Library Issues
Editors: Ann P. Dougherty, Mountainside Publishing; Richard M. Dougherty, University of Michigan, Emeritus
Contributing Editors: Mignon Adams, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia; Larry Hardesty, Austin College; William Miller, Florida Atlantic University; Maureen Pastine, Temple University
Vol. 24, No. 2 November 2003

Joint-Use Libraries:
Sharing Facilities for Greater Efficiency

by William Miller

In 1997, as Alaska’s oil boom was collapsing, many of its libraries (federal and state as well as university) holding collections in the areas of natural resources faced severe cutbacks or even closings, which would have deprived scholars and communities of access to vital primary and secondary materials. Rather than accept such a loss, the librarians of many of these agencies formulated a plan to merge eight of these libraries into one new one, and combine resources for greater efficiency. Librarians from the Alaska regional offices of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. National Park Service, and the U.S. Minerals Management Service, along with the Habitat Library from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Oil Spill Public Information Center from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council joined with the University of Alaska-Anchorage and several of its units to create a new, joint library—the Alaska Resources and Library Information Services collection (ARLIS).

Located on the campus of the University, this joint library now serves all staff of the five federal agencies, one state agency, one joint federal-state agency, and university, as well as visiting scholars and the general public. The challenge of merging eight libraries, with different missions, fiscal years, reporting structures, procurement methods, and personnel policies was daunting to say the least. In addition to sharing staff and costs, the libraries had differing rules and cultures, for instance in terms of charging for services. Gradually, a joint management team representing all of the partners has worked out a way to operate, even as some original members have dissolved and new ones have been added. As a result, access to unique resources continues to be readily available to all.

The ARLIS experience is perhaps an extreme example of a fairly common phenomenon, the joint-use library. A joint-use library is a facility shared by two or more different entities which choose to maximize resources by jointly funding only one library. Most academic institutions normally enter into such an arrangement with only one other institution—another academic library, a public library, or even a K-12 school library. Joint-use libraries can be created for cost-savings, though a surprisingly high percentage of the time, such libraries really do not save money, but rather extend each entity’s purchasing power and give it more than it could have purchased on its own.

New Programs, New Locations

For institutions wishing to offer programs in a new location or start a new campus, it may be advantageous to consider joint use, at least in the early years. Whenever an institution considers expansion, library service is an immediate and expensive concern. Providing access to information electronically is a partial answer, but the facts are that electronic information is just as expensive as printed information, and that most information is still not available electronically.

Books, journals, microforms, and other physical materials still form a crucial part of the information universe. Moreover, librarians perform a variety of tasks not easily duplicated by any other area, including reference service and individual and group instruction in how to navigate through the structures of information in differing fields, development of a collection (in all formats) that meets the instructional and research needs of students and faculty, and creation of access to the information (such as cataloging and creation of printed or web-based guides).

Libraries as places also serve valuable functions for the student body and faculty: meeting place, computer access point, and intellectual center for both individual study and group collaboration. For all of these reasons, even those institutions which initially decide (naively) that no physical library is needed at a new location soon see the light, and look for a way to provide such services.

In these situations,
the intent is not so much to save money as it is to serve different constituencies simultaneously,
extend public resources, and take advantage of mutual strengths.

Contracting For Services

In situations where the creation of a new library is not feasible or not warranted by the magnitude of the course offerings, institutions may wish to take advantage of the presence of another entity’s existing library, simply contracting for the services they need, or may wish to build a library jointly with another entity to share costs and services. Academic institutions typically share with other academic institutions, but it is not unusual to see academic institutions share with larger public libraries, and even, on occasion, with school libraries, especially in rural areas.

With a community college and a high school. For instance, when Florida Atlantic University began a campus in the West Palm Beach area in 1988, it initially rented space at the local community college branch and paid for access to library services.

Several years later, as the university’s programs in the area were expanding and the community college no longer had the room to accommodate them, the university moved its programs into a newly built high school, built like a college campus, which the university had the right to use every day after 3:00 P.M. when high school ended, and the building was then opened for university use. The high school needed the money being provided by the university to help build its library and other services, and the university benefited from ready access to the unused classroom space for its classes, and the new, ready-made high school library which already contained some of the resources it needed.

By the time the high school was four years old, it no longer had room for the university, which moved again and set up a temporary campus in a former business park. Finally, this succession of moves and joint-use arrangements came to an end when the university ultimately built a regular campus of its own several miles from these initial locations.

