Running the Library, Technology

Tales of Migration, Part 5
In Which We Join Forces to Save Money

This is the fifth in a series covering the library system migration of the Bartlett Library at the Museum of International Folk Art. The story so far: The library needs a new library system, and has selected Koha open source software hosted and maintained by ByWater Solutions as its preferred solution. Even more importantly, we’ve found a partner in the Laboartory of Anthropology Library nearby, where Librarian Allison Colborne has also planned a migration from the same antiquated system we currently use to ByWater’s Koha.

Before going further, two important notes: first, Allison reached the Koha decision long before I did and has been working toward her migration steadily; second, all these entries are written from my point of view, which may (or may not) differ from Allison’s.

When we discovered our two libraries were intent on migrating from the same old software (though somewhat differently configured) toward the same new software (again, needing slightly different configurations) we wondered if we might be able to save some money by partnering together. This wouldn’t be the major cost-savings you can gain with a large consortium, but in our libraries a little extra money can (and must) be stretched a long way.

If you have a potential partner here are some things to consider:

  • Is the vendor willing to enter into a joint agreement? Be sure you explore and explain all the complexities. In our case, for example, the vendor has to sign two different contracts, each involving two other parties, for one job. One contract covers MOIFA, home of the Bartlett Library, and also the foundation funding our side of the project. The other contract covers the Laboratory of Anthropology’s parent organization and its funding foundation. Some vendors won’t take on that kind of extra overhead.
  • Would you really save money by joining your contracts together? We found we would. We will also have the chance to share experience and expertise, and to help each other more in future if we are using the same system. Sometimes, especially when working with one-person libraries, this chance to share expertise with a neighboring librarian, to help or even cover for each other, can be worth a partnership even when no money will be saved by joining contracts.
  • What do you give up by joining together? With some software libraries that join together may have to share certain customization options – in other words, there may be some loss of flexibility. We asked carefully about whether we’d still be able to have separate (or separable – ask me if you need to know the difference!) databases and different configurations of patron categories and online catalogs. We learned we would not have to give up the customization options we wanted.
  • Do you trust your potential partner? Is this someone you respect professionally, with whom you would be comfortable working? Carefully examine the amount of interaction you will have with your partner(s) during and after migration. Can you work together? This relates both to the individual you are working with today (who won’t be there forever) and the institution behind that individual. If you come from different institutions with different leadership, is leadership on both sides open to this? These issues can be tricky. There can be jockeying for control or power (I am happy to say we have not experienced the slightest whisper of this, but I’d be a fool not to consider that it could occur). That can be enough to derail the whole process. Proceed with awareness and caution.

Even if you trust your partner, talk about how you will work together and write an agreement. Check online for examples of various kinds of inter-library agreements. Talk about what seems good and what seems annoying. Write down your agreement, and then, if at all possible, have an attorney review it. We have constructed our agreement not only to cover how our two libraries will work together, but also how we would consider letting others join our group, and how we would work together if the group grows.

Writing the agreement is important in its own right, and it is also a good test of how well you and you partner really work together. Do you share goals? Agree on approaches and methods of resolving disputes?

Our agreement is still under attorney review, but here are the sections included in the draft:

  • Purpose & Definitions (what is this agreement about and who are the parties?)
  • Mission (why are we doing this?)
  • Membership (who are the founding members and who might be eligible to join later?)
  • Requirements for Membership (how do members join and leave?)
  • Membership obligations, responsibilities, and privileges (what do members agree to?)
  • Governance (how and when are meetings held; how are decisions made; how will shared work get done?)
  • Amendment and review (how do we change the agreement if necessary?)
  • Duration and termination (how long does the agreement last?)

I expect there will be significant changes after legal review, but we have a good working understanding – meaning both that we know how we will do things, and we know that we can agree on how things should be done.

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