Scaling Up a Collaborative Consortial Institutional Repository

Consortia and Open Source Software


PALNI and PALCI are working together on Hyku because we believe in its potential for improving repository workflows and open access for libraries. But we are also working on it because we understand and value the benefits of collaborative work on open source software. On Friday, June 26th, I am doing a presentation for the West Virginia / Western Pennsylvania chapter of ACRL called “Collaborating for Innovation: Developing Consortial Open Source Software at PALCI,” part of which will involve a discussion of Hyku for Consortia. I’d like to take some time this month to delve into the philosophy that I’ll be discussing there about collaboration and consortia.

We’ve written about collaboration before, and so have others. Generally speaking, consortia help to increase the scale of the work that libraries can do. When consortia work together, they can increase that power even further. Collaboration on open source software projects is a particularly good example of the benefits of this kind of cooperation.

First, a little background on our two consortia. PALNI is a consortium of 24 private, academic libraries and PALCI is a consortium of 70 members of varying types of academic libraries from small to large, public to private. We both include aspects of what Lorcan Dempsey calls (in the second link above) the “classic library consortia activities …  some combination of licensing, resource sharing and training, or sometimes manag[ing] a shared library system…” But we are also both trying to increase our value to our networks in new and innovative ways to help them meet new challenges.

One of those challenges we hear about is infrastructure for handling scholarly communication or other types of digital object management. Even with the diversity in our membership, we hear about these issues frequently:

  • Cost: Many repository solutions are simply too expensive, either in actual dollars or staff needed to successfully use them.
  • Adaptability: Many of our members have diverse needs when it comes to repositories. They have both scholarly communication missions as well as managing their own digital library content, and many solutions fit only one or the other successfully.
  • Limited choice: Consolidations and mergers in the vendor market seem to be limiting choice. The fear of getting locked-in to an infrastructure that will become untenable is real.

So here is a clear case where open source software may be helpful. Firstly, because it has a relatively low barrier to entry: the communities supporting many tools are open. While it may take some expertise to really engage, we have that expertise within our networks. There are also potential open source software solutions to these problems that could have a really high impact in meeting member needs. Finally, within PALNI and PALCI we already have some infrastructure and experience in repository management through PALNI’s research and other types of repository services and PALCI’s participation in the HykuDirect Pilot.

Our Hyku for Consortia project then, is an opportunity to help meet these members’ needs in some specific ways. First, we can mitigate the risk they might take on in trying something new. By spreading out that risk among our consortia — each institution supporting the project through a little bit of staff time, or a portion of their membership fee — we decrease that risk for all. Secondly, we also extend the opportunity to our members to help shape a product to specifically suit their needs. We are doing this by including multiple members from both consortia in our Product Management teams, getting feedback from members testing the software, and having open discussions with the membership on our progress. 

The sneakiest benefit of all though is that investment in this particular software (or other open source software projects) can have ripple effects in the rest of the environment. The developments we are working on with Hyku will be highly beneficial to other vendors or providers that may offer the service as well. By integrating newer, better standards, we raise the bar for other competing services. So even if our member libraries don’t participate in this specific project, they can experience the benefits in the long-term.

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