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Notes from the Executive Director – February 2018

Consortia are fragile. Consortia are also resilient. Just like libraries. Unfortunately, for each of us, it only takes a small group, or even one individual, to threaten an organization that took years to build. We saw that in Michigan a few years ago, when a fringe band of ideologues nearly managed to shut down Troy Public Library, which had been a vibrant part of the community and a leader in the state. Instead of celebrating something precious and useful, these rogue residents misused ballot proposals to nearly shut it down. It was only at the last minute that disaster was avoided, and the library saved. Consortia, of course, are not libraries, although we have libraries as members. We are also not usually subject to the pressure that can come from political extremists in the community. Still, a consortium can feel the squeeze when individual members take actions that have an impact on the long-term health of the organization.

Most of the time, it is well-meaning individuals who make decisions like this, and they do so for the best of reasons when viewed from an individual library perspective. Perhaps a particular database is available at a somewhat lower price elsewhere. Why not get it there instead of staying with MCLS?  I would never fault anyone for going with the lower price. I know what it’s like to live within a limited budget, and I, too, look for the best deal possible. But sometimes the lowest price isn’t the best deal. That’s why we talk a lot about value, and the overall benefit that a consortium like MCLS brings to its membership and the entire region.

Membership in MCLS implies much more than a place to get a discount. Yes, we do offer good buys, and we work really hard to keep our prices low. But sometimes we aren’t the lowest. Sometimes you’ll see a lower offer. When that happens, I encourage you to do two things: first, call us. Let us know where you saw the lower price. It is not uncommon for us to talk to a vendor and find out that we can indeed match the other place. Second, I encourage you to stop and think about the overall value you get from MCLS, and go beyond the discount.

In the last few years, we have been determined to move beyond simply being the best place for discounts. For example, we have helped you develop your community engagement skills. Most of this came at little or no cost to you. Often working with partners, we created many events that were designed to help you create innovation and impact in your community. We were able to do it because of our commitment to libraries and because of our ability to create significant partnerships.

As I noted in my December column, MCLS is evolving in new directions. We’re looking ahead as far as we can, but in the current environment, it’s hard to see beyond the next year or so. We expect to continue our evolution as we hear about your plans, aspirations, and needs, and develop our own programs in response.

One thing remains certain: libraries will need an organization that can help them work together, an organization that can facilitate conversations, an organization that brings multitype libraries to the table. That’s why we ask you to stick with us. Look beyond the deal of the day, and ask yourself about the value of a strong consortium that can provide a wide range of help.