Last fall the former director of France's COUPERIN consortium, Pierre Carbone, authored an informative and wide-ranging report on the "Costs, Benefits and Constraints" of sharing electronic resources via academic and library consortia. The study was based on detailed information from about 15 consortia from different regions (COUPERIN in France, JISC in the UK, OhioLink in the US, CIBER in Italy, etc.), providing an overview of who these groups are, why they exist, what acquisition and purchasing models they employ, and what some of the more recent trends may be.

PCG has excerpted some key insights from the study below. Quotations have been taken from the English summary, which can be read here.* The complete report, which is in French, can be found here.**

Why Consortia? A look at the primary missions of the library consortia reveal that their most important functions are cooperative negotiation, purchase and funding of electronic resources, followed by training, managing access to those resources, and storage. Click to enlarge the image below:

The consortia in question have memberships ranging from ten to several hundred, and a majority of these members are higher education and research institutions.  In certain cases, corporate or public libraries are also included.

Financials. When it comes to funding for the consortia themselves, and the large amount of electronic resources they are acquiring, there are a variety of different models. Overall, however, they can be divided into "two categories of consortia: the first manage only a running budget or else have their running expenses paid directly by the members; the others bear the costs of the electronic resources, mainly owing to contributions from the members or in some cases thanks to national or regional financing." CBU in Switzerland is an example of the former, and JISC an example of the latter. Click on the following table for a detailed overview of these consortia by the numbers:  number of members, numbers of users, total e-resource budget (euros), and average e-resource budget per user.

Models. In addition to funding, the different groups have different models for contract negotiation and resource acquisition. For negotiation, some consortium officers prefer to deal directly with the publisher from the start - and work outward to determine interest among members and reach an agreeable offer. Many others prefer to work from the "bottom up"; asking publishers to generate interest among their members first, then having those members officially request a proposal from the consortium. When it comes to acquisition, the most popular arrangements are "opt in," in which the member institutions join the agreement as their budget and content needs dictate, or a one-price-fits-all agreement in which the consortium provides access to all of its members for a single, discounted price. The report continues:

"The criteria for splitting the bill between members are in most cases the publisher’s criteria (the historical amount paid for the packages of journals), more rarely their relative size in terms of the number of students or teachers, the share of use, or the proportion of grants in the case of the British consortium JISC.

Some consortia tested innovative models: in particular a “cost for content” provision (Ohio LINK), a conversion of pay-per-view in subscription linked to a certain amount of use (JISC), a model for e-books (JISC). Other models were unsuccessfully tried, for instance a usage-based model (for which it was difficult to forecast the amount), while publishers have had difficulties in devising a new model for e-only which would be free of the reference to the paper’s cost."

Trends. Some of more recent library consortia trends include:

  • A growing number of consortium agreements provide for e-only access to resources.

  • A greater number of consortia are purchasing journal backfiles, in addition to current journal subscriptions.

  • More consortia are merging, especially in the US.  As the report explains: "This trend, caused by the economic crisis, is matching the merging of publishers, making possible the critical mass necessary for negotiating from the strongest possible position."

Please visit the full report or English summary for more information about the state, composition and future of library consortia around the globe.