Library consortiums in the Nordic countries

It stands to reason that a Nordic collaboration should include both public and research libraries
Joint purchasing of licenses for electronic journals and databases started less than 10 years ago. Publishers introduced electronic versions of their paper-based products, and pricing often complied with the buyers’ existing subscription fees for the paper-based versions. In order to ensure the best possible prices and conditions, the buyers formed consortia which in the Nordic countries by and by turned into national consortia. Then followed the establishment of consortia that exceeded national boundaries, and over the years several products for the research libraries have been purchased jointly by Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

The vision for this work is as much information as possible to as many relevant users as possible and in order to achieve this, focus is directed at two main areas:

  • Extended international cooperation between consortia to obtain better prices and conditions
  • Further initiatives for local or national storage of information with free access for all from the Internet.

The following article describes status for Nordic work within this area.

In the Nordic countries a number of library consortia partake in joint purchasing of database licenses and electronic periodicals. Their organisational infrastructures vary, as do their strategies, and this article attempts to throw some light on both similarities and differences. For the sake of convenience, I will use the abbreviations of each organisation, except for the public library consortia of Denmark which will be referred to simply as Gentofte.

A multitude of nordic libraries participate in license agreements
The agreements drawn up by the consortia include a large number of libraries, and the majority of the public libraries take an active part in at least some of the purchasing. Some buy more, some less, but naturally libraries also tend to buy licenses on their own. The reasons vary, sometimes the desired databases are not part of a package deal and sometimes there are other administrative reasons.

In Iceland all research and public libraries take part in the purchasing process and considering their particular construction, this makes sense. The leading principle being that all databases should be available to all Icelanders, whether they are at home, in a library, at school or work. This happens through an automatic login on Icelandic IP-addresses.

DEF caters to 130 active libraries, which in turn cater to approximately another 200 institutions. In BIBSAM’s agreement there are 36 (out of 38) universities and colleges of higher educatione along with 18 (out of 38) research libraries not affiliated to any colleges of higher education.

ABM-utvikling has agreements with libraries at universities, colleges and research institutes as well as public libraries. All take part in one or a number of agreements. Many of the public libraries are part of the agreement that includes The Norwegian national encyclopedia. FinElib has an agreement with 34 research libraries and on the whole, with all public libraries through the regional libraries. Out of the 20 regional libraries, only four have contractual agreements with FinElib.

Gentofte can offer a few licenses (i.e. EBSCO) that are bought by all public libraries and some that are only bought by the larger libraries. Almost 100% of all public libraries have at one time or another used KULDA. But, usage varies depending on different offers, from four libraries in the smallest agreement to 250 in the largest.

Various reasons for choosing not to participate
BIBSAM has attempted an exhaustive answer to this question, which can be summarised as follows: They have failed to find the resources most suited to their needs. A number of the research libraries are very specialised in their subject areas and cater to a small group of researchers. The offering of the consortium bears relevance within the STM (Science Technology Medicine), but has little bearing for the smaller institutions for the humanities. It also becomes a question of funding for these smaller institutions. It may be that the information flow from BIBSAM has not been adequate enough, or it may merely be a lack of knowledge or interest on behalf of the research libraries.

DEF seems to believe that certain libraries feel there is too much excess material included in the package deals, or the libraries have yet to initiate suitable electronic resources. KULDA trails the same line; the majority of those that do not buy through joint venture, do not buy at all. But it is also because certain municipalities are large enough to create their own joint ventures on beneficial terms. FinELib lacks some of the Finnish databases in demand by the public libraries.

The advantages of joint purchases
To highlight the advantages of joint purchases here would be like pushing against an open door. Nevertheless, it might be interesting to emphasise some of the advantages put forward by the consortia that may not always be the most obvious. They are: advantageous rates, more content for their money and less administrative time wastage with both libraries and suppliers. The consortia often underline the value of competency in judicial and negotiating matters. The individual library may experience difficulty in interpreting the agreement’s small print, and is not in a position to renegotiate unreasonable conditions. BIBSAMs aim, for instance, is to create homogenous agreements and when deviations occur, to be explicit about them.

Even technical knowledge and content are coordinated to be spread further. Material related to marketing strategies and user instruction can also be used collectively. DEF emphasises a democratic aspect; smaller libraries gain access to package deals not previously available, creating a wider geographic spread of resources. Gentofte also harbours hopes that negotiations might lead to greater influence on the production process.

