Earlier this semester, my fellow BTAA library directors and I issued a joint statement publicly committing to an interdependent future and introducing the idea of the BIG Collection.
This is a strategic and coordinated approach to sustaining the scholarly content held in our collections and enhancing our users’ path from discovery to delivery of that content. The initiative draws on the analysis of collective collection opportunities conducted by Lorcan Dempsey in the report Operationalizing the BIG Collective Collection: A Case Study of Consolidation vs Autonomy, which I have discussed in previous issues of the Agenda.
Planning for this initiative is underway with the appointment of three committees to scope, plan, and realize the necessary programmatic components. These include the Content Committee, which will identify strategies for managing existing print collections and more strongly coordinating collections for optimal distribution; the Applications Committee, which is responsible for improving network fulfillment and creating unified and coherent discovery of BTAA collections; and the Enterprise (Steering) Committee, which works in the areas of strategy and policy and is responsible for oversight of the BIG Collection.
As co-chair of the Applications Committee and a member of the Enterprise Committee, I am deeply invested in the success of the BIG Collection initiative and committed to the vision that it represents. This vision—“of a more codependent system in which research libraries pledge to preserve individual collection areas, allowing other institutions to allocate spending elsewhere”—as it was described in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education—comes from the understanding that the time has come to move away from models based on non-productive competition. Throughout the BTAA, library directors have embraced the idea that you don’t get big by making someone else small, and it will take a real, lasting commitment to collaboration for us to successfully chart a course forward in the current information landscape. My colleague James Hilton at Michigan calls this idea “sticky interdependence” and I think this phrase captures nicely the imperative for us not just to work together, but to do so in a way that is sustainable in the long term.
At Rutgers, we are well positioned to contribute to this sort of initiative because of our experience building interdependence between the four campuses. As you know, our planning process helps us determine the best ways to work together and how to leverage shared resources so that they have the greatest impact on the most users. It has also helped us understand how more purposeful coordination can lead to a more effective system overall. This is the experience that I plan to bring to my work on the BIG Collection committees.
Simply put, in any networked environment, all members have to rise up together. Nobody can do it alone. This is as true for the libraries at Rutgers as it is for the institutions across the BTAA.
In our statement on the BIG Collection, we emphasize the importance of intentional, collaborative action that advances a shared mission and ensures the collective good. We have learned this lesson first-hand at Rutgers, and now we are seeing the idea take hold at a larger scale. I believe very strongly that this cooperative, interdependent future is the best way forward—for Rutgers, for the Big Ten, and for all the students and scholars that our institutions collectively serve.