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Strategies for Collaboration: Opportunities and Challenges to Build the Future We Need

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The ICOLC Strategies for Open Collaboration in Library Consortia Task Force was initially formed to develop strategies for consortia and libraries to interact with vendors and the open source community to address pricing, standards/interoperability, and access challenges. We were charged with developing a report that would:

  • Outline what libraries should do differently in their ongoing relationships with vendors and the open source community.
  • Suggest alternatives to the typical library/vendor model, especially open source/community-owned efforts that address the needs outlined in the report.
  • Articulate a broad vision for how these efforts tie together and provide a framework for libraries to support these projects.

While this report is aimed primarily at library consortia, the strategies described will also be useful for individual libraries. While at times uncomfortable, this inward look and self-assessment, along with a radical shift in how libraries allocate resources (See We discuss this fully later in the report.), will yield the bracing and clear-eyed vision needed to sustain a strong future for libraries. While vendor-created solutions will always be an important option for libraries, we also need solutions created and managed by libraries. By taking more agency, we can move away from the status quo in which we are beholden to vendors' business interests, priorities, and pricing, to create alternatives in the marketplace where library values and needs are prioritized.

We are at a pivotal time for libraries, which face a rapidly changing knowledge marketplace and often with shrinking budgets. Typically, groups of libraries form consortia to act at scale, increase capacity, lower costs, and help mitigate risk across libraries. Collaborations between consortia can provide the scale, resources, and expertise to make coordinated, strategic, and cost-effective investments in community resources while supporting equity and inclusion. Projects such as the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) are already taking unprecedented steps to collaborate, “supported by interoperable services and systems that rest on a foundation of shared infrastructure (” The “Library First Principles” identified by BTAA call for libraries to become the “long-term guardian and preservers of research products” and support “egalitarian access to the tools of knowledge creation.” BTAA’s call for the effective in-housing of library systems through collaboratively owned and supported infrastructure is pivotal in building a sustainable future for libraries.

A Call To Action

For libraries to accomplish their missions, serve their users, and effectively steward limited resources, libraries of all types must be able to select the services, platforms, and technology providers that match organizational values and meet both long and short-term needs. To that end, we argue that libraries must empower themselves by reestablishing agency and reasserting control over the technical infrastructure critical to libraries' success.

We recommend a three-pronged approach that combines both local and larger-scale actions. While we've positioned the most significant point of departure from "business as usual" first, we’ve provided multiple suggestions at differing levels of technical complexity and financial commitment so that any library can find an entry point for contributing to the overall goal of revitalizing our future. Each of the strategies summarized here is discussed later in this document.

Underpinning all these strategies is a recognition that libraries – even the largest, best-funded ones – must collaborate to accomplish their missions. Conversely, even the smallest, poorly-funded libraries can be valued contributors to these efforts. Consortia can play a unique role in this undertaking, working with all their libraries – however big or small, no matter their funding – to identify strategies that work for their libraries and bring them together to regain collective agency, power, and control.

STRATEGY ONE – Radically Rethink Our Operations to Build the Future We Need:

  • Assess and audit our operations for areas that are out-of-sync with organizational values and short- and long-term goals.
  • Build in-house, sustainable, collaborative capacity based on identified short- and long-term needs.
  • Join collaborative efforts that are funding alternative solutions.
  • Reallocate a portion of budgets to support alternative solutions.
  • Ask library groups to dedicate a part of their membership fees to support alternative solutions.
  • When contracting with vendors that support open source, ensure that they commit to support future development of the underlying system and contribute their developments back to the community.
  • Participate in grants that are developing alternative solutions.
  • Engage with the legislative process to advocate for additional support for libraries and alternative solutions.

STRATEGY TWO – Reframe Contracts for Proprietary Services:

  • Ensure existing vendor contracts allow for robust collaboration opportunities within and outside their proprietary platforms.
  • Include clear contractual language around data ownership that allows libraries to engage and interoperate with other systems and develop solutions that meet their long-term needs.
  • Ensure pricing is clearly tied to standard library metrics with options to scale up or down.
  • Include required standards and interoperability options with clear expectations for implementation and consequences for non-compliance.
  • Require proprietary providers to implement open, vendor-neutral standards and interoperability protocols fully.
  • Avoid non-disclosure agreements.
  • Use collective purchasing power whenever possible.
  • Make full use of existing contractual rights to work effectively on behalf of patrons and communities.

STRATEGY THREE – Design, Support, and Fund Alternative Solutions Now: (“Alternative solutions” include open source, collaborative, and community-driven initiatives.)

  • Consider whether open source or community-driven initiatives can (or could one day) meet your needs, and support them with funds, expertise, development time, or other in-kind measures.
  • Experiment with open or non-commercial systems to gain familiarity with them if the library or consortium is not ready to fully embrace open or non-commercial systems or if the systems themselves don’t yet meet your needs.
  • Adopt one component of a more comprehensive, modular solution that addresses a specific need well.
  • Provide data or integrations to/with open source or community solutions as an interim step, even if not ready to move away from commercial systems entirely.

These strategies are described in more detail in the complete report attached above. 


Contact Persons

The ICOLC Strategies for Open Collaboration in Library Consortia Task Force is made up of volunteer ICOLC members, including the people below and several others who wish to remain anonymous:

Elijah Scott (FLVC)
Lucy Harrison (GALILEO)
Scott Garrison (MCLS)
Emily Flynn (OhioLINK)
Jill Morris (PALCI)
Kirsten Leonard (PALNI)
Rick Moul (PASCAL)
Mark Sullivan (SUNY)
Aaron Skog (SWAN)

Endorsing Organizations

Approval: This report was approved by the ICOLC Coordinating Committee at its meeting on 9/15/2022. ICOLC CC Members:

Angus Cook, CAUL
Anne Craig, CARLI
Teri Gallaway, Co-Chair, SCELC
Amanda Holmes, CRKN
Jiří Jirát, CzechELib
Nancy Kirkpatrick, OhioNet
Rick Moul, PASCAL
Patrick Peiffer, Consortium Luxembourg
Pim Slot, Co-Chair, SURFmarket | UKB
Celeste Feather, ex officio for administration, LYRASIS


The International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) is an informal, self-organized group currently comprising approximately 200 library consortia in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa. The member consortia serve all types and sizes of libraries. ICOLC has been in existence since 1996. ICOLC supports participating consortia by facilitating discussion on issues of common interest. Twice per year ICOLC conducts meetings dedicated to keeping participating consortia informed about new electronic information resources, pricing practices of electronic information providers and vendors, and other issues of importance to directors, governing boards, and libraries of consortia. From time to time ICOLC also issues statements regarding topics which affect libraries and library consortia.