There has been an increasing circulation of electronic resources among the libraries in each country, especially among the smaller and middle-sized libraries.

The economics is of course a vital part of this, getting more value for money than before, but also the fact that the consortia have supplied the libraries with more information about what is on offer. For instance, networking and seminars on competence development arranged by Gentofte contributes greatly to the dissemination and application of licenses. Dealing through the consortia is an appealing option for the suppliers as less work is spent on marketing and administration and yet on the whole they manage to sell more.

Guidelines for purchasing
Some consortia list detailed guidelines for the requirements expected from the database suppliers. However, all prerequisites are not absolute and there is always room for negotiation. Among the principles DEF applies on matters of acquisition are the options for walk-in use available to all library visitors and remote access. For financial reasons one might want to discontinue the subscription of a printed periodical and replace it with the electronic version with the possibility of pay-perview. These principles are to be found at BIBSAM, too, who also emphasises the option of producing and delivering copies. It must also be allowed to produce separate digital copies of documents from the databases for noncommercial purposes and allowances be made when supplying public libraries that are not part of an agreement, with copies of articles. To simplify logging in, access by maintaining IPnumbers or domain names is needed, and all information should be available via web interfaces using just one web browser.

ABM-utvikling has similar guidelines, though not as encompassing as those of DEF and BIBSAM, yet they are clearer on the distinction between shallprinciples and should-principles.Walkin- use and interlibrary lending are required prerequisites. FinELib follows LIBER (Union of European Research Libraries) and ICOLC (International Coalition of Library Consortia) principles and COUNTER guidelines.

Gentofte has preferential subject areas, such as news coverage, contemporary social and environmental studies and natural sciences, and place due emphasis on remote access. This is to allow the users access to qualified information from their home-base as an alternative to search engines. There is a document pertaining to various options of payment, where Pay-per-View is one of them. Such documents are not to be found at the other organisations, but all consortia have teams that offer advice and make evaluations. These are often representatively composed from the concerned libraries.

What consortia wish to buy in the way of databases might not always be the same as what the suppliers wish to sell. KULDA has experienced being turned down by some database suppliers, who are well represented at public and school libraries, because the suppliers are not interested in negotiating prices when dealing with joint consortia ventures. Gentofte has experienced similar problems with Danish database suppliers, where differing local agreements have prevailed, yet Gentofte believes this is an approach nearing its end. FinELib has been denied access by one Finnish supplier. ABM-utvikling has not suffered outright denial, but it has been a challenge to negotiate with suppliers of Norwegian resources unaccustomed to consor-tiums. DEF has been engaged in a few cases, mainly because a minimum number of participants were required to initiate an agreement.

At times the suppliers have been hesitant in entering agreements because of unfavourable conditions. BIBSAM has been made offers, which barely differed from those attained by individual libraries when negotiating their own agreements. Hvar.is who negotiates on behalf of the Icelandic people has not always been able to maintain the high costs they are accustomed to and has therefore created a smaller consortium handling the Cambridge Scientific Abstracts and yet another consortium for SourceOECD.

Marketing and mediation strategies
The extent of collaboration varies between the consortia, but they obviously cooperate on matters regarding finances, negotiations and legalities. Courses for library staff are usually conducted by suppliers, though often complemented by the consortia. Teaching material is not coordinated at DEF, BIBSAM or ABM-utvikling as opposed to Gentofte, KULDA and Hvar.is, the latter of which has an extensive number of manuals available at their website. Also the Finnish gateway, Nelli, where several databases can be accessed simultaneously, makes matters easier for the users. The same situation applies to the exchange of suggestions about marketing strategies. DEF, BIBSAM and ABMutvikling do not coordinate, whereas Gentofte, KULDA, Hvar.is and FinELib state that it is part of their coordination. On top of that both Gentofte and KULDA feel that marketing and method development are given high priority, as high as coordinating agreements.

How come points of views on marketing strategies differ so radically between the consortia? Are they in any way influenced by their organisations? In Finland and Iceland, as well as in the case of the research libraries of Sweden, the coordination lies with the respective national libraries. ABM-utvikling in Norway is primarily a public culture authority and Denmark has a national library authority. National libraries and public authorities are major institutions with a long history. The organisations catering to public libraries are relatively new and pursue their work as projects and collaborate on a more equal basis.

