For more than a hundred years, academic libraries in North America have understood that they must seek scale greater than that of their own institution in order to provide the collections and services that their communities need. In search of cross institutional scale, libraries have developed an array of consortia and other collaborative vehicles. But as the nature of the collections libraries seek to provide, and the services that their user communities require, has evolved, so must their collaborations.

Given the societal changes in the information landscape, scale is no longer simply a benefit libraries pursue. Scale is an existential dilemma.

But existing models for seeking scale are not working as well as we might hope. We have seen organizational shutdowns, substantial pivots in emphasis, and strategic mergers — just in the past six months, as I have detailed in articles about DPN, DPLA, and Lyrasis/DuraSpace. Consortia too are in many cases navigating through a period of change, not least in the context of substantial shifts in the marketplace for scholarly content and the systems platforms through which much of their collaboration is enabled. Given the importance of scale, the governance of collaborations is ultimately one of the greatest responsibilities of library leaders.

In today’s issue brief, I provide an overview of some of the history, organizational models, challenges, and needs that should inform the structure and strategy of collaboration in today’s academic library environment. My goal is to help leaders, both of individual libraries and of their collaborative vehicles, optimize their work together to ensure that they achieve the scale needed to support their communities.