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Michigan Library Consortium

The Michigan Library Consortium (MLC) is a non-profit membership organization comprised of all types of Michigan libraries. MLC provides libraries a convenient, single point of contact for training, group purchasing and technical support for electronic resources.

Introduction

The Michigan Library Consortium (MLC) is Michigan's largest statewide, multitype library organization. MLC's membership spans the state, from the southeastern corner to the northern most tip of the Upper Peninsula. Members are of every type of library, from the large research libraries to very small school media centers and public libraries. Because Michigan's libraries are such a diverse mixture of large and small, rural and urban with a wide range of needs, MLC has evolved over the years to become a full-service library service agency. According to its Articles of Incorporation, MLC was formed to facilitate sharing of resources among the libraries of Michigan; to enhance the availability of information resources to the residents of Michigan; to encourage the libraries of Michigan to institute cost-effective procedures that are made possible through state-wide interlibrary cooperation; and to enable Michigan libraries to link up and interact with regional and national electronic bibliographical communication systems. From the beginning MLC was set-up to be self-supporting. The revenue to support MLC's services is entirely contributed by its members. MLC receives no direct federal or state support.

History

MLC was incorporated in 1974 as a nonprofit, membership organization. The impetus for MLC's formation came from Michigan's academic library community, led by Wayne State University, Michigan State University, Kalamazoo College, and several others. For the first six years of its existence MLC operated out of an office at Wayne State University. Vern Pings, Dean of Libraries at Wayne State University at the time, served as de facto executive director until 1976 when MLC hired its first full-time executive director, John Aubry. David Salazaar, who assumed the role on an interim basis until Kevin Flaherty was hired in 1980, succeeded Aubry in 1979. Flaherty remained MLC's Executive Director until February 1995. In August 1995, Randy Dykhuis became MLC's Executive Director.

OCLC

In 1974 OCLC was beginning to expand beyond its founding base in Ohio, and Michigan librarians were eager to begin using the system for cataloging and resource sharing. MLC was the vehicle that allowed this to happen. OCLC was the catalyst that allowed MLC's membership to grow in the early years. From 1974 through 1980, membership rapidly expanded to dozens of libraries, most of which were academic but also included a number of public libraries searching for an easier and less expensive way to do cataloging. By 1980, MLC had outgrown its facilities at Wayne State University and moved to Lansing.

In the early 1990s, the Library of Michigan (LM) used federal funds provided through the Library Services and Construction Act to help small libraries use OCLC's group access capability (GAC) for resource sharing. Grant funds from LM were available for loading records into the OCLC online union catalog and for placing ILL requests. MLC provided training and support to the almost 200 libraries that got their first taste of OCLC through the GAC.

New Services

In the late seventies, MLC negotiated with 3M for discounts on theft-detection systems and strips. The result was a contract with 3M that allowed member libraries to purchase these supplies at a substantial discount. It is an agreement that continues to the present. For many libraries, the savings they realize by purchasing 3M security products through the group discount negotiated by MLC more than pays for their membership.

For a decade after moving to Lansing, MLC continued to experience explosive growth. Membership rose rapidly as libraries flocked to join OCLC. Many of these new members were recipients of a Kellogg Foundation grant that purchased hardware for libraries interested in sharing access to their collections through OCLC. In the early 1980s, MLC began to diversify its services with the additions of Dialog, BRS, and LexisNexis online database searching. The new services led many other libraries, including many public and special libraries, to join MLC.

By 1985, it was clear that CD-ROM databases were going to be an important resource for libraries, and MLC entered into an agreement with SilverPlatter Information to provide databases on CD-ROM to Michigan libraries. A short time later, MLC began offering access to electronic products from H. W. Wilson Company.

When it began offering Internet access and training in 1992, MLC became the means by which many librarians first used email and other electronic communication. As one of the first library agencies to offer Internet access, MLC anticipated librarians' needs and give them the opportunity to use this new communication and information source. (To offer some perspective, MLC was offering Internet accounts to its members before NCSA released the first version of Mosaic and several years before Netscape was born.) MLC members clearly appreciated the service as the number of accounts quickly zoomed to more than four hundred, with more than 100 libraries using MLC for their Internet access.

Falling prices for direct connections and commercial expansion into the dial-up market showed that MLC's Internet access business would be short-lived, but the experience demonstrates MLC's value. When technology spurts ahead and there is a niche not filled by commercial firms or other library agencies, MLC can move quickly to fill the need. MLC has demonstrated many times in its history this ability to move quickly to meet a specific need and move on to the next challenge when necessary.

Group Licensing

The advent of the World Wide Web dramatically changed the way many libraries provide their patrons with access to information resources. Suddenly the universe of available information became very large, and publishers were scrambling to put their information on the Web and before consumers' eyes. Libraries were deluged by opportunities to license these newly Web-accessible databases. In response, they saw an opportunity to aggregate their demand for databases and achieve greater financial leverage with the publishers. They turned to MLC, who responded by negotiating group licenses with database publishers and aggregators. MLC's leadership in the licensing arena meant that many academic, public, and school libraries were able to expand their access to online information resources because the per-library cost dropped as more libraries joined the licensing group.