No doubt established organisations have a head start when it comes to judicial issues and technical know-how, so it comes as no surprise that criteria for the purchasing of licenses are carefully formulated in several consortia, though not in the consortiums representing the public libraries. The opposite applies when it comes to views on marketing strategies. The consortia of the public libraries are far more active, both with regard to describing needs and to structuring pragmatic approaches. Gentofte website presents a marketing plan, and the library is currently creating webpages containing pr-material, guidance and instructional material. KULDA has a book of methods filled with suggestions from the consortia library.

When studying some of the websites kept by the other consortia, one can at best find general quotes about increasing their marketing efforts, conducting user surveys and improving information to users. Focus is directed more at what can be done, than how to do it (I have to add, though, that there might be information on the Finnish and Icelandic websites, which is not available in an English or Swedish version).

Generally, public libraries have always been ahead of research libraries when it comes to marketing strategies, which does not really come as a surprise. Research libraries take for granted that demand is constant – students and researchers obviously need their services and will often make their own way to these. Public libraries cannot afford to take their target groups for granted. Knowledge about what is available in libraries and how this can be put to use is not very prominent among the general public. Those who administer public library consortia are aware that if individual public libraries fail, due to lack of knowledge or energy, to introduce their users to databases and epublications, the reaction will invariably be “why should the library buy something nobody uses”. Furthermore, the public libraries are used to pragmatic collaborative ventures, guided by local politics instead of directives from the government. They also have more in common with other public libraries than with research libraries. (I choose to disregard the more similar university libraries where it is rather a question of size and tradition that distinguish them.

Those consortia acting on behalf of different kinds of libraries tend perhaps to lean toward the point of view held by research libraries, as the pragmatic approach to marketing is less dominant here than in consortia dealing with public libraries only. It might also be that government institutions fail to understand their situation, or simply prefer to keep off what they consider to be the public libraries’ own turf.

It is not my intention to state that research libraries can ignore marketing and instructive manuals to facilitate the use of databases. The need has always been apparent, whether one has actually come across it or not, and it is increasing as research libraries are making themselves more available to the general public.

Is Nordic collaboration a possibility?
If a joint purchase policy is possible in one country, would not collaboration between the Nordic countries be even more advantageous? ABM-utvikling has resently investigated a survey as to how a partnership of libraries can strenghten their position towards foreign suppliers through cooperation at national, Nordic and international level. This takes place within the framework of the Norwegian Digital Library. In 2002 the Danish National Library Authority, commissioned by NORDBOK, conducted a survey as to how far the Nordic public libraries had come in collaborative purchasing ventures. The report resulted in a proposal that the Nordic countries collaborate. (Fælleslicenser – initiering af fælles nordisk licenstegning på folkebiblioteksområdet – in English: Joint licenses – initiation of joint Nordic public library license agreements by Anders K. Jensen and Anette Schneider).

Evidently, the proposal has yet to be acted upon. There are several mutual adjustments that need to be taken care of in order for the countries to collaborate. As the report indicated, there are differences of opinion as to which databases are to be included in the agreements. The national databases are of greater importance to the public libraries than they are to the research libraries.

Only in Sweden and Denmark have there been separate negotiating organisations for public libraries and research libraries respectively. In Norway, Finland and Iceland they collaborate. In Denmark there is a basic collaboration between the consortia for public and research libraries, and in Sweden there are strong tendencies towards a national policy including the whole library sector. Lifelong learning entails increasing usage and will mean patrons using all types of libraries as well as databases. Yet, the staff ’s use of electronic resources varies quite markedly between public and research libraries. In the public libraries the printed publications are in the majority compared to their electronic counterparts, whilst the opposite is true (at least in Sweden) in the research libraries. A more comprehensive use of international databases is also very much in its infancy at the public libraries. No doubt there will be a few ‘cultural clashes’, not only between countries, but also between different kinds of libraries.

It stands to reason that a Nordic collaboration should include both public and research libraries. Nevertheless, simply because logic dictates this does not necessarily mean that it will be a simple matter of execution. Personally, I believe that such a project needs to make a gentle start. That one needs to select a particular area of cooperation and shy away from great proclamations about a new collaboration. This would most likely trigger off a number of defence mechanisms and encourage a jealous guarding of one’s special territories.

However, Gentofte is not afraid to venture along a new path. They soon intend to take the initiative in starting a new Nordic collaboration, which could include conferences, marketing strategies and negotiating networks.

Translated by Jonathan Pearman

Consultant Spiralum Kommunikation.