No matter the diversity of materials, libraries are all very similar. Whatever the type – special, public, or academic, libraries all have certain common elements. It is these commonalities that allow us to rely on each other. Students and professors of academic libraries may use the resources of public libraries, and the resources of special libraries may be accessed by other types of libraries. Two main ways we share resources is through ILL and being part of a consortia. While ILL is well known and has been used for years, consortia may still be a bit unfamiliar.
The group was asked to focus on:
- If they were a member of a consortia, and which one
- What kind of libraries made up their consortium
- What are some of the benefits to being a member of a consortium
- What are some of the problems to being a member of a consortium
- How would you describe consortia life to a library that is not part of one
According to the group members, a number of consortia were represented. In fact, separate discussion questions were asked of non-consortia members, and there were no responses.
Some of the consortia that were mentioned in the discussion were the Suburban Library Cooperative (SLC). The SLC is made up of public libraries from southeast Michigan. Another was the University System of Maryland & Affiliated Institutions (USMAI) Library Consortium. This consortium is based out of Maryland and is made up of private and public academic institutions. The LOGIN consortium was also mentioned. This consortium is based out of New Jersey and is made up of public and academic libraries. Other consortia where also mentioned, and like these, they covered a variety of libraries from public to academic to medical.
Benefits to the Consortia
Although the discussion group members shared differences in location, library size and type of facility, they were all happy to share the benefits of consortia. One of the common benefits was the sharing of materials. Some libraries are online schools and rely on their consortium to supply patrons with print materials. Sharing materials also allows libraries with smaller collections or specialized libraries to have access to more materials for their patrons.
Besides the sharing of material, another benefit is the sharing of costs. Many operating systems that librarians use daily, such as Sirsi Dynix, can cost a library a substantial amount. However, through a consortium, libraries can share this cost and many times be offered a better deal than they would have gotten alone.
Another benefit is the ability to share a catalog. By sharing a common catalog system, libraries can see materials that other members of their consortium own. This allows for easier sharing of materials. It also allows for cataloging mistakes to be found and corrected by cataloging staff, whereas they might otherwise be missed. However, with the benefits that consortia offer, there are still some problems.
The discussion group also mentioned a variety of problems that their consortia face. One problem was the lack of consistency in policies, which has caused some difficulty. Different libraries all have different policies for loans, fines, and grace periods. This can be hard to keep track of, both for staff and patrons who must follow those policies to receive loaned materials. The member did mention that through meetings and committees they are trying to make the policies more consistent.
Another problem mentioned was in terms of cataloging. While sharing a catalog can be a benefit, it can also cause some problems. With different libraries, there will be different levels of cataloging. Many libraries may use very brief, almost incomplete, records which will then have to be updated. Some libraries may use brief records for orders, while others may not. Another problem is the number of duplicates that may occur. No matter how careful catalogers are, with so many people across the system, duplicates will occur.
Continuing the Discussion
In the end, the benefits that consortia offer far outweigh the problems that may occur. Sharing materials for patrons and sharing costs all help library systems provide better experiences through consortia membership which otherwise may not have been possible. Consortia memberships continue to provide excellent benefits, even if there are a few bumps along the way.
Submitted by Joy DuBose