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Consortium Formation and Participation

as a Key Ingredient of Library Networking


Lester J. Pourciau


The advantages of consortium or confederation participation by libraries

and library associations are several. This paper will discuss consortium

involvement with which this writer has had experience, will discuss

briefly the International Coalition of Library Consortia, will provide a

rationale for the involvement of libraries and library associations in

consortium endeavors, and will propose the creation of a Confederation

of Libraries and Library Associations.


In the Southeastern United States, there exists an organization, the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries. The ASERL is composed of the library systems of the largest research universities in this geographical region. In 1981, the University of Memphis Libraries were admitted to membership in this influential group. Later, in the

latter part of the 1980s an effort was initiated resulting in the establishment in the state of Tennessee, the location of the University of Memphis, of TENN-Share, a resource sharing group. The U of Memphis Libraries immediately entered into this effort. In the early 1990s, TALC, the Tennessee Academic Library Collaborative was established and, again, the U of Memphis Libraries became a participating member. Each of these participative efforts was and is advantageous to faculty and to students of the University. This paper will describe each of these efforts, will discuss briefly one of the more prominent and highly developed collaborative efforts in the United States, The Big Twelve plus, and then will provide some description and discussion of the International Coalition of Library Consortia. Finally, it will use the brief discussions of these various efforts as a rationale for proposing the establishment of a formally structured confederation of Libraries and Library Associations.

TENN-Share, a localized initiative

Throughout the 1980s, as libraries everywhere were becoming increasingly aware of the escalating costs of library material and the increasing inadequacy of funding needed to acquire such material, a group of representatives of Tennessee libraries of all types – academic, public, school and special – gathered to talk about how they might work with one another in ways so as to provide higher quality collections and services to their users. As s result of this initial discussion, an organization named TENN-Share was created with the goal of TENN-Share that of attempting to facilitate interlibrary borrowing and lending among Tennessee libraries of all types. As TENN-Share developed and evolved, it eventually created and approved in 1992, a constitution which was later amended in 1995. In 1997, a dues structure was established so that TENN-Share might hire an Executive Director. It did that and in 1998, the Executive Director, along with a number of other librarians throughout the state of Tennessee worked diligently to cause the creation of the Tennessee Electronic Library, TEL, a statewide network which provides access to a variety of electronic databases to users of all types of publicly supported libraries. A statement of mission adopted by TENN-Share reads as follows:

TENN-Share exists to promote the sharing of library resources among libraries

for the benefit of the citizens of Tennessee. TENN-Share has as its broad role

the charge to serve as a catalyst for resource sharing initiatives on a variety of

fronts. TENN-Share functions as a coordinating agency for various Tennessee

library consortia involved in resource sharing, with a primary charge to facilitate

interlibrary lending among Tennessee libraries by providing OCLC/SOLINET

Group Access Capability in Tennessee. TENN-Share will seek to establish

effective communication about its initiatives to extend the reach of available

fiscal and information resources with other Tennessee consortia, and those of

the region and the nation. (1)


The State of Tennessee has a system of public owned and funded institutions of higher education such that it encompasses both the University of Tennessee system and the Tennessee Board of Regents System. Each of these two systems has a governing board which is separate and distinct from the other and which does not duplicate membership, policy, or legal status. They are two organizationally different systems of publicly funded higher education. In 1997 and into 1998, discussion took place between the library directors of the University of Tennessee System and those of the Tennessee Board of Regents system. Out of these meetings and discussions came the idea of creating an endeavor which was termed the Tennessee Academic Library Collaborative. TALC, as this initiative is named, supports users of its constituent member libraries. One goal that it has achieved is the creation of a statewide library borrower’s card for faculty and students of Tennessee higher education. The statement of mission of the Tennessee Academic Library Collaborative reads as follows:

The Tennessee Academic Library Collaborative creates partnerships among

Tennessee’s public assisted, post-secondary academic libraries and works

collaboratively with other groups and organizations to provide leadership to

various library sectors in the state and region. TALC leads, creates, and delivers

programs and projects designed to increase and to improve access to library

services and resources for participating users’ institutions. TALC strives to

combat rising costs for library materials and resources through a number of

group-based strategies. (2)

The Association of Southeastern Research Libraries

Moving beyond the libraries of the state of Tennessee, the University of Memphis Libraries joined the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries in 1982. This organization was established in 1956 as an informal discussion and planning group to deal with problems common to the large research libraries of the Southeastern United States. Its current composition includes the thirty-four largest academic libraries in the twelve-state southeastern region encompassed by the Southeastern Library Association and, as ex-officio members, the state libraries or state library agencies in each of these states. Criteria for membership must be maintained in order for membership to be maintained. These criteria are:

    1. Expenditure of one-half the average (mean) expenditure of ASERL
    2. university libraries for total library operations.

