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Notes from the Executive Director – February 2020

February 15, 2020 marks the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services’ (MCLS) tenth anniversary as an organization. To mark this month’s anniversary, I’ll cover some of the many changes that have happened since the Indiana Cooperative Library Service Authority (INCOLSA) and the Michigan Library Consortium (MLC) came together to form the organization we know today as MCLS.

2010 was a very different time for libraries in Indiana and Michigan. The country was emerging from the Great Recession. OCLC networks (including MLC) still existed. That year, the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana (PALNI) decided to end its longtime support contract with INCOLSA and move to the cloud. At MCLS’s inception, opinions on whether the two-state organization could work were very mixed. There was no clear path forward to bring libraries in Indiana and Michigan together. But leaders at the time knew that libraries in both states shared many common values and were striving toward the same ends. The new organization elected a Board of Directors and was off and running.

In the early days, Executive Director Randy Dykhuis described MCLS’s work this way: “From its formation through the combination of the two legacy organizations, MLC and INCOLSA, MCLS has helped libraries primarily through the application of information technology and the licensing of electronic resources for libraries to provide to their patrons. Going forward, MCLS must expand that role to work with libraries on non-technology-related projects and training as needed.” The Michigan eLibrary Catalog (MeLCat) has long been a hallmark of our work with information technology for libraries. From 2010 to 2019, libraries have lent 10,242,630 items via MeLCat. This was possible through an MCLS service that became known as RIDES in 2010, with its legions of green totes crisscrossing the state. MeLCat libraries of all types now number 440 (157 of whom use MeLCat via NCIP). By 2011, we had begun to transition MeL database and MeLCat workshops from face-to-face to online.

Group purchasing for electronic resources and other items has been a critical service for us for many years and remains our single largest source of operating revenue. As Randy once summarized so well, “Benefits of group purchasing through MCLS include: 1) lower prices for [eResources] and software or hardware, 2) lower total procurement cost at member libraries because fewer staff members at libraries need to be devoted to licensing activities, and 3) staff with a deep knowledge of the region who can respond quickly to requests, concerns, and problems.” Over the years, we have helped hundreds of libraries in both states save thousands and thousands of dollars for databases, eBooks, eJournals, supplies, and more, from over 70 vendors.

Along the way, OCLC withdrew from working with its consortium networks around 2012, a major disruption that prompted many of the networks across the country to close. MCLS changed billing processes, and later began electronic delivery for invoices and statements. We also expanded into other work, which helped us survive disruption. One example of new work that began around this time was the Michigan Shared Print Initiative (MI-SPI), which coalesced between 2011 and 2013, and continues today. MI-SPI was one of the earliest shared print projects that Sustainable Collection Services (now part of OCLC) carried out. The consulting services we began in 2017 have proven extremely valuable to libraries of multiple types and sizes. Designed to make libraries more effective, and to encourage them to function at ever higher levels, our consulting work to date has focused on meeting facilitation and strategic planning, and we are booked solid throughout 2020.

MCLS’s training is another key service that libraries have relied on for many years. By 2013, we have expanded our training program to include new topics such as eBooks and eResources, and new collaborations such as the Collaborating Partners’ program on succession planning. Perhaps most notably, our relationship with The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation began in 2013. Working with Harwood, we have encouraged multiple cohorts of libraries in both states to “turn outward” toward their communities and stay responsive in planning for the future. In 2018, we held a Community Engagement Summit in Lansing that brought together participants from these cohorts and others interested in community engagement, and featured Rich Harwood, our own Randy Dykhuis, who had made the decision to work with The Harwood Institute, as well as several other speakers on the topic (read more at In recent years, we have partnered to put on programs on media coaching, library building safety and security, and accessibility. We also developed our popular Soft Skills Certificate webinar series that is free to member libraries, including a sixth webinar titled “Introduction to Resilience in the Workplace,” that debuted recently. I’m pleased to report that between the 2013 and 2018 fiscal years, we offered over 650 classes, workshops, and other events, with over 9,000 total participants. In addition to Harwood’s methods, we have offered training on other community engagement strategies, including Conversation Café, and World Café. Stay tuned for more news on community engagement later this year.

As you’ve seen, collaboration has been in our DNA since before MCLS began – it became part of our very name. I like to think of MCLS as a major piece of infrastructure for library collaboration in our region. In Michigan, we’ve had a years-long relationship with the Library of Michigan, helped create MI-SPI, and fostered Michigan Evergreen, the Michigan Shared System Alliance (MSSA), and our OverDrive group, which just celebrated its record-breaking two-millionth eBook checkout! In 2014, we began a deep collaboration with the Michigan Academic Library Association, our first venture into shared staff. Our staff also serve on a variety of Indiana State Library committees, including resource sharing, professional development, and the online users’ group. We host the Linked Data Users Group, with steering committee members in both states, which was a direct result of the Linked Data Summit we held in 2017, and have been pleased to play a role in creating the Great Lakes Resource Sharing Conference in 2014, and the Great Lakes Science Boot Camp. We also collaborate nationally, with the Partnership for Shared Book Collections, and across North America with Project ReShare. Finally, along with PALNI and many others, we are proud members of the International Coalition of Library Consortia.

MCLS has always believed in investing wisely. Our technology investments have allowed us to offer more training, and also our annual business meeting, via the Zoom platform. Upon the sale of the former INCOLSA building in 2016, we put the building proceeds into a special grant fund for Indiana libraries. Since then, we have supported a Harwood Public Innovators Lab, school library collections, and small library strategic planning. In 2020, we will invest the remaining grant funds into helping Indiana’s academic libraries continue to advance.

Through it all, the MCLS Board of Directors has guided us, and expected a great deal from us. The Board has changed a great deal over the years, with 52 total members (including the current 16) since 2011. Our Board members have embraced the Carver Policy Governance model, and continually update our Board policies; in 2017, they voted to add the Indiana State Librarian to join the Michigan State Librarian, as a permanent seat. Through their work with the Carver principle of “ownership linkage,” we have been inspired to practice what we preach, with Harwood-style Community Conversations with libraries in both states, that led to a visionary new statement of MCLS’s purpose in 2017, also known as our Ends statement (which is Section 1.0 of our Board Policy Manual). The Ends direct us to continue helping libraries advance for their communities.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here, for now. I hope you’ll agree that we’ve taken our early leaders’ suggestions to heart, and continue striving to grow, adapt, and find innovative ways to help libraries stay relevant and vital within their communities.

Do you have a favorite memory of something MCLS has done for your library, or the larger library community, since 2010? Do you have ideas about what MCLS can do for libraries during our next ten years as an organization? What hopes might you have for Indiana and Michigan libraries by 2030, and how might MCLS help realize those hopes? As always, I invite you to share your thoughts with us. Email me anytime at, or reach me by phone at (800) 530-9019 ext 119.