Cooperation and Collaboration in the Academic Library Environment: 
Keys to Success

David S. Ferriero
Vice Provost for Library Affairs and University Librarian
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina, USA

Japan Association of Private University Libraries Symposium
Kwansei Gakuin University
11 May 2001


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 of libraries:

"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 articulated.

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 libraries:

"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 statewide agreements. 

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!


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 million volumes. 

(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 activities include: 

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 free photocopies.

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 Women's Studies.

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 Serials. 


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 environment. 

Holdings of the four universities total more than 13.5 million volumes.

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 priorities:

・ Every student, faculty member, and staff employee of the four TRLN institutions is considered a client of each TRLN library.
・ 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 common good.
・ 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 library's mission.
・ TRLN cooperative activity need not include every member library. 

・ 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 participation.
・ 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 collaborative undertakings.
・ 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 initiatives.
・ 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.

・ 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 meeting.

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 Officers. 

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 reserves.

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 interlibrary loan.


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 libraries.


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 include:

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 ground.

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 large pay-off.

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 cooperative arrangements.

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 phase two!
(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 be necessary.
(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 process. 

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 activities.

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 our discussion.