November 26, 2015

Cornell, Columbia Libraries Integrate Infrastructure

2 CUL logoThe libraries at Columbia University and Cornell University will integrate their technical services departments, thanks to a three year, $350,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Said Anne R. Kenney, Cornell’s Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, “Eventually, both units will operate as part of one whole.”

Today, approximately 20 percent of library staff at both Columbia and Cornell is devoted to technical services work. That number may shift in the future as new priorities emerge out of the collaboration efforts, but Kenney emphasized, “the integration is not intended to reduce staff, but rather to engage them in addressing unmet challenges and new approaches.” Xin Li, co-director for the 2CUL Project, told LJ, “Both libraries have emerging areas within and beyond technical services that need support. This collaboration allows us to pool our capacities and reallocate resources to growth areas.”

The integration will include seeking a common library management system that integrates data and workflows. Li told LJ, “We [currently] use Voyager. Columbia and Cornell have been exploring Alma, but we have not yet signed a formal contract with ExLibris.”

“Building ways to manage our two libraries’ collections jointly is an essential step in integrating the collections themselves,” said Bob Wolven, Associate University Librarian for Bibliographic Services & Collection Development at Columbia. “This partnership goes far beyond avoiding costs. It extends to changing the way we think about staffing, task and expertise distribution, and workflow design.”

As part of that process, 2CUL will include establishing collaborative collection building and coordinated processing. Said Li, “For physical materials, we analyze our collections and reduce unnecessary overlap in what we are collecting in the areas in which we are collaborating; we look at local research and instructional priorities in conjunction with our faculties and students and divide our collecting focus and where items are physically located according to these analyses. One partner may emphasize collecting in a specific geographic area when the other focuses on a different area, according to the local priorities. We will join forces when we negotiate for eresource packages for better pricing and coverage for both our campuses.”

Funding for collection development “is worked out on a case by case basis,” said Li. “Because we are doing this collecting area by collecting area, we are able to address any potential equity issues early in the process.”

2CUL also plans to review policies, practices, workflows, and job responsibilities at each institution, with an eye toward reconciling them as much as possible (some workflows will be similar enough to support work sharing); drafting best practices and guidelines; and adopting a new organizational structure and culture.

Beyond the scope of the grant, the two libraries will pursue other goals for advancing the partnership, including more integrated collection building and “mainstreaming 2CUL in other areas” based on the success of the technical services integration.

“Both Columbia and Cornell have and will invest money and resources in sustaining the collaborative activities in addition to the technical services integration that Mellon’s grant generously covers,” said Li. “We have applied for smaller grants to support projects that came out of 2CUL in the past, e.g., we conducted a research project aimed at developing library intervention strategies for doctoral students in the humanities, which was jointly funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Columbia, the Graduate School at Cornell, and the libraries at Columbia and Cornell. We will continue to do so as opportunities arise.”

The Mellon Foundation also funded the first phase of the 2CUL partnership, which began in 2009, and allowed the two universities’ faculty, students and staff to borrow materials from each other’s’ libraries, build joint collections and share librarians and language expertise to expand access to more global, uncover issues in long-term preservation and access to ejournal literature; and create programs to give tailored support to Ph.D. students in the humanities.

While the Cornell partnership is perhaps the most ambitious, it is not Columbia’s only interlibrary collection development project. The research libraries at Columbia and the University of Toronto also recently announced plans to collaboratively support Tibetan Studies collection development and research activities at both institutions. Columbia University’s Tibetan Studies Librarian, Dr. Lauran Hartley, will lead the work of coordinating Tibetan-language acquisitions at Columbia and the University of Toronto in a new pilot project.

For reports and presentations from the 2CUL team, see more at

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Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. Columbia has one of the best, if not the best, library collections systems in the world.