The Evolution of a Library Concept: The ACA Central Library
by Tony Krug
"Founded by Benjamin Franklin and friends in 1731, the [Library Company of Philadelphia] enrolled members for a fee of 40 shillings…. Volumes were purchased with the annual contributions of shareholders, building a more comprehensive library than any individual could afford." (Library of Congress, American Memory, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/today/nov14.html)
The Appalachian College Association Central Library carries forward Benjamin Franklin's idea into the technological age for independent institutions of higher education in the central Appalachian region. In 2003, the ACA Central Library reported a total of $40.5 million in benefits. Each of the 34 colleges in counties designated as Appalachian by the Appalachian Regional Commission (http://www.arc.gov/index.do?nodeId=27 and http://www.arc.gov/images/regionmap.gif) in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, received more than $1 million in benefits in return for dues of $12.18 per FTE (Full Time Equivalent Student). This represents a return on investment averaging approximately $75 per dues dollar invested. In addition, group purchasing, distributed according to individual campus needs beyond the core/ universal collections and services provided for all, brought returns in excess of $10 per dollar expended. The impact of the ACA Central Library varies from campus to campus, with campuses as small as 500 students to as large as 3,500 students representing over a dozen diverse denominations and philosophical commitments in their founding. Total FTE for the 34 colleges in 2003 was 37,000.
The results … have
often been described as
The results of roughly $85 million in benefits through the short seven-year history of the Central Library and its predecessor organization have often been described as "huge," "phenomenal," and "monumental"—followed by the inevitable question, "How did it happen?" On days when Catholic librarians are worried about Southern Baptist librarians, and (comparatively) wealthier libraries worry about how their sparsely funded neighbor library might tap their resources, the question becomes all the more stark. Yet, in spite of substantial diversity in funds and philosophies, coupled with a huge geographic spread of hundreds of miles between many institutions, the ACA Central Library works with a close-knit cooperation that is startling to many. A brief historical overview of the development of the ACA Central Library should provide insights to portions of the concept that may be replicable and beneficial for other groups of cooperating libraries.
The Appalachian College Association (ACA) formally came into existence in 1990. It developed from a collaboration of Appalachian colleges working together with a higher education extension program, primarily for faculty development, of the University of Kentucky for more than 10 years—with predecessor efforts to help mountain colleges that go back decades before that. Faculty development in the mid-1990s turned to technology. However, faculty trained in ACA technology programs returned to technology impoverished campuses. Institutions that could not afford to support their faculties' desire for instructional technology resources were in danger of losing their ability to compete in a marketplace where technology quickly became important. While funding for technology was a problem, the greater question was leadership on small campuses with a minimum of staffing. At this point technology expansion in libraries was beginning to be recognized by administrators, and they took note of librarians' ability to collaborate with and support every discipline on campus.
With this background, the seminal ACA project for libraries was perfectly timed. JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org) initially was established through the efforts of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Mellon Foundation also was a leading contributor to the faculty development efforts of the ACA. In 1997 Mellon awarded generous funding to the ACA to provide JSTOR to those ACA libraries that might find it useful, estimated to be possibly 22 of the 34 colleges. Previously ACA activities generally were available to any member, so the more restricted allotment introduced a quality of competition through the process. Campuses were required to have open and sufficient access to the Internet in the library to learn to use JSTOR, and at least one other place on campus where faculty and students could use JSTOR. (Some campuses did not have Internet at all; others had Internet only in a computer lab.) Further, libraries must have one other major Internet-based library resource (generally one of the major abstracting and indexing services) so that JSTOR would not be an anomaly. Finally, each library was expected to work with faculty to get advance commitments to work JSTOR into meaningful class activities, generally asking that JSTOR be incorporated in course syllabi and that faculty members provide letters of support attesting to the importance of JSTOR in their classes.
A librarian from each campus selected to receive JSTOR would participate in training at JSTOR offices in New York, with local meetings for all ACA librarians funded to occur twice annually for two years and annually for four years after that to follow up and expand on the training in New York. So, librarians would receive professional development necessary for them to work effectively with library technology to, in turn, support and extend technology to faculty and students.
Demand spurred the three cycles of implementation projected to require three years for installation to be collapsed into 18 months, at which point JSTOR had been installed in 24 colleges with grant support, while an additional trio of colleges obtained JSTOR without grant support. Within the next 12 months, with the addition of three more ACA colleges using JSTOR, that part of the funding was closed at 30 JSTOR participants. The remaining four colleges were apprehensive about their share of the costs for the new implementation of NC LIVE and felt they could not also commit to supporting the ongoing costs of JSTOR.