With a public library. In downtown Fort Lauderdale, where Florida Atlantic University has another campus focusing on graduate business and urban affairs, it took a different tack, partnering with the Broward County Library, a public library whose main branch was just a block away from the university campus. This library, part of the nation’s ninth-largest public library system, was well able to support the needs of the university’s selected graduate programs. The university contracted with the public library to provide circulation, reserve, and instructional services. In addition, the university librarian submitted the book and other informational needs of the students and faculty to the public library, which ordered, cataloged, and processed this material, and made it available for university use.

This general arrangement, now in operation for more than 12 years, continues to be successful. The annual cost to the university, currently at $486,000, is significant, but less costly than the maintenance of its own building, staff, and collection would be. The public library gains by enhancing its collection for the use of all citizens, and receiving additional funds which give it more flexibility in staffing and other areas.

At the start of this partnership, a variety of cultural differences had to be overcome. The public library had to become accustomed to allowing university users to check out more than five books at a time in a given subject area, and they had to provide differing loan periods for different classes of users, including semester loans for faculty. Hours had to be lengthened to accommodate evening classes and the needs of adult students who work during the day. The public library had to open its periodical stacks, previously off limits, to students and faculty, and it needed to keep back issues of periodicals rather than automatically discarding them in favor of microforms.

It took several years to work out the issues involved in adapting public library culture to university needs, but the result has been beneficial for both institutions. The public library still must accept the fact that its users do not have access to many of the databases subscribed to by the university, which pays annual vendor fees based on the number of full-time-equivalent students and faculty.

Building Joint-Use Facilities

On occasion, institutions go beyond contracting for services and build libraries in conjunction with other institutions, to pool resources and minimize duplication of facilities and services.

Fort Collins, Colorado. In 1998 a joint-use library was opened, to serve both as a branch of the public library and as a new library for Front Range Community College. Before this building was completed, the partners had agreed to a joint automation system, and a division of responsibilities for such things as utilities costs and ownership of furnishings and equipment. The partners decided to retain individual ownership of their own library materials, and to select them independently. They decided that the city would pay 60 percent of construction and ongoing operational costs, while the college paid the remainder. The college decided to convert its collection to the Dewey Decimal System so that users would not have to confront two different call number systems in the same building. Such decisions are very typical in joint-use arrangements.

St. Paul, Minnesota. Metropolitan State University is currently constructing a new building that will house both the university library and a branch of the St. Paul Public Library. The impetus for this project came from the university which has always had a mission to reach out to the neighborhood community. While the public library is leasing a specifically designated area, the entire facility, including university computers and collections, will be open to the general public. Metropolitan State University has also reached an agreement with Minneapolis College (formerly the Minneapolis Community and Technical College) to provide joint library services on that campus in 2005 to students of both institutions.

Davie, Florida. Last year, Nova Southeastern University completed a $43 million joint-use library with Broward County’s public library system. The county was looking for an opportunity to serve the burgeoning population in this growing area, and the university, a private institution, was glad to partner with the county and serve the general public as well as its own students and staff, in order to afford the kind of library it could never have built on its own.

San Jose, California. An even grander joint-use building has just opened, a $177.5 million library in the downtown area, serving as the main library for both the city and San Jose State University. This building came about when the mayor of San Jose and the university president decided to combine resources in order to serve both the city, which was badly in need of a new central facility, and the university, which is located right in the downtown area.

In these facilities, which are more a “marriage” than a merger, certain services are provided jointly and centralized, while others have been retained by one or the other partner; the public library maintains such things as children’s services, while the academic library retains its collection development and instructional services. Circulation and cataloging, on the other hand, are central services. At Nova, all employees are university employees, while at San Jose, both staffs now inhabit the same building. In these situations, the intent is not so much to save money as it is to serve different constituencies simultaneously, extend public resources, and take advantage of mutual strengths.

“The potential advantages of collaboration are undeniable.”

Issues To Overcome

The potential advantages of collaboration are undeniable. Such “marriages” allow each partner to retain its autonomy in areas of greatest need, while at the same time benefiting from the economies resulting from the partnership—such as the need to build only one circulation desk and purchase only one security system and one online catalog. Money saved by collaboration can be applied to increasing the resources available to users, and the improvement of services. Such advantages, however, can easily be outweighed by contentiousness without careful planning.

The challenges of such cooperation generally result from the clash of cultures, differing priorities, and interpersonal issues which must be addressed forthrightly during the planning process in order to avoid ruinous friction after opening day.

At Nova, these issues were approached by assuring that an entirely new staff was hired, all with the same values of shared service to both institutions but all being employed by Nova, though salaries are supported in large part by the public library.

