomplish on its own and both individual and common
agenda can be advanced. The TRLN libraries are committed
to the development of a comprehensive, interconnected set
of information resources and services benefiting student,
staff, and faculty clienteles at each institution. That
commitment is embodied in the following statements and is
the basis of the organization's goals, programs, and
・ Every student, faculty member, and staff employee of
the four TRLN institutions is considered a client of each
・ Students, faculty, and staff of each member
institution are afforded preferential access to print
materials in a manner similar to that provided the "home"
clienteles of the individual libraries.
・ The collections and services of the TRLN institutions
represent a combined resource available to the clienteles
of all member libraries.
・ TRLN's shared vision may require changes in
individual library programs in order to advance the
・ TRLN is committed to the realization of innovative
services through common effort throughout the consortium.
・ TRLN programs and initiatives enhance and supplement
the work of its members and do not preclude nor interfere
with individual library involvement with other consortia,
associations, or organizations in keeping with a member
・ TRLN cooperative activity need not include every
・ The TRLN partnership is intended to provide
comprehensive and seamless access to the information
resources and services available at and through each of
its member institutions.
・ TRLN strives to increase program quality and to
reduce costs of member library operations in the
provision of like services.
・ Integration of programs and processes may be pursued
to expand services or improve their quality or to broaden
access to materials.
・ When negotiating contracts and licenses on behalf of
its members TRLN functions as a defined single entity.
・ Members of TRLN councils and committees view issues
from a consortial perspective in addition to advocating
individual campus or library positions.
・ Library representatives demonstrate commitment to the
work of the consortium through active and regular
・ Strong support for consortial programming is
engendered at every level of the member institutions.
・ To pursue timely and effective collaboration, members
assure the availability of clearly defined decision-making
mechanisms within their libraries and institutions and
for the consortium
・ TRLN's programs and activities are integrated into
member library operations wherever possible.
・ To realize program objectives sharing of personnel
and expertise among TRLN member libraries is encouraged.
・ Member libraries provide time for staff to
participate in TRLN work.
・ The value of participation in consortial activity is
demonstrated through recognition of staff by their
libraries for involvement in the organization.
・ Staff of member libraries are provided with
appropriate training and support for participation in
・ To achieve its purposes, TRLN institutions provide
support for employment of central staff.
・ Central staff members are seen and see themselves as
employees of each TRLN institution.
・ In pursuing programmatic objectives staff positions
other than those resident in the central office may be
funded jointly by member institutions.
・ Support for TRLN activities consists of membership
dues, grants, and other external funding, and allocation
of member library resources for special projects and new
・ TRLN will offers its members a range of funding
models for support of project activity
・ Assessments or fees may be levied on benefiting
libraries for use of services not of interest or
relevance to the entire membership
・ Resources for integrated programs, services, and
collections are earmarked within the central TRLN budget
and in individual member library budgets.
・ Member libraries and TRLN central staff actively
publicize to students, faculty, staff, and the general
public the consortium's mission and its programs in
fulfillment of that mission.
・ Consortial officers, council and committee members,
and central staff will regularly inform staff of member
libraries about the purposes of the organization and the
work in which it is engaged.
PLANNING AND EVALUATION
・ The consortium is committed to identifying strategic
opportunities and to planning programs that will further
teaching, learning, research, and service.
・ Programs and services provided by the organization
are regularly assessed to assure that benefits realized
are in keeping with resources expended.
TRLN is governed by a Governing Board composed of the
Provosts (chief academic officers) and librarians of the
four institutions. The Governing Board is responsible for
retaining qualified executive leadership for TRLN,
establishing policy, approving operating budgets,
overseeing assets, and setting strategic directions.
An Executive Director, two Program Officers, and a
secretary make up the paid staff of TRLN.
TRLN's Executive Committee, composed of the four library
directors, the Executive Director, and the Council of
Directors chair, is responsible for planning, conducting
mid-year budget reviews, and planning the annual Board
The sixteen member Council of Directors is composed of
the library directors of the member libraries. This
includes, at Duke for instance, the directors of the
professional school libraries-Law, Medicine, and Business.
The Council is responsible for initiating programmatic
directives, reviewing proposals, identifying and studying
issues of interest, and providing advice and counsel to
the Executive Group concerning TRLN and its operations.
Four standing committees do the real work of the
cooperative: Committee on Human Resources, Committee on
Information Resources, Committee on Information
Technology, and Committee on Library Public Services.
Each is composed of representatives of the four
institutions and is staffed by one of TRLN's Program
The Committee on Human Resources plans, oversees, and
coordinates all TRLN activity related to training,
development, and use of library personnel including joint
educational programs, sharing of staff, and any mutual
efforts intended to recruit, retain, and better use human
resources, professional and support. Examples of recent
activities include workshops on collection development,
digital imaging, scholarly communication, and electronic
The Committee on Information Resources plans, oversees,
and coordinates all TRLN activity related to the
identification, acquisition, organization, access, use,
and preservation of all information-related materials,
print and non-print, paper and electronic. The Committee
has been responsible for investigating and negotiating
licenses, including Elsevier's Web of Science. They also
hosted a disaster preparedness workshop for member
libraries instructing on how to best recover library
materials from fire or flood.
The Committee on Information Technology manages all TRLN
activity related to the design, testing, selection, and
implementation of electronic based means or organizing,
storing, accessing, and delivering information; and the
use of automation to improve processes. Impending
migration to a new version of a common library automation
system has occupied the attention of this Committee for
the past year.