The rapid success of the JSTOR project encouraged the ACA to consider expanding library collaboration further. Discussions of expansion prospects in the large meetings held in the fall of 1997 and spring of 1998 were not fruitful. In May, 1998, Tom Watson, University Librarian for the University of the South, met to discuss the challenge with Tony Krug, Dean of Library Services at Carson-Newman College, who was coordinating implementation of the JSTOR project. Watson and Krug submitted to Alice Brown (Chief Executive Officer of the ACA) the concept of convening a smaller group of library directors as having greater potential for planning than working in the larger group of predominantly reference librarians who attended the JSTOR meetings. Library directors representing libraries from each state were nominated by Watson and Krug to Brown to serve on a steering committee, with nominations taking into consideration the professional activity of the nominees, along with careful balancing of the size of libraries represented and gender. Dr. Brown endorsed the concept, requesting the addition of one other librarian who had taken a leadership role in ACA activities, and the ACA Librarians' Steering Committee met in July, 1998, at the Meadowview Conference Center in Kingsport, Tennessee.
A list of nearly 40 areas of possible collaboration revealed the success of the steering committee, and generated two suggestions from Alice Brown: a) the use of a distinctive name around which the librarians could coalesce should be considered, and b) a "laundry list" of nearly 40 suggestions desperately needed organization into five or six categories. By the next JSTOR meeting in the fall the acronym ALICE (Appalachian Library Information CooperativE) was in use. (The "E" would go through subsequent iterations as "Exchange" and "Endeavors.") The points for collaboration had been refined into five categories: Borrowing, Reference, Outreach, Workshops, and Needs. Thus, the acronym for the work areas of the ALICE group was BROWN. The importance of Alice Brown's work to nurture our fledgling efforts was recognized by all, and Alice accepted the acronyms with good humor.
Several of the ALICE Steering Committee's points for collaboration were incorporated in the development of the ACA's Teaching and Technology: Stage II grant. Funds were provided for each campus to host a series of meetings to acquaint faculty with new library technology over a three-year period, and funds were made available for librarians to advance and maintain their technical expertise by attending professional meetings and similar pursuits. Cy Dillon, Library Director at Ferrum College, requested a couple of cranks of the "acronym machine" and the Faculty Enrichment in Library Technology (FELT) and Library Experiences with Technology and Training (LETT) grant programs came into being in 1999. Also in 1999 collaborative purchasing began as the group began to build out from the JSTOR base, as those installations concluded and the prospects for extending library benefits well beyond JSTOR crystallized. The first annual benefits report, published at the end of 1999, showed a total benefit of $230,247, with benefits for individual colleges ranging from $1,200 to $12,000.
The ACA met and exceeded the goals of the six-year JSTOR grant, awarded in 1997, by the end of 1999, except for the ongoing annual meetings and coordination, which by then had branched into new areas of endeavor as well. Further, the accomplishments of the grant had been carried out with typical Appalachian thriftiness that left a balance after all the planned activities were completed. In recognition of the careful conservation of fiscal resources and the expanded horizons developed by the group, the Mellon Foundation graciously allowed the remaining money to be retained and considered a quasi-endowment to support the activities of the new ALICE Steering Committee, the expanded annual meeting schedule to including meetings for library technical services and library administration (as the JSTOR meetings were recognized to be meetings of library public services staff), and for ongoing administration. These funds also could be used to "float" group purchasing efforts with centralized billing, between the time the vendor required payment from the ACA and the time required for payments to come to the ACA from the colleges.
In addition to the beginning of annual meetings for library technical services and library administration in 2000, an interlibrary loan agreement (with an accompanying workshop series on OCLC custom holdings and the use of Ariel), the Library Instruction Toolbox, the Digital Library of Appalachia, and Preservation Assistance Grants began, along with a greatly expanded consortium purchasing program. The Library Instruction Toolbox grant created a website to which handouts, PowerPoint files, and other library instruction aids could be uploaded from one library for modification and use by librarians at other libraries, thus greatly conserving preparation time, especially for JSTOR or the growing number of consortium purchases held by several campuses. The Digital Library of Appalachia, led ably by Kathy Parker, was funded for a pilot group of six libraries to explore the issues concerning digitization of special collections materials in order to facilitate the shared use of items reflecting our common Appalachian heritage. Paralleling this enhanced access was encouragement and assistance for libraries to advance or begin preservation programs in their archives and special collections areas using the, then new, Preservation Assistance Grant program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. With a vastly expanded consortium purchasing program, total benefits for 2000 increased more than tenfold over 1999, to $2,371,162.