At San Jose, the issue has been addressed by a long process of goal and policy formulation, through joint collaborative efforts of the two staffs.

At less successful joint-use facilities, typically, little or no thought has been given beforehand to the problems likely to be encountered, and differing staffs find themselves inhabiting the same building with competing values and priorities, and little coordination or mechanism for addressing problems.

Contracting in a Joint Building

Even on a joint campus (typically housing both a community college and a college or university), one institution will often contract with the other for services. For instance, when the University of Washington, Bothell and Cascadia Community College opened a new joint campus, the decision was made that the community college would contract with the university for all library services, in large part because the university already had a library at its former location while the entire community college was being created from scratch. The operating principle behind this joint-use facility was that both institutions would pay their fair share for library services, based on enrollment percentages and particular institutional needs (such as audiovisual support).

Because community colleges typically spend less per student on library services than do four-year institutions, this agreement has meant, in practice, that Cascadia has ended up paying twice as much for library and media services as the average spent by the other community colleges in Washington; it has also meant, of course, that Cascadia’s students and faculty have been much better supported than their peers elsewhere in the state.

The same is true at the joint-use building serving both Florida Atlantic University and Broward Community College in Davie, Florida. At this library, the university contracts with the community college, and pays 40 percent of all the costs. All employees work for the community college, but a joint advisory committee consisting of administrators, faculty, and library staff assures that the needs of both institutions are well met. In providing 60 percent of the total costs, based on meeting the University’s needs as well as its own, Broward Community College is paying far more for library services than its peer institutions in Florida, but is providing a superior level of service, with far greater collections and equipment than its peers can offer on their own.

Do Joint-Use Libraries Save Money?

As noted above, while contracting for limited services may save an institution money over providing its own library, especially in the early years of a program, it is surprising to note that many joint-use libraries do not actually cost less money for the partners than what they would have ended up spending on their own library. Furthermore, saving of money is often not even the intent of joint-use arrangements.

What joint-use arrangements do accomplish, at their best, is to improve the quality of service for all users, stretching resources and freeing them up by eliminating duplication of facilities, collections, and services. It is often important for publicly funded institutions to demonstrate efficient and responsible use of public funds, and joint-use libraries fill that need very well. In many situations, also, joint-use arrangements are the only way for entities to offer library services, especially in rural areas where academic, public, and school libraries often combine forces, and resources, to offer services which none could offer on their own.

The Role of Administrators

If joint-use libraries are to be created, librarians and others in administrative roles must take the lead, and recognize that for staff of existing libraries, the idea of amalgamation, and surrendering of control, is inherently unsettling and even threatening. Administrators must allay such fears, and point out the future inherent benefits of joining with another organization, if indeed such combinations are truly in the best interest of the institution. In addition, administrators should facilitate the forthcoming combination of forces by insisting on a thoughtful planning process to precede the new arrangement.

Suggested Steps to Take in Preparation for Joint-Use

It would be wise for potential partners to invest the time, before a building or a partnership is operational, in exploring what their visions are for service, how much autonomy each must have, how much integration each is willing to allow, and how costs will be handled. Site visits to existing joint-use facilities and formal documents detailing how sharing will take place will minimize problems and are much preferable to ad hoc accommodations made after the fact.

The following steps should be taken by any library considering a joint-use arrangement:

Further Readings

Daria O. Carle and Juli Braund-Allen, “Alaska Resources Library and Information Services: Pioneering Partnerships on the Last Frontier.” In New Developments in Science and Technology Libraries. Ed. William Miller and Rita M. Pellen. New York: Haworth, forthcoming.

Joint-Use Libraries, Ed. William Miller and Rita M. Pellen. New York: Haworth, 2001. Originally published as Resource Sharing & Information Networks, 15, no.1-2 (2001.)

Mountainside Publishing, Inc.

Library Issues: Briefings for Faculty and Administrators (ISSN 0734-3035) is published bimonthly beginning September 1980 by Mountainside Publishing Co., Inc., 321 S. Main St., #213, Ann Arbor, MI 48104; (734) 662-3925. Library Issues, Vol. 24, no. 2 © 2003 by Mountainside Publishing Co., Inc. Subscriptions: $80/one year; $140/two years. Additional subscriptions to same address $25 each/year. Address all correspondence to Library Issues, P.O. Box 8330, Ann Arbor, MI 48107. (Fax: 734-662-4450; E-mail: Subscribers have permission to photocopy articles free of charge for distribution on their own campus. Library Issues is available online with a password at


last modified: November 2003


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