Associated Colleges of the South – Directors Meeting

The library directors (or designees) of the 16 institutions in the Associated Colleges of the South gathered last week in Atlanta. It was the first such birds-of-a-feather ACS meeting to include an attendee from each of the colleges, which made us librarians proud. ACS’s new president, R. Owen Williams, joined us for the entire meeting. I was impressed that he didn’t just pop in, deliver a greeting, and go on to more important activities. Instead, he spent a significant amount of his time, listened attentively to the discussion, and asked excellent questions.

The ACS librarians hadn’t met together in ten years. There was some talk of a meeting a few years ago, but there didn’t seem to be any promising avenues for collaboration. Libraries band together to get better deals on database packages, but we can get much more favorable prices from bigger groups like Lyrasis or the Carolina Consortium than we could from a 16-school consortium. For library relationships generally, we turn to the Oberlin Group, comprising the libraries of 80 highly selective liberal arts colleges. Davidson is a founding member, and the “Obegroup” library directors are a close and active bunch, with an annual meeting, get-togethers at conferences, and a lively listserv.

Library director is a lonely job because one doesn’t really have any close peers on campus. There are other managers at the same level, but they don’t grasp library issues in the same way a librarian would. There are other librarians, but the director supervises them. That’s why library directors from similar colleges are so important, especially when trusting relationships form and we can let our hair down and be real, getting beyond any sense of competition. Some of this already happens on the ACS library directors’ list, and our face-to-face meeting will help to build the relationships.

Libraries have a long history of collaboration. The interlibrary loan system is a good example. While no individual library has a mandate to serve users of any other library, we figured out a long time ago that everyone would be better served if we could share our collections broadly. I’m sure there were worries—What happens if someone from my library needs that book while it’s checked out to another library? What happens if books don’t come back?—but, fortunately, those concerns didn’t quash the whole project. Those problems do manifest themselves sometimes, but overall, ILL is a runaway success, highly valued by college students, faculty, and staff.

As Owen Williams reminded the ACS library directors, the need for collaboration has never been greater, to reduce costs as well as to improve service. The group talked about a number of possible collaborations, some of them every bit as bold and visionary as ILL was when it began. It’s too early for me to write about any of them, but these librarians are motivated. Keep an eye out for what develops.