Library Issues

Editor: Richard M. Dougherty, University of Michigan.
Contributing Editors: Eileen Fenton, University of Michigan; Steve Marquardt, South Dakota State University;
William Miller, Florida Atlantic University; Sarah Pritchard, Smith College;

Vol. 18, No. 2 November 1997

Library Alliances:
Different Forms, Similar Benefits

by Steve Marquardt

"Yes, I get by with a little help from my friends."
—Lennon and McCartney

Academic libraries and the librarians who operate them are increasingly seeking the help of their most understanding friends—their colleagues in similar institutions. Interlibrary cooperation has a long history, originating with the lending of unique materials and progressing through consortia and networks that originated as brokers of automated services such as OCLC processing. Most of these networks later added the function of training and exercising group purchasing power for a variety of library goods and services.

Variations of a Network Theme
Consortia are a variation on the network theme, exercising purchasing power of a group of libraries of a similar type or in a nearby location. A traditional manifestation of the consortial approach is the Oberlin Group of college libraries negotiating a group discount for 60 of its members to become charter subscribers to the Project Muse collection of more than 40 online journals published by Johns Hopkins University Press.1 Metropolitan examples include LIBRAS, a consortium of private college and university libraries in the Chicago metropolitan area since 1965, or the multitype (academic, public, and corporate libraries) LCOMM group, the Library Consortium of Metropolitan Milwaukee.

The "Palladian Alliance" among many of the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS), with support of the Mellon Foundation, has as its goals to improve users' access to information, make the most efficient use of collective financial resources, and to contain costs. Its objectives are:

The first year of Alliance activity resulted in savings of more than $100,000 for the combined libraries. Trinity University alone expects to save that much over the three-year life of the Mellon grant, while adding 600 new online subscriptions.2

Deepened Areas of Cooperation
Several of the new groups that call themselves "alliances" have extended and deepened their areas of cooperation. The range of activities include department-to-department relationships, one-to-one mentoring, and cooperative staff development and continuing education activities.

Kentucky-Tennessee Information Alliance. This alliance was formed in November, 1994, between the University of Kentucky and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. It began with several ambitious goals—to have access to one another's collections, to build complementary collections, to share staff and professional expertise, and to develop new library services. The parties also hoped to reduce duplication in original cataloging and staff development and to discuss topics of mutual interest, such as personnel administration policies, reference procedures, statistics, and ideas for new projects. Joint staff development trips and joint conspectus training have occurred. Funds have been pooled to bring in outside speakers and trainers. The University of Kentucky agriculture librarian has served as mentor to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville agriculture librarian.3

Library Service Alliance—New Mexico. In the Library Service Alliance among technical libraries in New Mexico, a reciprocal borrowing agreement allows faculty and graduate students to check out materials from each other's libraries. The LSA has arranged for joint access to the ISI Scientific Citation Index via the Web. Collection development initiatives have fostered the sharing of expensive journals among the members, and a Reference Planning Group is planning initiatives to promote cooperative public services among the technical libraries in New Mexico.

INCOL. The Inland Northwest Council of Libraries, an alliance of libraries of many types (college, university, public and junior college) places an emphasis upon joint staff education programs that usually brings in outside trainers for two programs per year. Programs are open to staff and librarians. Costs are billed back to participating libraries in proportion to their attendance. Collection sharing is carried out through programs that include a contract delivery service in support of interlibrary loan, a union list of serials, and a cooperative videotape licensing program.

Tri-University Library Consortium. Library alliances have been formed also outside the United States. In Ontario, Canada, the Tri-University Library Consortium includes the libraries of Wilfred Laurier University, the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo, all located within a 30 kilometer triangle. This alliance operates within the Ontario-wide 20-member academic library consortium known as OCUL (Ontario Council of University Libraries). The Tri-University Library Consortium is implementing a joint installation of an integrated online library system. The faculty and graduate students of each university enjoy semester loan privileges at member libraries, and they may return borrowed materials to any of the member libraries. The libraries operate a joint storage facility, provide joint access to electronic databases and electronic journals, coordinate joint collection development, stage joint workshops, and share library staff resources and expertise.