And, the Committee on Library Public Services is
responsible for those issues related to the development,
communication, provision, and measurement of library
public service common to two or more members. It also
considers issues relating to reciprocal service
arrangements among member libraries. This Committee is
currently investigating virtual reference services. This
Committee also oversees circulation activity and you may
be interested to know that last year some 39,000 items
were borrowed directly by TRLN users and another 18,000
items were filled through member interlibrary loan
services for member users.
Exciting future ventures under consideration for TRLN
include cooperative storage of books and journals, shared
preservation and conservation expertise and facilities,
joint technical services-acquisitions and cataloging,
shared collection development-one bibliographer
collecting for four institutions, and user initiated
I have presented two very different models, one very
large (sixteen member) group and one with only four
members. One in the North and one in the South.
But they have more in common than they do in differences.
Common features include onsite reciprocal borrowing,
cooperative collection development, cooperative licensing
of electronic products, expedited interlibrary lending,
staff development, and programming for member institution
staff. Both have similar governance structures and
committees populated by library staff. And both rely
heavily upon dedicated central staff. And this is fairly
typical of the hundreds of consortia which now populate
the United States, bringing together interesting mixes of
small and large, public and private, academic and public
OBSTACLES TO COLLABORATION
Earlier I repeated the statement that library cooperation
was an unnatural act. Some of that can be attributed to
the competitive nature of American higher education-competition
on the athletic field or court, competition for students
and faculty, and competition for winning the numbers game.
Who has the largest pile of books?
The attitude of Harvard Librarian John Langdon Sibley at
the end of the nineteenth century was shared by many
large libraries: "It would be well if it were
generally known that there is nothing printed of which
the Harvard libraries is not desirous of obtaining a copy."
Few had the resources to compete with Harvard, but the
attitude towards going it alone lingers on in many subtle
and not so subtle ways.
Other issues which get in the way of true collaboration
Organizational Inertia. Most organizations have built-in
resistance to change, and libraries seem to have more
than most. This inertia, particularly at the implementing
level, can often keep good ideas from getting off the
NIH (Not Invented Here) Syndrome. Some organizations
oppose ideas that may be in their best interests simply
because it was not their idea.
Differing Resource and Expectation Level. On the one hand
libraries which are better off financially often have
higher expectations than their counterpart institutions.
Because they can afford a higher level of service, for
instance, they are less willing to compromise down on
service levels. On the other hand, institutions which are
less well off financially are more interested in cost
savings and are satisfied with a level of service below
that of their richer counterparts. Another related
problem deals with differing expectations. One may be
satisfied with tangible cost reductions, whereas another
may only want to be involved if there is going to be a
Inability to Compromise. Even though every effort is made
in cooperative dealings to ensure that everyone wins, not
everyone wins! If fifteen members of a consortium agree
on a new online system and one does not, that could
affect the success of the entire group and endeavor.
Differing Organizational Cultures and Policies. Closely
related to differing levels of resources and
expectations, some institutions simply have cultures,
attitudes, or policies that are different from other
members of their groups. This is particularly true in
cooperatives involving private and public institutions
where funding and financial transactions are handled very
differently. Wherever a government is involved, getting
business accomplished takes longer!
Ignoring the Human Element. If cooperative plans do not
recognize the impact on people (users and staff) the
plans can quickly go astray. True cooperation is build on
trust and trust in organizations and across organizations
is a huge challenge. One of the reasons TRLN has been
successful is that it has an almost 30 year history. Many
small steps of incremental change have developed a
greater level of trust than exists in many newer
Trying to Cooperate in Competitive Areas. Just as with
the larger university, each library has areas it
considers so close to its institutional essence that it
will not cooperate in programs that appear to intrude
into these areas. Special collections is an area where
there is a fair amount of competition for acquiring
collections that may compete with cooperative actions.
Provincialism. We in the United States, as much as we
like to talk about the global information village, have a
difficult time thinking beyond our own geographic
boundaries. We have traditionally been reluctant to share
our materials outside of the country, but have been the
recipient in that service from both Europe and Asia. We
need your help in changing our behavior.
While the obstacles are many and real, they are
surmountable. To turn them around into keys to success:
(1) Top Level Buy In. Library cooperatives mandated by
college and university academic officers or where there
is evident support of this level of the administration
start off in a better position. It is almost as if they
have a higher calling to the work of collaboration.
(2) One Step At A Time. Cooperation is hard work.
Building on incremental progress builds trust.
(3) Persistence and Patience. The work is slow but worth
the effort. Persist!
(4) Do Not Try to Slay the Biggest Dragon First. Start
with some easy tasks where early success can be
experienced and trust developed. Save the dragons for
(5) Identify and Avoid Competitive Areas. If there are
competitive areas get them out into the open early and
agree to work around them.
(6) Be Willing to Compromise. This is essential to any
cooperative venture. It will be difficult to satisfy all
the wishes of all participants, so some compromise will
(7) Strive for Consensus Not Unanimity. Every member need
not take part in every initiative. There will not be
unanimity on all topics.
(8) Pay Attention to the Human Element. We are dealing
with people-library users and library staff. Remember
that they want to be heard, included, and feel part of
The fact that an International Coalition of Library
Consortia was formed in 1997 demonstrates to me that
library cooperation is very much alive and well in this
global information market. More than 150 library
consortia from around the world participate in the
deliberations of this group. I take this as a good sign
for the health and future of library cooperative
I thank you for your attention, hope that I have peaked
your interest, stimulated some thinking, and perhaps
provoked a question or two. I look forward to continuing