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Notes from the Executive Director – September 2017

I will bet that in the very recent past a company representative who was trying to sell something to your library has said words like, “We have a stellar track record with our library partnerships,” or “If you partner with our company we can help you provide superior service to your community.” It seems like everyone wants to be a partner, not a product or service vendor. At the August “Coffee with the Executive Director,” I talked about partnership and what “partnership” means to us at MCLS. It’s such an important component of who we are that I wanted to elaborate a little further.

MCLS has a long history of finding ways for libraries and other library service agencies to cooperate with each other and do more together than could be done alone. That notion of partnership extends back to the very founding of INCOLSA and the Michigan Library Consortium, the two organizations that combined to form MCLS in 2010. For a good many years, what INCOLSA and MLC did as consortia probably didn’t look a lot like partnership. It looked more like a vendor relationship because of our respective relationships with OCLC. But something has changed over the years. At some point, although I’m not sure that I can pinpoint the precise time, it became clear that our future lies in developing closer relationships with our members and other agencies, such as the Library of Michigan, the Indiana State Library, ILF, MLA, and the Cooperative Directors Association. Without those relationships, we still look a lot like a vendor offering discounted access to resources. For the MCLS staff and Board, that doesn’t seem like a recipe for long-term sustainability. Although it is vital to our success and popular with our members (more than 70 percent of you get at least one product through us), we are looking at new ways to increase our value to libraries in our region.

Our notion of partnership always begins with the needs and aspirations of our members. Unlike those companies that show up wanting to be your partner, but only if you use their product or service, we want to understand your goals and your challenges, then help devise a solution. If the direction you want is not one that we alone can help with, we’ll work with you to find other partners who can bring the needed expertise. In short, we want to be a trusted partner that you turn to when you need help or advice.

This isn’t a new attitude. Through our history, I see a number of great programs and services that came about through partnerships. All of these provided real value for Indiana and Michigan libraries.

  • Way back in 1999, it was the Preferred Futures Conference that came about through a partnership with the Michigan Library Association and the Library of Michigan.
  • In 2011, it was with ILF that we supported a strategic planning and visioning day for Indiana public libraries.
  • When MeLCat got started in 2005, we worked hand-in-hand not only with the Library of Michigan, but also with the public library cooperatives to get small libraries on board. Without the cooperatives, MeLCat would not have been as successful as quickly as it was.
  • Our group licensing service began as a partnership with a few Michigan academic libraries back in the late 1990s and now has grown to encompass more than 70 vendors and hundreds of e-resources.
  • Lately, we’ve helped dozens of libraries learn about effective community engagement through our partnership with The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and the Library of Michigan. Because of that work, libraries have access to a valuable toolkit for more effective engagement.

None of these were initiatives that originated at MCLS, but rather came about as the result of a phone call or someone saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could…” That was enough to start a conversation, which then led to something cool. In a nutshell, that’s how we work best. We start or join a conversation, find out if and how we can add value, look for additional partners, and figure out what needs to be done. Partnerships and communication: they’re the heart of MCLS.

Our next Coffee with the Executive Director is Friday, September 8 at 9am Eastern (8am Central), using Zoom conferencing. Instructions for joining the call can be found on our website. I hope you will join us.