Academic and research libraries have historically created effective partnerships with one another, such as the Library of Congress distributing catalog cards, the establishment of the Center for Research Libraries, and the birth and growth of OCLC. More recent collaborations include the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium, the Columbia-Cornell partnership 2CUL, and the Manhattan Research Library Initiative. Yet far too many library initiatives have withered owing to lack of communication, focus, or leadership. Collaboration comes with risk as well as reward, so, initially, demonstrating the value of potential benefits to administration may be hard. It is difficult to justify spending our own resources on initiatives that will in part benefit others, particularly when our funds are already constrained. How can we guard against free riders?
Part of the solution is knowing when and when not to collaborate. The opposite of hesitation to share responsibility for initiatives can be a tendency to overcollaborate—to involve too many parties in all the minutiae of a project’s implementation. This leads to low productivity, or overestimating the value of collaboration on a project.
This article looks at some of the recent collaborative models from the world of business and their parallels in libraries to helps us understand what works and what doesn’t. It ends with a piece of excellent advice:
" If we don’t join in creating the future, we may find that the future does not include us. We can make ourselves an integral part of the future by working together. Collaboration, as much as competition, is here to stay. By scrutinizing each project’s potential to add to the bottom line and paying attention to human factors like trust, commitment, and a culture of collaboration, we can increase our chances of leading our partnerships to innovation, forging new value rather than just perpetuating the status quo."