The early closure of the JSTOR grant and the rapidly unfolding successes of the activities launched by the ALICE Steering Committee in 1999 and early 2000 suggested the ACA was in a strong position to request a follow-up grant for funding library activities. Funding agencies cannot be expected to provide an ongoing pattern of support, however. Therefore a new proposal would have to incorporate a sustainability plan and be as comprehensive as possible. A comprehensive proposal would lay out all known needs for funding so they could be considered at this point, assuming no future funding might be available. Also, a comprehensive approach should broaden the base for sustainability support. As discussion ranged among the ALICE librarians and through the program officers and reviewers for the Mellon Foundation, an association superlibrary to support campus libraries from the outside, like the flying buttresses of the superstructure of a cathedral support the interior architecture of those buildings, began to take shape.
Specifically, the development of a core collection of electronic books, serials, media, and reference works along with central library services would underscore that the ACA was operating a library in its own right as a single entity serving 37,000 students. In this way, the motif of a state library distributing books through local public libraries, or of a university system purchasing for branch libraries and campuses across the state would be adopted—although the ACA is smaller overall and crossed state lines. Also, the central library approach would provide a library to parallel and interact with the development of association-wide faculty discipline groups of all science faculty, religion faculty, foreign language faculty, etc.
Ideally, the collections and services provided for all should allow a reduction of duplicative spending from one campus library to another, allowing those funds to be re-directed toward distinctive needs of each campus library, and to offset some of the cost of sustaining the association library. The proposal to Mellon would request funding to establish collections and services to be sustained by dues from member libraries, and the Benjamin Franklin-like subscription library concept was born in a new institutionally based, technological version. Grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in December 2001 and March 2002 built the funding base against which dues could be levied as a match. The ACA Central Library officially launched July 1, 2002, with full-time staff coming on board August 1, 2002.
On advice of legal counsel, the ALICE name was dropped in favor of ACA Central Library to note the new, subscription library model. There is some debate as whether ALICE, or the ACA, should have been or should be called a consortium under technical and legal definitions. A shift in nomenclature from "ALICE" to the "ACA Central Library" would emphasize the shift in operation and organization.
The 2000 year-end benefit total of $2.3 million grew nearly 50% to almost $3.4 million in 2001 on the strength of ever-expanding consortium purchasing. The success of the ACA Central Library is readily seen in another tenfold jump in total benefits for 2002 to $35.4 million. The operational changes to support such a dramatic expansion in activity parallel the reflected benefits.
The ALICE Steering Committee already was experiencing difficulty superintending all ALICE activities. With the advent of the Central Library, the Steering Committee determined that some standing operational committees would be needed to provide adequate input and supervision of Central Library activities. Experience from challenges faced by the Library Instruction Toolbox team emphasized the need for communication and accountability with the Steering Committee. The Chair for the Digital Library of Appalachia project was added to the Steering Committee, first in an ad hoc, then ex-officio capacity. Continuing to add committee chairs to the Steering Committee would compromise the effectiveness of small group interaction for planning, though. So, the new committees would be chaired by Steering Committee members. The Steering Committee would reduce their meetings from three–four annually to two, with one or two committee meetings annually—ideally spaced between Steering Committee meetings. The Steering Committee would transition to become a Council that would commission and populate the committees, then review their activities for accountability measures. Although Council seats for state representation were elected by the constituency represented, committee seats would be selected from an open nomination process by the respective committee chairs (in conference with the Director of the Central Library) and recommended to Council for confirmation. In this way, new talent and necessary expertise could be more readily drawn into participation.
Activities of the Central Library were allocated to three new committees with fairly descriptive titles: Collection Development & Resource Sharing, Professional Development, and User Services & Education. In discussion of the mission of the User Services & Education Committee, Council members noted the need for assessment and benchmarking activities in relation to but extending beyond the scope of User Services and Education. The Assessment & Administrative Issues Committee was born of that discussion. The Assessment & Administrative Issues Committee oversees collecting benchmarking statistics and developing assessment strategies for information literacy and other administrative concerns for the Central Library and as a model for campus libraries.
Collection Development & Resource Sharing Committee tasks include supervising interlibrary loan and reciprocal borrowing agreements, implementing Ariel services (provided for each library with the grant), selecting materials for electronic books (10,000 titles funded by the grant), and reviews of group purchasing items.
The Professional Development Committee continues the oversight of annual meetings and Professional Development Opportunities (a successor to the LETT grant program providing funding for professional travel and development activities). An especially satisfying component of Central Library funding is support for an annual fellowship award for a degreed librarian to do advanced study or research, and for an annual librarianship grant to send support staff to library school (the Alice F. Emerson Awards). The Committee is developing a mentoring program and provides workshops as needs are identified. Databases for ACA faculty and for ACA campus library staff are maintained, along with over a dozen listservs that fall within this Committee's purview.
