Home 9 Full Text Articles 9 The Digital Toolbox — Q&A:  How Consortia Are Helping Shape the Present and Future for Academic Libraries

The Digital Toolbox — Q&A:  How Consortia Are Helping Shape the Present and Future for Academic Libraries

by | May 9, 2022 | 0 comments

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Column Editor:  Steve Rosato  (Director and Business Development Executive, OverDrive Professional, Cleveland, OH  44125) 

Against the Grain V34#2

A library industry veteran, Robert Karen held various leadership positions at the Westchester Academic Library Directors Organization (WALDO) consortium.  He substantially grew the organization’s membership and book of business over a 20-year career.  Now serving as the founder of Procurement Ventures, he had this to say about the power of consortia for academic libraries:

Engage any library today and you will quickly learn they are active members in multiple consortia.  Why?  The answer is evident.  Library consortia have the power of advocacy, proficiency and leverage.

Consortia vary widely in size and membership;  some are very large organizations while others are small networks of institutions that pool resources to achieve something greater than what one library could achieve alone.  Regardless of size, consortia are vital to their members, their community and librarianship.  Consortia bring together libraries that may not typically collaborate, enabling them to share expertise, increase their collective knowledge and advocacy power, and get more worth out of the resources they license.

The new challenges facing libraries in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic are complex and varied.  A significant shift in learning practices is also taking place, as students begin to expect more information at their fingertips rather than having to request it from the library.  Because of this shift in expectations, libraries must adapt and evolve to remain relevant and vital parts of their institutions.  Consortia will again lead libraries forward finding solutions to these new challenges.

To get further insight into how consortia are helping to shape the present and future for academic librarians, we spoke with representatives from two of OverDrive Academic’s most active academic consortia systems: Diane Martin (DM), Head Librarian, Metropolitan Community College-Longview from MOBIUS (Missouri), and Liza Palmer (LP), Librarian, Brunswick Community College from the Dogwood Digital Library (North Carolina).

What is the biggest advantage of joining a consortium?  

DM: The ability to share resources with other libraries is a tremendous advantage.  As a small library, it is a huge benefit to our patrons that we can quickly and efficiently request resources from other libraries.  

LP:  We are a small community college library, so it feels good to have backup — whether that be financial, technological, etc.  Our buying power — and our ability to offer an array of diverse, engaging materials for consumption — is so much stronger in the Dogwood Digital Library (DDL) consortium.  Having access to other library staff members who are informed about trends and are also curating our collection to appeal to every user lets us achieve the ultimate goal: to have content that speaks to everyone, so no one is left out.

What benefit does being in consortia offer for eBooks and audiobooks?  

DM:  A significant benefit is access to a shared catalog of digital audiobooks.  Overnight we went from having zero online audiobooks to thousands of titles available for patrons.  We already had access to eBooks through another vendor, but it was primarily an academic collection.  The consortium membership in OverDrive instantly gave our community more access to thousands of popular fiction and nonfiction eBooks.

LP:  Having easy access to audiobooks has been a great benefit.  We invested a lot of funds annually in our physical audiobook collection.  It was well used and hard to keep up with the demand for new titles.  However, products were expensive and one scratched disc would ruin the whole set.  Being able to point people to DDL for audiobooks has been wonderful;  and, happily, the Libby app is very user-friendly.  Having a team of people regularly developing the audiobook collection means that I don’t worry that our users are running out of content. 

The biggest benefit, by far, is the flexibility to order new titles late into the fiscal year.  For physical items, our ordering and processing of materials must be complete by March due to purchasing requirements, causing the library and our students to miss out on newer titles until the next fiscal year.  OverDrive delivers real-time purchasing power, right up until the end of June, if we need it.  It is incredibly rewarding to purchase something for DDL and then check back a few days later and see that there is already a wait list for it! That never gets old!

What is the greatest feature of a digital collection?

DM:  A great feature is how quickly the titles  become available for patrons after they are purchased.  Often it takes only a few hours after ordering for the digital books to be available for requests or holds.  This has been especially helpful when handling patron requests or bestselling books — they can be ready to check out in just a few hours after being purchased!  

LP:  OverDrive and DDL came to us at the exact right time — it was kismet.  We had been looking for a way to provide digital recreational content to our users, particularly our very active Early College readers.  And COVID, of course, made major physical purchases impractical.  So, this consortium checked a lot of boxes for us — and I’m certain we couldn’t have done it on our own to the same effect. 

It’s easy to navigate the backend of OverDrive, from ordering to data collection, and intuitive for our users, thanks to Libby.  Plus, Summon integration ensures discoverability without draining our catalogers.

It’s also helped me to get to know other library staff within our system.  Resource-sharing is more interactive now, and the OverDrive Marketplace online purchasing and admin portal helps me understand the analytics of in-demand titles.  And if I see that something I was intending to purchase is in another college’s cart, I can just reach out to the staff there to coordinate.  Many thanks are due to Joel Ferdon (Stanly Community College) and Alan Unsworth (Surry Community College) for having the vision and resolve to get something like this off the ground;  I think it has had ripple effects beyond DDL and we’re all thinking a bit bigger now, which is great. 

Does being affiliated with a consortium provide your institution with a competitive advantage in attracting students?

DM:  Whenever I give a library presentation or talk to students about the library resources available to them, I always mention our membership in the MOBIUS consortium, as it is a tremendous benefit to have access to their union catalog.  It does provide an advantage for students when comparing different college libraries.  

LP:  I think it does.  Ask me again in five years and I might have a better sense.  But in these still early days for us, there is a definite buzz.  People are finding us through Libby, which is cool.

Do consortium resources give you access to more vendors and services than your school could otherwise have on its own? 

DM:  We might not have been able to afford an OverDrive membership had we not joined our consortium group, nor would we have had immediate access to such a large digital library if our college was trying to join individually.

LP:  Without a doubt.  Partnering with DDL, I feel like our library budget has expanded exponentially;  we each benefit from the investment that all the library members make in this resource.  And OverDrive support was an unexpected bonus.  I love that I can run a diversity audit on the collection, for instance, free of charge, and get back  valuable data to inform future purchases.  The ease of the diversity audit process has encouraged me to conduct an in-house, grassroots audit of our physical collection.  I am also loving the free, customizable promotional materials — the bookmarks giving step-by-step instructions on setting up Libby accounts have been so helpful at the desk. 

Are networking and access to peer experience/expertise a value you get from your consortium participation?  

DM: Networking with other librarians is another benefit from a consortium membership.  There is a lot of wisdom and experience in a large library consortium such as MOBIUS, and that can be a tremendous help.  

LP:  Absolutely.  I don’t really read a lot of science fiction or manga, but luckily someone else at another library does and can make key purchasing decisions to develop the collection strategically in those areas.  This is just one example — in other words, I don’t have to research other genres or formats anymore before taking a chance on an item.  I can simply trust in my colleagues at other member libraries to make these calls for me.  

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