The concept of consortium refers to the loose, voluntary union of organizations. Since the end of February, the public libraries in Finland have had the opportunity to join a consortium agreement. At that time, libraries around Finland were informed about the agreement. Approximately 60 municipalities have joined the consortium since the agreement was introduced.
The first task to tackle is the acquisition of e-material for all of the libraries. E-books and other e-material have been available to libraries for a long time now. As mobile devices and the contents for Internet have become more common, the pressure on libraries to offer e-material has increased. Libraries must be active in the development of new services.
The Consortium of Public Libraries project is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture and coordinated by the Helsinki City Library – Central Library for public libraries. The preparations for the collaboration agreement between the public libraries, i.e. the consortium agreement, began in 2013 at which time the preparation team delineated the main principles of the agreement.
Special attention was given to ensuring the activities do not overlap with existing actors in the field. Moreover, the compilers of the agreement wanted to make sure that the agreement would provide a solid foundation for collaboration among libraries in the future as well.
Once the funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture ends, the idea is to fund the activities of the consortium with membership fees. The membership fees will be based on the population of the member municipalities, and therefore the fees to be paid by the members will be foreseeable. The members are able to influence the consortium’s economic activities and performance, as well as develop interlibrary collaboration, in the steering group.
The hearing of new members began in the preparation phase when a questionnaire concerning what issues should be addressed first was sent to libraries. Nearly 90 percent of the respondents felt that the most important task of the consortium is to centralize joint acquisitions of e-material. No sooner said than done, and in the fall of 2013 the first joint acquisition pilot project began together with KL-Kuntahankinnat. The first agreements are expected to be made in 2014.
The consortium collaborates with KLKuntahankinnat to acquire material. According to the Act on Public Contracts, KL-Kuntahankinnat is a joint procurement company that organizes competition by putting framework agreements out to tender. Signed framework agreements facilitate decision-making in libraries pertaining to e-material acquisitions, because the competitive bidding has already been done for them. KL-Kuntahankinnat is responsible for managing the agreements and solving possible disputes.
The Helsinki City Library has developed e-material services for a long time now, and therefore the expertise of the employees was utilized in the joint acquisition pilot project. Collaboration generates cost savings and it is easy for small municipalities to take advantage of the negotiated agreements, developed e-services and to get assistance for training, communication and marketing.
Libraries take active role
In Finland, libraries have been forerunners in regional collaboration for a long time and therefore expanding collaboration throughout the entire country is a natural step forward.
The use and acquisition of e-material in public libraries is new. Likewise, the offered services are often new, and therefore libraries should strive to influence them. It requires libraries to take a more active role than previously.
With the help of the consortium, libraries can keep up to date on new services, share information about them and disclose the needs of the patrons to service providers. Taking an active role involves disclosing library activities to partners.Being open and telling partners about their activities reduces the possibility for misconceptions on both sides.
Nationwide test groups
During the spring, expertise in e-material has been developed further by gathering together nationwide test groups to try out new services. Special attention in choosing and testing services has been given to the usability and contents of them. Participation in the testing has been voluntary for the libraries and the summary of the test results was distributed to those responsible for e-materials in the districts and the consortium’s steering committee.
The activities of the nationwide test groups increase awareness of the services and offer the libraries and personnel participating in the assessment an opportunity to develop in their work.
The participation of the Helsinki City Library – Central Library for public libraries – in the NextMedia project, which involved the entire book industry and, for example, e-book distribution in libraries was developed, is indication of the more active role libraries are taking.
The outcome of the joint project was the development of new, appropriate licenses for libraries to utilize, the participation of more publishers in library distribution and being among the first in the world to introduce browser reading. A report concerning the project has been published and it is available online at e-books for public libraries.
The work carried out in the NextMedia project benefits the entire library field, and the new licensing models and collections have been made available to other libraries outside the greater Helsinki area during the spring.
The Consortium of Public Libraries is an all-new mode of collaboration that constantly develops its activities. With regard to the members of the consortium, it is important that they obtain tools through the organization to improve their services cost-effectively. This year, the consortium’s preparation committee supervises the consortium’s activities. The members of the committee include Virva Nousiainen- Hiiri (chairperson), Erkki Lounasvuori, Aino Ketonen of the Helsinki City Library, Inkeri Näätsaari and Aija Laine of the Turku City Library and Rebekka Pilppula of the Joensuu Regional Library.
The libraries that responded to the questionnaire made last year also expect the consortium to develop metadata processes in libraries, in addition to offering joint acquisition services for e-materials. Connections between information networks and systems make it possible to utilize metadata more easily not only among libraries but with other actors in the book industry as well. The purpose of collaboration is to reduce costs and workload in refining metadata, but at the same time to maintain patron satisfaction.