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The Consortial Effect

In a 2008 blog post Save the time of the reader, I analyzed available use data from PINES libraries. The question I had asked: was there an increase in use of PINES libraries after PINES switched to Evergreen? It was my conclusion based on that analysis that use had increased after the shift. However, the conclusion was clouded by the fact that circulation data that (I thought) would clarify the question were not available. From published reports, I was able to draw data on interconsortial borrowing, however. Analysis of circ data will have to wait until national level data for the period are published.

The notion of an increase in use resulting from moving to Evergreen is a conjecture. In that earlier post my reasoning was that:

Evergreen was designed from the ground up with close consultation with librarians, Georgia Public Library Services staff, and library users. Modern notions about presentation of data were included from the beginning, not bolted on to an aging system. Hence, it is easy to use and intuitive.

A blog post from March 2006 Autohorntootery makes similar points. Hence, the case to suppose there is an Evergreen Effect is reasonable. It is speculative at this point, albeit with some evidence.

I have just completed an article on the "The Consortial Effect" which is a related phenomenon and one that is just barely testable with the available data. I have thought about this Effect since doing the post on the Evergreen Effect.

While the Evergreen Effect is an increase in use of an existing resource-sharing consortium when it moves from a traditional ILS to Evergreen. I define the Consortial Effect as an increase in the use of independent libraries which results after they join such a resource-sharing consortium. By using PLDF3, a longitudinal recompilation of the data series now compiled by the U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), we can watch the behavior use variables over time in select cases and they should give us evidence if libraries joining newly formed consortia have an increase in their use. Do they? Yes….but….

I will leave the exciting and gripping—but gory details—to the article which will appear in the Library and Book Trade Annual in a month or three but it was rather difficult to isolate consortia suitable for analysis by annual data. I ended up with six consortia and they were running a variety of ILS software. Items loaned to other libraries and items borrowed from other libraries went up substantially in all cases.

Circs, however, were a different story because in all cases, the year or two after joining the new consortium, annual circulations fell, net. That is, when I summed the annual circulations for each of the separate libraries before joining and after joining, the sum for all the libraries was smaller after joining the new consortium. Curious, no? When examining the data it turned out that a few libraries had dramatic drops in circulations and these libraries pulled the aggregate figures down. One library lost about 500,000 from its annual circulations after joining a new consortium—down from 2.2 million. At the very least, it would appear that joining a consortium may involve a change in the definition of what a circulation transaction is. For this reason, I found it necessary to start the analysis after the formation of the consortium.

To give a sample of the kinds of results I found, let me summarize these results for PINES. In the first year of the analysis (2002), PINES members in the first two migration Phases loaned 12,000 items to others and borrowed 11,000. The total was 0.1% of total transactions. In 2008, there were about 430,000 in each category—an increase of 36 times for one and 39 times for the other. Circs increased 4.5% over the period. A portion of that increase was owing to new libraries joining, of course, but the increases show in the original libraries.

The “winner,” if you will, was eiNetwork. eiNetwork is a resource-sharing consortium in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Here the period of the analysis was longer (1997 to 2008). The items lent and borrowed went from under 40,000 to over 1.5 million and from 1% of total transactions to 29%. Total annual circulations increased by about 50% during a time when the reported population served fell by a small amount. Pretty impressive numbers.

Of course, one swallow doesn’t make a summer but the analysis reported provides an indication of a Consortial Effect. One group of libraries not in any consortium but near two consortia in the study showed minor increases in items borrowed and lent and a fall in total circulations. We might conclude that not joining such a consortium is a losing strategy but there are all sorts of intervening variables that would need to be considered. However, it appears that independent public libraries which join a resource-sharing consortium can be expected to show an increase in important measures of use. We can also posit why this might be true: more choice in materials for the users of the consortium and those users likehaving a greater variety of materials available at their libraries.

The latest IMLS data for US public libraries are for the 2008 fiscal year. The most current Canadian provincial data are for 2008—I assume that is calendar year. There are still not enough years of data to test the Evergreen Effect using these data.

I have asked about everyone for local monthly data but so far only SC LENDS and King County have been producing detailed monthly data which should give us a better insight into these questions and sooner than the published sources of annual data. Rogan Hamby’s elegant chart of interconsortial borrowing at two SC LENDS libraries after joining gives a hint at what we can see with monthly data. I do not want to confuse the issue too much but the two South Carolina libraries experience both the Consortial and Evergreen Effects and we see a dramatic increases in lending to and borrowing from other libraries after joining the SC LENDS Evergreen consortium.