    3. Expenditure of one-half the average (mean) expenditure of ASERL

university libraries for books, periodicals, and binding.

The ASERL is the founding agency of SOLINET, the southeastern regional affiliate of OCLC, and conducts its business meeting each year in the spring.(3)

The Big 12 Plus

In March of 1999, the ASERL library directors met and, among other agenda items, discussed the desirability of making ASERL somewhat more formal and more organized than it had been for a number of years. By way of providing an example and motivation for such an effort, a representative of The Big 12 Plus Libraries Consortium was invited to make a presentation about that cooperative effort. An outline of that presentation is as


Programs and Goals

Resource Sharing

Scholarly Communication

Continuing Education

Preservation & Conservation

Resource Sharing Program

Interlibrary Loan

- First program developed; very robust

- Planning to develop consortium-wide, patron-initiated ILL system

Virtual Undergraduate Library

Joint licensing of electronic databases

Consortium-wide digital collections

Continuing Education

CE has emerged as a major opportunity for Big 12 Plus

Variety of possible topics

    • Licensing electronic resources
    • Diversity
    • Knowledge access management
    • Change management (4)

The International Coalition of Library Consortia

Moving beyond the involvement in consortia on the part of the University of Memphis Libraries, note should be made of the International Coalition of Library Consortia. This group (ICOLC) first met informally as the Consortium of Consortia (COC) in 1997. The Coalition continues to be an informal, self-organized group comprising more than 80 library consortia in North America, now expanding to the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia and other countries. The Coalition serves primarily higher education institutions by facilitating discussion among consortia on issues of common interest. At times during the year, the ICOLC may conduct meetings dedicated to keeping participating consortia informed about new electronic information resources, pricing practices of electronic providers and vendors, and other issues of importance to directors and to governing boards of consortia. During these sessions the Coalition meets with members of the information provider community, providing a forum for them to discuss their offerings and to engage in dialog with consortial leaders about issues of mutual concern. Further information about ICOLC may be obtained from the email address at the web site. All consortia anywhere in the world who are in general agreement with the ICOLC Statement of Current Perspective are welcome .(5)

An examination of the Home Page for ICOLC indicates membership of organizations, consortia, and confederations from a variety of countries throughout the world. To be sure, the majority of organizations listed are in North America, but a number of others in other countries are represented. The China Academic Library and Information System (CALIS) in China is a relatively new addition as are several organizations in South Africa. The advantage of participation in ICOLC is, of course, that of collegiality and the sharing of experiences and ideas.


The foregoing has provided a description, albeit brief, of several involvements on the part of the University of Memphis Libraries in cooperative or consortial arrangements and has identified briefly the existence of, and the rationale for, the International Coalition of Library Consortia. It should be clear that the motive for any and all of these efforts is, in the final analysis, to achieve higher quality services to library users. A brief examination of the programs and goals of The Big 12 Plus Libraries Consortium, discussed earlier, indicates very clearly what advantages accrue from cooperative activity within the context of a consortium. The sharing of resources is a primary benefit for users of participant libraries in any consortial effort. Continuing professional education not only enhances the skills and talents of individual librarians or information workers, but those enhanced skills and talents ultimately benefit users of member libraries.

The benefits of consortium membership are clear and unequivocal, regardless of the particular conditions of political economy which exist in any region anywhere in the world. Throughout the world, there is a growing appetite for professional knowledge, professional skills, and the development of talent. This appetite has been stimulated in part by the relatively recent independence of the republics of Central Europe and the resulting development of economies. As libraries and information centers become increasingly important to the development of economies and to the satisfaction of the appetite for professional knowledge, skills, and talents, the establishment of a formally recognized, consortially based agreement among libraries and library organizations is a goal which, by any measure, should be seen as unarguable. Such an agreement, articulated in the form of a recognized consortium, could do much to foster information resource sharing. It could serve so as to negotiate advantageous pricing of library material in whatever format, and serve as a communications clearinghouse concerning resource activities in the region. Surely, a Confederation of Libraries and Library Associations is a laudable goal which would be recognized as a significant accomplishment by the various governing bodies or institutions of your respective libraries.


Lester J. Pourciau is the retired Director of Libraries at The University of Memphis in the state of Tennessee in the United States. He is currently serving as Vice President of ILIAC, the International Library, Information, and Analytical Center. His email address is <pourciau@alumni.indiana.edu>



  1. TENN-SHARE URL: http://toltec.lib.utk.edu/~tennshare/

2. Tennessee Academic Library Collaborative URL: Http://toltec.lib.utk.edu/~talc/

3. The ASERL URL is accessible by member institutions only. Statistical data for

the ASERL member libraries are available at http://www.lib.memphis.edu/aserl.htm

  1. The Big 12 Plus Libraries Consortium URL: http://www.big12plus.org
  2. ICOLC URL: http://www.library.yale.edu/consortia/index.html

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