User Services and Education Committee activities start with maintaining the Library Instruction Toolbox. Grant funds have enabled this Committee to develop proxy servers for users remote to their campuses to have access to database subscriptions. An electronic reserves system (Docutek's ERes) is another grant-funded activity, which has provided a new platform for the Library Instruction Toolbox and to develop a consolidated web links project. And, a digital reference package (VRLPlus, also by Docutek) launched with grant funds is another item with which this committee works, as well as ongoing information literacy projects. Recently this committee has begun investigating the prospects for establishing library school internships in campus libraries.
In 2003, the Digital Library of Appalachia completed its pilot project and transitioned to become a fifth standing committee, overseeing the further development of the DLA and preservation activities in archives, special collections, and museums. Recently this resource has been enhanced by the digitalization of nearly 3,000 music field recordings from Warren Wilson College, and the process of digitalizing the vast music archives of Ferrum's Blue Ridge Institute is slated to begin in the fall of 2004. Funding for a new shared catalog, an Innovative Interfaces system for twelve institutions, in mid-2003 necessitated the institution of a Shared Catalog committee. In late 2003 the energetic leadership of Berea's Anne Chase brought funding for a work restructuring project (New TiLTS), and its steering committee, to make a seventh committee, ad hoc, for the life of the project—through 2005.
Currently the Central Library committee structure includes 75 seats. Even so, demand for the opportunity to serve exceeds the seats available. So, no one is allowed to hold more than one seat at a time on standing committees, except for Council members who also chair standing committees, and the ad hoc New TiLTS Steering Committee. In addition, most of the committees have grown subcommittees or task forces. The Emerson Award Review Panel includes library directors from outside the ACA to assist with evaluating Emerson Award applications. Council added an external reviewer from a list provided by the Mellon Foundation to ensure the Central Library is appropriately connected to outside thought and practice. Two ACA campus presidents have joined Council, as has a representative of the ACA Advisory Council.
New projects currently on the "drawing board" for 2004 are launching electronic journal management systems for the ACA and campus libraries and developing "electronic stacks" for purchased digital content—text, audio, and video. Work on implementing a link resolver system has moved into the Shared Catalog as a better strategy to address that challenge. Always there seem to be new vendors for resources and services. Each year the thought is that surely there can't be more—yet, in 2003 the Central Library participated in more than 100 contracts, and even so, dozens of new offers failed to meet acceptable participation thresholds.
every dollar invested
returns many dollars
Indeed, one of the most exciting dimensions of the Central Library is that library budgets in the ACA have grown, as administrators see every dollar invested returns many dollars of benefit. One campus president commented recently that if the ACA can give him $15 for every dollar he invests, he needs to find more dollars for the ACA. It is evident that many campuses have done just that for the Central Library program. And, the dollars are solid. One library director recently reported that, during a discussion of the library's participation in campus-wide budgetary retrenchment, note was taken that every dollar retrenched from the library's budget takes $50 of benefit away from faculty and students. The discussion moved to other targets, passing by the library.
Too much attention can be given to dollar counts, however. The people connections come through in a couple of statements. During a committee meeting discussing a professional development application, one member marveled to reflect that she knew more today about the professional style of a librarian two states away than she knew about her own staff 10 years ago—when she had not even heard of the college where the librarian under discussion worked. The ACA had helped her grow both in the depth and breadth of professional perspectives. On a lighter note, another librarian noted with a laugh that being involved with the ACA Central Library had personally cost her $10,000 the day before. The explanation—she had applied for and received appointment to a higher paying position (by $10,000!), but turned it down when it registered with her that she would be moving away from the ACA if she accepted. It dawned on her, "Where else could I get to do what I can, and get the support I have, than in the ACA?" The key to the success of the ACA Central Library lies in these people—the ones who make it work.
New development aspirations for the ACA Central Library include further expansion of the Shared Catalog beyond the first group of 11 campus libraries to encompass up to 14 more libraries that are contemplating a move to the shared system. ACA libraries continue to seek funding to add more JSTOR collections. Major funding initiatives to endow the Digital Library of Appalachia and to build endowment for the Emerson Awards are starting up.
Always there is more to be said about so many aspects of the ACA Central Library and its history. Benjamin Franklin's idea of a subscription library in 1731 seems to be thriving quite well for the libraries of the Appalachian College Association more than 270 years later. Truly good ideas have a timeless quality, as our experience has shown.
For more information about the ACA Central Library, please see http://alice.acaweb.org. The Digital Library of Appalachia is found at http://www.aca-dla.org. Specific inquiries may be sent to Tony Krug, email@example.com
Dr. Tony Krug is Director of the ACA Central Library. Prior positions include Dean of Library Services, Carson-Newman College; Director of Information Services, Bethany (WV) College; Director of Libraries, Maryville College–St. Louis; Associate Dean of Instruction – Learning Resources, Wabash Valley College; Executive Director, Olney (IL) Carnegie Public Library.