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Libraries and the efficiency of collaboration

How a consortium of 31 libraries can save money
University Business, August 2018

We hear it all the time—complaints about the inefficiency of public higher education in Massachusetts. These complaints are often based on the incorrect assumption that providing students with a choice—the choice of where, when, and what to study is necessarily inefficient. How do we provide choice in an efficient way? I’ll answer that from my corner of public higher education.  

I am the library director at Westfield State University, an institution with one of the highest student retention and graduation rates among its peers. Our library truly is at the heart of our campus, providing instruction, events, and academic content in the form of traditional and digital books, academic journals, streaming media, and many other formats. We are one of 31 libraries in public higher education in Massachusetts, including all of the UMass campuses, state universities, and community colleges.  

How can 31 separate libraries be efficient? It’s simple: we collaborate. As library director, I serve on the board of the Massachusetts Commonwealth Consortium of Libraries in Public Higher Education Institutions (MCCLPHEI), which includes all of those 31 libraries. As the consortium’s president, I am proud that this year we will save our students and the citizens of the Commonwealth more than $2.9 million on the cost of proprietary academic content.  

We negotiate for this content together. By exercising our power as a group, we achieve significant discounts from the listed price of databases of journals, e-books, and online media. Truly a group effort, the library directors from all 31 institutions pitch in with their time and expertise to determine what content we collectively need, and how we can best get it. Each institution pays only a $500 annual membership fee, which MCCLPHEI uses to train library staff, librarians, and directors in best practices in providing excellent library content and services. This is training we could not afford to do independently and separately.  

Collaboration, done right, is like any sound investment. Starting with a small commitment, the returns grow over time, and our students are the ones who benefit.  

All of this is second nature to librarians. We have a long history of purchasing resources cooperatively at discounts and then sharing them among multiple borrowers and between libraries. In the digital era, we’ve simply taken those values of efficient management of resources and applied them to digital content. Whether through MCCLPHEI, the Massachusetts Library System (MLS), or any other library consortium, we work together continually for greater efficiency.  

And we achieve it.

Thomas Raffensperger is Dean of Academic Information Services and the Library Director at Westfield State University located in Westfield, Massachusetts.