CALICO. In the Republic of South Africa, CALICO, the Cape Library Co-operative brings three universities and two "technikons" in the Western Cape into a single combined library system. Stressed by the shift of national funding toward neglected health care and housing needs, and primed by initial funding from the Ford Foundation, these institutions and their libraries are pooling their resources to install a single online integrated system that will encompass all library sites. This system will bring all member libraries forward into one installation of the latest technology, thus facilitating maximum use of collections and services, and realizing significant economies of scale.4

Benefits of Alliances
The benefits of library alliances are readily apparent. Duplication of materials, time and effort can be minimized. Savings and access can be maximized. Users enjoy an expanded range of access to readily available library materials. Cooperative projects become interesting and attractive investments for grant funding. Staff talent and time is more fully utilized by sharing the special skills, expertise and facilities of each member institution. The staff of the allied libraries build and sustain professional relationships, and morale is improved. Librarians experienced in forming and managing alliances advise that it is important to build linkages at all staff levels, especially involving the front line staff. The Tri-University Library Consortium found that some of the most radical and interesting ideas emerged from discussions of front line staff.

At the same time, each library dean and director must energize and be committed to the alliance, because it is fundamentally a multi-institutional relationship. To maintain the initial enthusiasm, staff at all levels must be involved, with work and initiative delegated to several interested staff persons on a team or executive committee. Problems will arise, whether with publishers over the joint licensing of databases, or over conflicts between various state or institutional budgetary and accounting practices. If sustained by the commitment of leaders and the involvement of staff, library alliances should grow in number, given their distinct economic and staff development advantages, and the ongoing financial pressure to do more with less.


1 Damon D. Hickey, "College librarians explore electronic journals," CLS Newsletter, 12:2 (Fall, 1996), p. 2.

2 Richard Meyer, "Palladian Alliance contains library costs," Ibid., pp. 2-4.

3 Linda L. Phillips and Gail A. Kennedy, "A new breed of partnership," C&RL News, 57:5 (May 1996), pp. 284-285.

4 The CALICO Web site is available at <>.


Computer Equipment Costs
in Academic Libraries

by William Miller

Academic library budgets, traditionally, have focused on two major areas: materials and personnel. Equipment has traditionally been viewed as an infrequent, extraordinary need. In our new technological environment, equipment must now be viewed as a major ongoing component of the budget, and one without which libraries will be rendered ineffective.

Until a decade ago academic library costs were static, but in recent years, costs have begun to escalate sharply. Libraries are now a major factor pushing annual college and university cost increases much higher than the overall rate of inflation. The yearly double-digit increase in the cost of periodicals is one obvious reason; another is a sudden escalation in the need for computers and related equipment. The effect of computerization of library operations has contrasted sharply with earlier notions that computerization would save labor and money, and that the advent of electronic information would mean that the cost of library operations would be driven down.

Today's Needs
Thirty years ago, there was essentially no computer equipment in the average academic or research library. Equipment for libraries tended to be large, one-time purchase items such as stacks, tables and chairs, or catalog card units. Consequently, libraries tended to have modest budgets for equipment, and extraordinary costs were usually covered by the campus administration. While most libraries still have most of the equipment needs they always had (except for card catalog units), overlaid now is the ever-quickening need for computer equipment. Due to tight budget constraints, many libraries have had to use the materials budget, salary savings, and other expedients in order to meet their minimal equipment needs.

A typical academic library today is maintaining an online catalog that originally cost (for hardware and software) from $250,000 to $1,000,000, carries an annual maintenance fee of perhaps $20,000, and requires the services of at least one full-time operator. Meanwhile, this same library is operating at least 150 personal computers, some as public terminals for the online catalog, some as workstations for staff, and some as stand-alone or networked machines for student use of CD-ROMs, the Internet, and other functions. These machines are now aging rapidly, and in many cases are no longer able to handle current software and storage requirements. Therefore, this typical library is probably spending at least $150,000 each year on replacing its oldest machines and adding new infrastructure (hubs, routers, ethernet). The management of these machines probably entails the services of at least two and probably three additional full-time staff.

Clearly then, just the cost of maintaining and replacing current equipment, counting staff salary and such items as new software, maintenance contracts, printers/paper/supplies, and theft/breakdowns, is at least $300,000 per year on an ongoing basis, with the probable figure being considerably higher; most academic libraries are probably spending closer to $500,000 per year to maintain and upgrade their computer equipment. In major research libraries, the cost is higher by an order of magnitude, and is probably being achieved only through cannibalization of salaries and the library materials budget. There seems to be no choice, however, but to continue to ride the merry-go-round.

How it Began
This introduction of computer equipment into libraries began during the 1960s, with the advent of batch-mode systems for the control of circulation information. The purchase of a computer to process such information was viewed as a one-shot purchase with a life of 20 years or more. The circulation control system soon became an online catalog, and disk drive space became a major consideration as the size of files increased considerably. By the early 1980s, the notion of an "integrated system" became the ideal; one system would contain not only circulation and a public catalog, but also acquisitions information, serials control, and other aspects of operations. The "back room" technical services work would all be done on this one system—or on additional systems, which would be interfaced with the public catalog to let the public know the current status of items.