MLC group licensing program began in 1997 with a small group of libraries that wanted to contract for Encyclopedia Britannica. That effort quickly expanded and now more than 200 libraries subscribe to one or more products from more than 50 database, ejournal, and ebook vendors. Michigan libraries save hundreds of thousands of dollars every year because of their participation in MLC's group licensing program.

When evaluating new business partners or group licensing possibilities, MLC looks for a combination of high quality and good discount rates. Before MLC agrees to add any new services for librarians, there must be clear benefits to librarians and the new service must be of high quality. In some cases this means that the products available from MLC are not the lowest price, but in almost every case, they are the lowest cost when quality and ease of administration are also considered.

Michigan eLibrary

In 1997, the Library of Michigan began to offer libraries access to more than 60 online databases at no charge. The AccessMichigan project was developed to give every library in the state access to a basic set of online resources. Because of budget cuts in the 2001 and 2002, the number of databases has been reduced to 36 but access continues to be made available at no charge to every library in Michigan and most databases can be searched by Michigan residents from homes and offices.

MLC played a large role in AccessMichigan from the beginning. Soon after the first contract was signed, MLC took the lead in support, helping libraries get access to the databases from Gale and OCLC. Soon after, under contract from LM, MLC began offering training and support at no charge to any library, REMC, or cooperative that requested it. Today, MLC has full-time, dedicated support staff who are available to answer questions about getting access to the databases, troubleshooting connections problems, and providing technical expertise.

In 2001 to meet the demand for training on the databases, MLC began recruiting trainers from around the state. With more than 30 regional trainers, MLC was able to offer more training sessions and more specialized topics. The number of sessions skyrocketed.

That same year AccessMichigan was integrated into the Michigan eLibrary (MeL), becoming the "MeL databases". MeL was to be a one-stop virtual library for every Michigan resident. It would include not only the online databases, but also Internet sites from the Michigan Electronic Library, an online union catalog of holdings in Michigan libraries, a resource sharing capability, and an easy-to-use front-end. In 2002, LM tapped MLC to lead the planning effort for the union catalog and resource sharing system.

In May 2004, LM signed a contract with Innovative Interfaces, Inc to provide the hardware and software for the MeL Catalog. MLC's support contract with LM for the MeL databases was extended to include implementation of MeLCat in 550 Michigan libraries. More than 300 libraries participate in MeLCat, using the service to borrow and lend 650,000 items a year.

One of the critical components of the MeL system was the establishment of a statewide courier service to deliver all the items requested through MeLCat. MLC worked with a consultant from the trucking industry and an expert on logistics to find a suitable courier. That resulted in a contract with ProMed Delivery Incorporated in July 2004. Some 400 libraries, from every part of the state, now use ProMed for their delivery service, and ProMed moves over 2 million items a year.

MLC Membership

As MLC added new services through the 1980s and 1990s and began working on MeL, membership grew at a rapid rate. At the end of 2006, nearly 575 libraries of every size and type are MLC members. MLC's vitality depends upon and thrives because of this diverse membership. When a member attends one of MLC's many workshops or programs, it is likely that the librarian sitting in the next chair is from a library of a different type and size. For librarianship to move forward to meet the needs of a society that is becoming more and more diverse, communication among librarians from different types of institutions becomes not a luxury but a necessity. One of the guiding philosophies of MLC is that we all have much we can learn from each other. The things that work best in one library may work just as well somewhere else. The only way to learn about these things is to communicate with each other.

Communication and access to other professionals may be the most important benefit MLC membership has to offer. Many librarians, especially in schools and small public libraries, mention that they feel isolated and unable to partake in the benefits that technology can offer. At MLC we believe nothing could be further from the truth. Among our membership, we have seen librarians in many such institutions begin in small ways to utilize some of the services we have to offer and through hard-work, imagination, and creative risk-taking expand beyond their expectations.

Workshops and Training

One of the great values of MLC membership is the workshop program. Every year, MLC staff organize more nearly 100 workshops on a wide variety of topics and serve almost 1,000 Michigan librarians. Each year new workshop are added and are available both on-site and off-site. In January 2007, MLC launched its new online workshop program, furthering the reach of training. With consistently high quality, MLC's workshops help many librarians remain abreast of the latest products and services and keep current on issues and hot topics in the profession.

Conclusion

From a sometimes shaky start, MLC has developed into a trusted partner for Michigan libraries as they cope with the ever increasing flow of information and escalating expectations from their patrons. MLC is a unique library service agency, combining attention to professional issues with a discount program that saves money for member libraries. With a history of adaptation and rapid response to change, MLC demonstrates that librarians can move quickly to take advantage of the latest technology and can confront proactively the serious issues raised by the increasing reliance on technology in libraries.

Additional Links

Michigan Library Consortium
Michigan eLibrary
Library of Michigan

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