Collaborative NetworksLibraries have much to gain from teaming up to provide reference services to their combined user populations. There's a jumble of terminology used to describe this kind of reference service: collaborative reference, networked reference, consortial reference, reference partnerships. I'm not really sure yet how to distinguish the language many are using nor can I tell if one of these terms is the most commonly used.
Many of the issues and sticking points of such collaborative work parallel those that libraries contended with when launching cooperative cataloguing and also interlibrary loan services.
Assume for sake of discussion that library A and library B have decided to team up together to form a partnership (or collaborative or consortium) in the provision of reference to patrons from both libraries. This partnership may already be built on consortial relationships already established for other services (e.g., interlibrary loan) or for other reasons (e.g., proximity, part of the same college system or public library network). In other cases, though, the partnership may be between two libraries that have never interacted before but are joining up so that they may both enjoy extended hours for their digital reference service. In such a case, one library may be in New York and offer chat reference in the mornings and early afternoons and the other library may be in Hawaii and picks up the chat service first thing in the morning Hawaii time (which would be early evening New York time). The partnership may be highly formalized (or not) and fit in to an already existing network or consortium (or not).
Here are some of the tricky questions libraries A and B will have to work out in developing their collaborative service:
There are of course dozens of other questions to resolve. The ones I mention are just provided to give a sense of the complexity of the issues (which does not mean that they are not without solution, but just that they are challenging).
Digital collaborative reference can be provided via e-mail or chat. For a list of library consortia and partnerships offering chat reference, I've put together an index of such services.
Links Related to Reference Consortia and Collaborative Networks
Forms of Digital Reference
Last updated: December 27, 2001