These early integrated library systems soon tested the limits of processing power and storage capacity, and many a library found itself strapped for cash and stymied for lack of a system sufficiently large to handle its records efficiently. During the 1970s and `80s, the answer always seemed to lie in a somewhat bigger, better, faster computer, with more disk drives, and a large number of "dumb" terminals to access the information. Libraries found themselves replacing their online catalogs/integrated systems every five years, instead of every twenty years, as new generations of systems made older systems obsolete. This trend continues into today, with many academic libraries continually considering migration to the next generation of online system, a move which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each time it occurs.

Meanwhile, the personal computer made its advent in the early 1980s, and slowly began to replace the dumb terminal in library operations, first in technical processing, and then in public service areas. Such equipment has mushroomed so that today, almost every staff person, clerical as well as professional, needs a $2,500 computer set-up on the desktop as a basic work component. Also the dumb terminals used by the public have been replaced by similar personal computers, perhaps networked to a server costing three or four times as much.

Cycle of Obsolescence
Such equipment, until recently, has been obsolescing in accordance with "Moore's Law," a "central tenet of technology that for three decades has predicted with rough accuracy that microprocessors will get twice as powerful for the same price every 18 months, setting an important timetable for the industry's products and manufacturing cycles."1 As microprocessors have increased in power, however, so have library applications become more complex and power-hungry, so that more powerful machines have been necessary just to continue to run new versions of existing software.

Faced with microcomputers which suddenly lack the power to run current applications, libraries, which by now are machine dependent, are locked into a cycle of continual upgrades and replacements. This cycle, moreover, appears to be shortening, to judge from the new flash memory chip recently introduced by Intel.

New Responsibilities
The need for such continual machine replacement, and the fact that each machine costs approximately $3,000 per year in overhead costs to maintain2 presents libraries and their institutions with an unprecedented challenge. Parent institutions are already struggling with the same dilemma in other areas, such as the provision of student computing labs and equipping faculty offices.

These machines have also generated a need for a new breed of staff member, the "systems librarian," who is adept at installing hardware and software, removing unauthorized student-initiated "additions" to the contents of machines, and maintaining networks of various kinds. It is estimated that for each 40 PCs added, one full-time staff person is needed to maintain the equipment.

For many academic libraries, new responsibilities for Internet instruction, and perhaps overall responsibilities for instructional computing on campus, exacerbate the equipment problem. A new instructional lab, with 20 to 40 computers, is a challenge to fund initially, to maintain, and to service. Even if initial funding is provided centrally by the institution, ongoing maintenance is still a major challenge, as is upgrading. Installation and ongoing cost of lines and purchasing of software are additional challenges.

Ongoing Responsibilities
With much information, including journal subscriptions, increasingly available only on the Internet, the rapid obsolescence of computing equipment is bound to be a continuing, major problem for academic libraries, even though some people also have access to the same information via their home or office computers. Academic libraries continue to be the place where most students, many faculty, and even the general public (especially in urban areas) come to gain access to current information. Academic libraries must continue to serve as the information emporium of last resort, so that any student has full access to the resources of the institution.

In the case of U.S. Government information, some libraries have a legal obligation to maintain the equipment necessary to provide effective access to this information. Many academic libraries have been designated as official depository libraries for U.S. Government documents, and in doing so they accept a legal obligation to provide access to government information on CD-ROM and via the Internet. The Depository Program now requires certain minimum specifications for equipment necessary to access such information, including Postscript printers which cost more than $3,000 each in the gray-scale version, and more than $6,000 each in the color version.

Next Equipment Trend
The next equipment trend, digitization, is already clear, as are its implications for equipment. Reserve materials, rare books, maps, and one-of-a-kind items are obviously excellent candidates for access via web sites rather than having to be handled physically in controlled library environments. Learning can be greatly enhanced by making such material widely available without physical constraints, but each digitizing set-up costs a library $15,000 to $25,000 initially, plus maintenance, staffing, and digital storage costs.

This whole situation is simply yet another illustration of the fact that computers allow academic institutions to provide new and better services, but they do not necessarily save money or simplify our lives. Library needs have certainly changed a great deal and institutions must realize that this is a new permanent need and come to terms with it.


1 David Kalish, "Intel Chip to Charge Market," Tallahassee Democrat (Sept. 18, 1997, p. 1).

2 Bob Lewis, "Never Mind Your Pcs' Total Cost of Ownership—What's Your Overhead?" Infoworld (September 8, 1997, p. 100).

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