Academic libraries share common challenges: our users expect instant access to a wide range of increasingly costly research materials, but our budgets don’t keep up. Software certainly helps with the management of these resources, but issues around access and discovery of these materials are complex and manifold. Furthermore, as we work to create more forward-looking collaborative workspaces in our aging buildings, there’s less and less space for our still-used and often quite unique physical collections.
Can our shared challenges be tackled with a shared solution?
The directors of the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) initiated the Collaborative Futures (CF) project to work towards answering this question: what is the feasibility of an Ontario-wide, collaborative approach to the management of electronic and print resources? With twenty-one institutions at the table, this is no small question to answer, and the steps to answering it have been separated into three distinct phases.
Phase one of the Collaborative Futures project is the feasibility study. This stage of the project, which has been under way since November 2014, is focussed on developing a business case that will demonstrate the benefits and costs for the collaboration. All 21 Ontario university libraries are involved at this stage, either through direct representation on one or more of the working groups, or through participation in the online webinars and discussions. Four working groups are conducting market research on available tools, calculating the costing of current OCUL library practices, analyzing current e-resource workflows, and studying possible options for shared print management solutions. A communications working group has also been struck to make sure OCUL members are involved and informed throughout the process.
OCUL institutions have received a number of surveys as a part of this phase, and their contributed data will help to determine the feasibility of implementing and running a shared system. This phase is scheduled to wrap up this month, when OCUL directors will have sufficient information to determine if they wish to move their institution to the next phase.
If a sufficient number of OCUL schools decide there is a compelling case to implement a shared next-generation library services platforms and related collaborative projects, the second stage of the project will kick into gear. Phase two, tentatively scheduled for August 2015 to April 2016, will be focussed on applying for and acquiring funding, as well as formalizing working relationships across schools, preparing for technology acquisitions, and implementation planning.
The third and final phase of Collaborative Futures, set to run from April 2016 to December 2017, will see OCUL issue an RFP, select a software or set of software that will best meet OCUL’s need, and implement these tools at participating libraries. We anticipate the roll-out happening in phases, with much attention focussed on data migration and the development of and training for new workflows.
As the working groups solidify their business case in preparation for the end of phase one, it’s clear that the Collaborative Futures vision is a bold one. If we go forward, phases two and three of the project will require deep flexibility, and trust between institutions, as well as a lot of hard work. Happily, OCUL has a history of collaboration that has us well set up, and our engagement with a number of successful consortia in Wales (WHELF), Nova Scotia (Novanet) and the Pacific Northwest of the United States (Orbis Cascade Alliance) has demonstrated that where there is both the vision and the commitment, great things can happen. We have the need, and we have the will. We look forward to the development of Collaborative Futures.
Interested to learn more? Please visit the OCUL Collaborative Futures website.
Cort Egan is Assistant Director, Communications and Evaluation at University of Guelph and Jacqueline Whyte Appleby is Acting Assistant Director at OCUL Scholars Portal
Other members of the OCUL Collaborative Futures Communications Team include Barbara McDonald (University of Guelph), Cheryl Martin (University of Western Ontario), Jane Phillips (Queen’s University), Sara Allain (Ryerson University), and Amy Greenberg (OCUL).