8B: Reflection on Readings

This past week I noticed how thoughtful and caring each member of our class is in their own unique way. This weeks readings brought up something else we all seem to have in common. When we introduced ourselves on the first day of class, every single person in the class mentioned some library function or patron group about which they care deeply. At the time I didn’t realize just how important that passion is in librarianship. Reading the ALA Code of Ethics this week solidified my understanding of what it means to be a reference librarian. We are not simply there to preform reference interviews and help users find what they need. We are there to advocate for all of our users. This is the case no matter who they are, where they come from, what their current situation is, or what they need. I look forward to striving to uphold these ethical standards.

What I do wonder is if consortiums help or hinder our ethical goals. There is no doubt that they help advance the free flow of information. However, I wonder if consortia advance private interests. A event to which the ALA ethical standards are dynamically opposed. In economics, business consortiums are not only generally illegal, but detrimental to the market. They allow business to exploit the consumer by setting universally high prices. This both increases the burden on those able to pay and eliminates access of others to the product completely. In the case of libraries, consortia help libraries to interact with vendors to improve each member libraries access to various tools. If a few member libraries are opposed to a certain tool, yet the majority go forward with the purchase, those few member libraries lose funds they could use to help their patrons in a more effective way. I will admit this is less of a concern for small consortia made up of similar communities of patrons. However, there are a great many large consortia that span almost every state in the United States. It is impossible that all member libraries are composed of the same type of communities and as a result, it is unlikely that one tool will be as effective in one place as another.

For instance, a community with a large homeless population, would benefit from membership with job search tools and other resources. If that community is a member of a large consortium in which their community make-up is a minority, the consortium may not be willing to negotiate with vendors for these types of tools. While the majority of the consortium will benefit from this decision, it hinders the one libraries ability to help all of its patrons. Just like in a business situation, we cannot rule out the possibility that their will be winners and losers in a consortium situation. If this is the case, that library would benefit from keeping in mind their community when making the decision to enter a consortium.

In our readings, consortia were presented as almost unequivocally positive phenomenons. I believe it would be prudent to keep in mind that each library has a unique community of patrons for whom it is their job to advocate. In a large consortium made up of libraries with diverse communities, it is important to keep in mind that not every member will always benefit. That said, I do believe that a consortium can be beneficial in the right situation where the composition of member libraries is nearly homogenous. They do help advance librarians goal of open access to information and help individual libraries navigate the balance between that interest and that of the rights holders. While those our important goals, I cannot help but feel that the community we serve as librarians is the most important things. But that is my passion, someone else’s may be open information sources for all. That is the beauty of all of us in one room. We all have individual passion that connect to our ethical standards and each of those passions has value.

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3 thoughts on “8B: Reflection on Readings

  1. I think I remember reading (or hearing?) that consortia often allow opt-in/opt-out from participating libraries for various subscription resources. In cases where that is true, that alleviates some of the concern about forcing constituent libraries into situations they don’t want to be in from a financial or collection development perspective. I think that private interests are much more likely to be served by corporate mergers on the publisher/vendor side of the equation than the consumer/consortia side of things. Still good to stay vigilant for conflicts of interest, though; I am glad to read your thoughts on the balance of power between individual libraries and consortium-as-conglomerate.

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  2. You managed to put into writing the whole tangle of thoughts I had as I read about consortia! The question of “who loses?” is especially important and I’m glad you considered how the different patrons populations, especially marginalized ones, might be affected when consortia can determine which materials are shared among libraries, and thus, which materials patrons have access to.

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  3. I appreciate the your analysis of the potential pitfalls of consortia. Nicco’s right in that there are opt-in/out options on the level of services provided. That being said costs can still be prohibitive and potentially detrimental. OCLC has a lot catalog records that libraries can download and use in their own online public access catalogs (OPACs). However, if you’re not a member and cannot access these records, you’re out of luck and must create cataloging records on your own even though they may already exist. I get that consortia need money to run but I still feel the lack of free cooperative cataloging is an issue. My 501 client, a library, couldn’t afford OCLC for a while and that placed a very large burden on the technical services department there. It seems, but don’t quote me, that OCLC is the predominant resource for cooperative cataloging and has a monopoly on it. I’m not saying this is intentional or malicious, just something to be aware of and to think about. You really started quite the conversation here, based upon others and my comments here! Hat’s off to you!

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