Friday, July 17, 2009

What SUNY Needs to Know About OhioLINK

I left Ohio libraries in 1991, just as OhioLINK was getting off the ground, but was privy to the earliest steps to developing Ohio's powerhouse of library services. Among New Yorkers, I have found it difficult at times to explain what a great value OhioLINK has turned out to be. At a time when the SUNY Chancellor comes to us with fresh and positive impressions of her experiences with OhioLINK, it has become urgent for us to understand the full range of what OhioLINK does, the value it provides to the public and private colleges and universities in Ohio, and how we can make something like it happen in New York.

The thumbnail sketch of the value of OhioLINK is available from their 2008 Annual Report:

While many academic libraries have struggled to keep up with the rapidly increasing cost and volume of information, OhioLINK has:

More than quadrupled Ohio higher education’s journal buying power. The $26.7 million invested in OhioLINK Electronic Journal Center statewide licenses for scholarly research articles would cost at least $120 million if purchased individually just by our universities and a much larger amount if applied across all smaller colleges.

Delivered an average of $3 worth of information for every $1 spent on research databases. Purchasing information centrally, for statewide use, continues to be the most cost-effective means of providing expanded access to scholarly information.

Greatly increased access to scientific research on Ohio’s campuses. Students and faculty at OhioLINK universities now use more than three times more journals than were originally available in print on their campuses, while patrons of private colleges use five times more and community college patrons use more than 20 times the amount of journals that were traditionally available.

Greatly reduced the rate of increases in information costs to three percent or less, on average, compared to the inflation rate of eight percent for a typical academic research library.

Reduced the average rate of information cost increases to be in line with average library budget increases.
So how did they do it, and what can we learn from them? The key principles of their vision are stated in the report that spawned the project, "Academic Libraries in Ohio. Progress through Collaboration, Storage, and Technology. Report of the Library Study Committee." ED305079.
Although dated (1987 was so last century) it laid the groundwork for institutional cooperation. What impressed me most at the time, and still holds:
  • Put materials where they will be used and store the materials that have to be kept. Little used materials can be de-duplicated and stored in centralized repositories, but heavily used materials must be held in duplicate and in easy reach of students.
  • Leverage with technology to deliver materials and services. The first steps were to create a statewide PAC, retroconvert records, and maintain comprehensive item records. It was pointless to move something to remote storage if nobody would know it was there. With the PAC, everybody could see where everything was, and then request it or retrieve it.
  • Cooperate actively across boundaries. Maybe sharing is easier in the home state of OCLC, but SUNY/OCLC, now Nylink, was one of the first OCLC ventures outside of Ohio. Anyway, cooperation in Ohio meant giving up local fiefdoms, reaching across sectors, and placing the library user as the most important player. Although 1987 was pre-WWW, it was a natural course of development to provide statewide subscriptions to databases by the early '90s. Incorporating private as well as public colleges was also done early and expanded as soon as payment schemes could be instituted.
For further resources see OhioLINK and the Value of Cooperation.