Thursday, June 26, 2008

Consortial Leverage, Canadian-Style

The ATLA conference's opening plenary session was a fascinating inside look at the consortial purchasing power of the Canadian Research Knowledge Network. The presentor was Leslie Weir, University Librarian at the University of Ottawa, president of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, and chair of the Scholars Portal Operations and Development Committee (among many other accolades and accomplishments).

CRKN began in 2002 as the Canadian National Site License Project that brought together the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, ten Provinces, and 64 universities to invest $50 million in negotiating national site licenses for electronic resources. They also started the Ontario Infrastructure Initiative committed to extending the national research network backbone from the Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa metropolitan areas to the rest of Canada as well.

In 2004, these initiatives became CRKN which encompassed 72 universities and worked to invest $100 million first in medical and science resources, and--just finalized in June 2008--14 collections in the social sciences and humanities.

Some of CRKN's goals are to:
  • Secure the archiving of e-resources--they want a purchase model, not a lease model
  • Provide reliable and rapid access to e-resources
  • Lead innovation in information delivery, including the promotion of libraries as key partners through prominent branding
  • Integrate with courseware
  • Link resources that are difficult to collocate
  • Avoid duplication of effort in the management of e-resources--they do not want to have everyone separately checking in the same e-journals
I was particularly impressed that CRKN purchases not only the resources themselves, but the necessary licenses to the vendor platforms to permit the downloading of many of the collections onto a single site customized for uniform storage and retrieval of items. This allows for much easier browsing across collections, encouraging serendipity which is still a significant factor in e-resource discovery. CRKN has enhanced the usability of e-resources by providing customizations like a tabbed display for easy linking to tables and figures from articles and a time-line display that provides an overview of when keyword terms came into use in the literature.

While CRKN also provides the RACER document delivery system to enhance the sharing of materials between subscribing schools, the overall goal has been to reduce interlibrary loan by providing direct access to e-resources. This is accomplished through the Scholars Portal which provides a federated search across 130 databases.

Many of the CRKN institutions also take advantage of a consortial RefWorks subscription that allows members free access to RefWorks's bibliographic management software. Students and faculty who move between subscribing institutions are able to retain their personal databases of research citations as long as they remain within the network.

CRKN also has two new initiatives: ODESI (Ontario Data Documentation, Extraction Service and Infrastructure Initiative), which provides access to national statistical data, and a $750,000 investment in e-books from many different vendors that are all downloaded onto an ebrary platform (along with many open access titles) to provide a uniform delivery system for all ebooks.

OCUL, the Ontario Council of University Libraries, plans to follow up this extensive investment in e-resources with a usability study as well as increased investment in multimedia materials and the development of a discovery layer that will integrate university OPACs with Scholars Portal data.

Leslie emphasized at the beginning of her presentation that most Canadian universities are public rather than private institutions, which has made cooperation on this scale possible. In the United States, we have many excellent state-wide consortia, but it is difficult to imagine our eclectic and competetive higher education institutions achieving this level of cooperation at the national level. Until U.S. institutions can achieve even greater cooperation than we already have, access to scholarly e-resources will continue to be extremely uneven across the spectrum of American colleges and universities.

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