As we learned in Lorcan Dempsey’s presentation in January, collections are one area where academic libraries face strategic choices along a continuum that ranges from cooperation (weakest) to consolidation (strongest), with collaboration in the middle. When does it make sense to consolidate infrastructure? What are the advantages of offering access collaboratively versus locally? And what are the tradeoffs that come with these decisions?
It was somehow reassuring to see that libraries in general are grappling with these issues, since asking these questions is something we do every day at Rutgers. When Cabinet developed our Services and Planning Framework, we thought about what aspects of our work it would be beneficial to consolidate centrally, where our efforts would require shared coordination, and which services were best left to local discretion.
At this point, the majority of our Foundational services are consolidated. These include activities related to acquisitions, cataloging, and discovery, for example, which are all handled centrally. Services that benefit from having a consolidated infrastructure are typically large-scale and have substantial startup and operation costs—especially in terms of faculty and staff time, with the recent Alma/Primo implementation being a prime example. Once implemented, changes to these services have wide ranging impact and need to be carefully planned and communicated.
Of course, there are pros and cons to consolidation. On the plus side, it increases operational efficiency and lowers the long-term cost of providing the core services that reach the most faculty and students. The biggest drawback is that in order to gain efficiencies, some local features and specializations can be lost.
In other areas, like reference and instruction, our activities are coordinated. We decide collectively on a tool or service like Credo or Leganto, but how it is deployed locally is up to the individual unit. Then there are the truly local activities. Education and consulting services, from workshops to systematic reviews, can be tailored to meet the specific needs of our local communities. There is a lot of freedom and flexibility in this area to use the available infrastructure in your own unique way.
Whether in the BTAA or OCLC, the trending discussion is about these tradeoffs between efficiency and autonomy. At Rutgers, we’re fortunate to have experience navigating these same issues. As the larger academic library environment continues to evolve, we will be well-positioned to contribute meaningfully to these discussions.