March 23, 2018

Columbia, Cornell Libraries To Partner on Collection Development, Acquisitions, Preservation

By Norman Oder

$385,000 Mellon grant supports joint project called 2CUL

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  • Two top ten research libraries begin collaboration
  • Ithaka will play key role
  • Collections to focus on Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and more
  • Cost savings unclear as of now

In a world of limited budgets and digital resources, it is not uncommon for college libraries (as LJ described in May 2006) or state university libraries (as in the work of a 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker) to collaborate on collection development.

Now two of the largest academic libraries are getting into the act, sharing collections and strategies. Thanks to $385,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the libraries at Columbia University in New York City and Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, will begin such a collaborative project, known as 2CUL (based on their acronyms).

Cornell and Columbia assert that the project—not a merger—could be “the most expansive collaboration to date between  major research libraries,” notably collaborative collection development. The libraries aim to develop “a joint program for identifying, purchasing, and managing world class collections of global resources,” said Anne Kenney, Cornell’s university librarian. The initial focus will be on Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Slavic-Russia-Eastern Europe.

Beyond collections
A second focus involves acquisitions, cataloging, electronic resource management, and data management. Beyond that, the two libraries will share technology infrastructure development and implementation, with an initial focus on digital preservation.

To accomplish the joint project, Cornell and Columbia will form a separate service entity, with project management and planning via the not-for-profit organization Ithaka.
Collaboration contours
Why these two institutions, given that Columbia, at least, has other top ten research libraries a shorter distance away? “The flip answer is that both our libraries have the same initials, and 2CUL was such a great name!” Kenney responded. Both are Ivy League institutions in New York state with a history of working together and a belief in collaboration, she added.

“2CUL represents a new, radical form of  collaboration that pairs two leading research libraries in a voluntary, equal  partnership,” said James G. Neal, Columbia’s VP for information services and university librarian.

Cost savings
Kenney said the project “will ameliorate the impact of  budget cuts while building our libraries’ ability to innovate,” though she said cost savings would be difficult to estimate until the contours of the collaboration emerge. “Certainly cost savings were much on our minds, but so was redirecting resources through combined forces to emerging areas of great need, such as data curation,” she said.

The libraries suggest that the project could presage and guide “broad, non-exclusive partnerships between other academic libraries and other parts of the  academy.”

Would other academic libraries become involved? “We would hope so!” Kenney responded. “I think our initial focus is on getting collaboration right between our two great library systems."

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