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COOPERATION AMONG LIBRARIES is a practice that supports information service to patrons of all libraries. This article will examine the historical overview of cooperative efforts, the roles identified for the cooperative library organizations and members of the organizations, and the services associated with these organizations. It will also examine the contributions that rural libraries make toward cooperation among all types of libraries and identify challenges for rural libraries participating in networks in the future.
The first and most important thing that libraries should keep in
mind when dealing with networks is that it is not necessary for outcomes,
products, and uses of networks to be the results of an equal
system, but rather that the network be valuable to each of the participants.
Equity is not the goal-results are. (Atkinson, 1987, p. 432)
This quote from the late Hugh C. Atkinson is the essence of library cooperation which remains today as it did in 1987 and as it did in the early 1900s. Atkinson used the word "networks." He could just as easily have said "systems," "cooperatives," "interlibrary cooperatives," "multitype library organizations," "consortia," or the more trendy "virtual library." The most important thing is to realize that the spirit of what Atkinson is saying remains the same. What is also essential to understand is that it applies to any library participating in a cooperative whether it be small or large, rural, metropolitan, or suburban. The fundamental principle is that, in order for cooperation to succeed, results for the patron must be the goal--not equity between libraries or some magical balance between resources lent by one library and resources received from another library.
This article will provide a definition and overview of cooperation in the United States. It will identify the roles of both the cooperative organization and the rural library in the cooperative and outline common services supported by cooperatives and trends in services in the future. Finally, it will outline challenges and examine some commonly held perceptions about cooperation as it relates to rural libraries, provide some data regarding the benefits of cooperation for rural areas, and discuss service programs.
Throughout the article the author will use the words "cooperative," "system," "network," "cooperative organization," and "consortium" interchangeably as is a commonly held practice in recent years. Overall, which word is used depends primarily on the perception and common practice of use for those creating the cooperative organization.
WHAT IS COOPERATION?
Cooperation, as defined by Webster's (1973), is "to associate with another or others for mutual, often economic benefit" (p. 250). Other Webster definitions include "working with another for a common end; to act together; given to or marked by willingness and ability to work with others in a common effort; not motivated entirely by selfish individual aims" (p. 250). For cooperative efforts among libraries, this means two or more libraries working together to provide better and enhanced service for the library client or to support programs that cannot be supported by a single library.
Library cooperation in the United States does not have an extended formal history. Rather, the overall growth of formal cooperative efforts between and among libraries is a twentieth-century phenomenon. The efforts in cooperation prior to the twentieth century were limited in scope. In the view of Norman D. Stevens (1979), the establishment of cooperation began at approximately the same time that librarians held their first conference, which was in 1853. It was at that time that a proposal was presented to produce a national union catalog. Certainly the goal of a national catalog, a universal access point, one-stop shopping, or the virtual library has not changed from those beginnings.
Robert McClarren (1981) discusses in depth the overview of public library cooperation. He states that cooperation prior to World War II was more informal, and following the war a more structured cooperative service program began. Even if the pre-World War II efforts in cooperation were primarily unstructured as McClarren indicates, they did include some profound innovations that remain a major contribution to the library community today. Those innovations include the National Union Catalog in 1901, the Union List of Serials in 1927, and the first Interlibrary Loan Code in 1917. In the late 1950s, public libraries began to incorporate into "systems" or cooperatives. There is a consensus in the library literature that the biggest boon for cooperation was the passage of the federal Library Services Act (LSA) in 1956. The original LSA marked the first time that the federal government identified any responsibility for supporting library programs throughout the United States. It further encouraged and required planning at the state level. It was most significant for rural libraries as the emphasis was on library service to communities of populations of 10,000 or less. The emphasis was on rural library development and on larger units of service. This development clearly was a driving force for the establishment of cooperative organizations, particularly public library cooperatives, supporting rural library development.
The federal funding of libraries changed in 1964 when the act was amended to be the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA). This amendment ended the sole emphasis on federal funding for rural libraries by adding funding for urban libraries and also added construction to the overall program. The primary impact on multitype cooperation came in 1966 with yet another amendment to LSCA. The section of LSCA known as Title III, Interlibrary Cooperation, established a mechanism to include state, school, college and university, public, and special libraries in networks which could be local, regional, state or interstate in configuration. The intent of LSCA Title III was that there would be a maximum effective use of the limited funds in providing services to citizens. Those formal cooperative efforts that began in the 1950s and 1960s were primarily of four types: (1) A total library program called a "system" was formed by a single political jurisdiction (a city). This agency became a single agency with a multiplicity of branches. These were, and still are, the public library of choice in large cities. (2) A cooperative system established by two or more independent libraries which planned and worked together. In this method of cooperative organization, libraries work together but remain autonomous. (3) A consolidated system formed by two or more independent libraries. The libraries are no longer independent but are one agency. (4) A network established by two or more libraries which planned and worked together, usually with a single purpose, such as OCLC, with its original purpose of shared cataloging.
This article will discuss cooperation among autonomous libraries rather than cooperation among libraries that are in a single consolidated system or single political jurisdiction. However, many of the services are similar in consolidated systems as in cooperative systems, and many of the same reasons for creating consolidated systems are the same for creating cooperative systems.
During this era, several states established statewide efforts in cooperative services. Among the earlier activities were the Illinois Library Systems Act of 1965 in Illinois, the Regional System of Cooperating Libraries of 1965 in Kansas, the Public Library Systems law in New York, and the regional public library networks in Nebraska in 1971 and in California in 1963. Some states, such as Oklahoma, established a consolidated system structure. In most states, the structure has been modified from the original act, but the basic concepts remain, with the states updating the laws based on changes and evolution of cooperation and library service within the states.
GROWTH OF MULTITYPE LIBRARY COOPERATIVES
The library cooperation movement began to move toward cooperation among all types of libraries with the advent of the Interlibrary Cooperation section of LSCA known as Title III. This was the beginning of federal involvement in funding of cooperation among more than one type of library. The federal support of individual libraries began with the passage of Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act for schools and Title IIB of the Higher Education Act for academic libraries.
The paths of multitype cooperation took two major directions in the United States. The first was the evolution of public library cooperatives to multitype systems or, in the case of some states, development of cooperatives from the beginning as multitype rather than single type. The second path was the development of another layer of cooperation which included existing single type systems. The development of the networks depended on the political and economic climate in the individual states as well as the philosophies and personalities of the individual leaders who made key contributions to the network development within the states.
Indiana chose the first option and was the first state to establish multitype cooperatives in 1967. …