OCLC Research: Library Collaboration as Strategic Choice


Lavoie, Brian. 2022. Library Collaboration as a Strategic Choice: Evaluating Options for Acquiring Capacity. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research

As libraries navigate a chaotic period of change and transition, Brian Lavoie’s first sentence in this report reads “Library collaboration, in the form of multi-institutional effort to acquire needed capacity, is a choice.” Libraries are going to have to be creative in developing useful partnerships over the course of the next few years. Even before the pandemic, libraries were beginning to think about needed adaptations. Moving forward, changes in the economic environments of their parent institutions mean that every adaptation needs to be made thoughtfully to ensure library services are efficient, effective, and engaging. 

This report explores the idea of collaboration as a strategic choice, and also extends it to practical tools, frameworks, and concepts to help inform decision-making about acquiring capacity. While much of the focus is on collaboration, it is important to note that the discussion begins by emphasizing that collaboration is one option among several. 

Lavoie’s report is largely divided into two conceptual parts that libraries should consider in assessing potential collaborations: (a) sourcing options and managing trade-offs and (b) strategic frames for collaboration. 


From the Executive Summary

The decision to collaborate can yield distinct benefits, but not without an often-significant investment of effort, attention, and resources. It is a choice that entails trade-offs and opportunity costs, and it should emerge from careful consideration of institutional interests and priorities, as well as broader environmental conditions impacting the decision.

The report introduces a model describing four potential sourcing strategies for academic libraries acquiring capacity: 

  • Build—developing and deploying capacity through internal efforts 
  • Collaborate—working collectively with a group of organizations to create and sustain capacity 
  • Outsource—contracting with an external provider to supply capacity 
  • Refer—directing users to an external provider, with whom there is no contractual relationship

Libraries, collections and services, scholarly practices, and the university research enterprise itself are all undergoing transformation, both as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and through patterns of change that emerged long before COVID came onto the scene. The question of how to acquire capacity—and in particular, whether to acquire it through collaboration—deserves as much attention as the question of what capacity to acquire. The frameworks and tools for evaluating sourcing options introduced in this report serve both to highlight the importance of the first question, and to help libraries answer it.


Final Note

Brian Lavoie in his preface draws attention to the fact that this is the first of two thematically linked reports. A second report applies the findings from this initial report to three case studies of research data management (RDM) capacity acquisition through collaboration. RDM is a particular area of interest for OCLC. 

For more information, visit: https://www.oclc.org/research/publications/2022/strategic-collaboration/strategic-collaboration-report.html