Last Monday, Cornell and Columbia University announced “2CUL” — a collaborative program between the two libraries involving their collections, digital infrastructure and administrative functions.
In the face of budget constraints and an ever-evolving system of accessing academic material, 2CUL — pronounced “too cool,” an acronym for both Cornell University Library and Columbia University Library — is a partnership intended to cut costs and aid their students research endeavours. The program is not a merger.
“There has always been a tradition of sharing resources, sharing records and loaning materials between libraries,” said Jim Neal, vice president for Information Services and university librarian at Columbia. However, Neal said that no major libraries have collaborated as extensively until now.
2CUL will foster a joint-program for acquiring and managing a collection of global resources. Moreover, the partnership will form a dual-library cataloguing system, as well as collaborate on digital preservation and management of electronic resources. “The collaboration aims to permeate all aspects of the libraries,” said Anne Kenney, Carl A. Koch University librarian.
The partnership marks a step forward in the global research. Both libraries are among the top 10 research libraries in the country. “We’re both New York, Ivy League libraries with very strong, rich, historical collections,” Kenney said. Kenney reached out to Neal last winter and asked, “Can’t we do something together?”
“The advantage for students will be in the enhancement of collections,” Neal said.
“If a book isn’t available here, it can be sent from New York with great ease,” Kenney said.
2CUL will also cut costs for the University.
Decreasing redundancy will allow both libraries to reinvest in further academic pursuits. Neil explained that by combining many of the backroom processes involved with managing a library, resources will ultimately be freed up at both universities. However, until the project advances past the initial planning stage, projecting cost savings is difficult.
The current economic downturn has served as a catalyst for the joint venture. “2CUL will ameliorate the impact of budget cuts while building our libraries’ ability to innovate,” Kenney stated in a press release.
A change in the times has encouraged the new partnership as well. “The physical use of libraries is different now than in the past,” Kenney said. Over recent years, research libraries have deviated from the traditional use of books. In their place, electronic resources are becoming increasingly prevalent. With the rapid transformation in the way libraries are used, and the anticipated changes they will make in the future, 2CUL aims to prepare both colleges for the next transitions in the research community.
The project will be mediated by Ithaka, a non-profit organization that assists the academic community in developing sustainable business models and analyzes the impact of electronic media, as stated on their website. Ithaka also helps libraries in accessing scholarly materials and preserving collections. “Ithaka will serve as an overall project manager,” said Ithaka Senior Adviser Laura Brown. “We’ll facilitate meetings and structure agendas. It makes sense to have an institution [that isn’t a library] with the same values to think things through.”
Both institutions have been concerned with the increased bureaucracy involved with 2CUL. “The human element cannot be underestimated,” Kenney said. Both libraries want to make the collaboration work without abandoning their school identities. Not creating hierarchical obstacles is crucial, Neal said. Despite these initial concerns, senior staff members have been wholly on board, Kenney said.
Most collaboration between libraries is restrictive; typically, they have been state-mandated and do not incorporate such aspects as cataloguing or collections. Although the project will initially focus on the two universities, 2CUL would eventually like to involve other schools in the collaboration, Neal said.
The project may also serve as a model upon which other schools can develop collaborations. “2CUL will provide a framework for progressive change that is compelling for library collaborations,” Brown said.
The project has been advanced by a donation of $385,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The donation will serve as initial funding for starting the collaboration.