"Amity," AMICAL - When Good Will Turns Into Good Practice - The Formation of an International Consortium
There are many examples of consortia that have formed for various good reasons - geographic proximity, enlightened self-interest, commonality of needs, similarity of type of library, legal mandate, etc. Many of us have been privileged to work in an environment that has benefited by sharing resources with other libraries and institutions. The goal is normally to serve the greater good by providing access to collections and expertise that benefit all members of a consortium. Think broadly, yet serve locally.
Few consortia, however, are as international and culturally diverse as AMICAL (American International Consortium of Academic Libraries), whose members hail from 14 countries and speak at least 12 different languages. AMICAL's members are independent American liberal arts colleges and universities based throughout Europe, North Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East, and this diversity has added a rich complexity to AMICAL's development. How do you plan for "resource sharing" when this phrase has taken an entire spectrum of meanings across your member countries? How do you approach common priorities of information literacy when your students' backgrounds - and futures - may be so radically different? The common thread that brings these institutions together is a kinship of educational framework. This kinship transcends the borders, politics and cultural differences of our members' countries, and it has created unique challenges and opportunities during these first years of the consortium's existence.
AMICAL 2004: "Exploring Consortial Possibilities"
In 2004, via the leadership of the American University of Paris, and with the vital assistance and support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, AMICAL was formed. On May 7-9, 2004, 16 institutions gathered in Paris for their first meeting, under the theme of "Exploring Consortial Possibilities." The conference's keynote speakers included Susan Perry, Senior Advisor at the Mellon Foundation and one of the Deans of the Frye Leadership Institute, Rick Detweiler (formerly of CLIR), Andrew Lass, one of the founders of the Czech and Slovak Library Information Network (CASLIN), Jo Ellen Parker (NITLE), and Susanne Bonefas, then Technology Director for the Associated Colleges of the South. Sharing their experiences of forming consortia in both US and non-US contexts, and providing guidance for small-group discussions, they helped create a constructive environment for the participants to envision their new consortium. Administrators, librarians and information technology specialists from potential member institutions learned more about each other, discussed resource and information sharing, and identified areas of potential collaboration. They found strong mutual interest in traditional areas of consortial activity, such as resource sharing, database licensing, and professional development; but there was also a great deal of interest in information literacy and the potential for collaboration among librarians, information technology staff and faculty on curricular development. Shortly after the meeting, a Letter of Intent to Collaborate was signed by the presidents of all 16 participating institutions.
AMICAL 2005: Setting goals
The next AMICAL meeting was hosted by the Lebanese American University in Beirut, June 1-3, 2005. Having agreed to general areas of collaboration, and having obtained the commitment of institutions to work on these as a consortium, it was time to begin focusing on concrete goals. Expertly facilitated by our hosts, AMICAL members formed cross-institutional teams, devised projects and policies, set timelines, and began actively working as a consortium. Five major interest groups were established to work throughout the coming year: Databases, Interlibrary Loan/Document Delivery, Information Literacy, Professional Development, and E-Books. Two additional working groups were created to support AMICAL's development: a group to develop online tools for communication and collaboration, and a group to research models for consortial structure and development. A steering committee, composed of the chairs of each of these groups, was created to coordinate the operation of the consortium until a more formal structure could be set up. Providing inspiration and advice for the groups were invited speakers Emory Craig (College of New Rochelle), who spoke on the future of information literacy, and Terry Metz (Wheaton College, Massachusetts), presenting on trends in resource sharing.
Out of the Beirut meeting came two projects which would become AMICAL's first concrete achievements. The ILL/DD group developed with OCLC a one-year pilot project, known as RESPOND (Resource Sharing Project for Network Discovery) and running from July 2006 - June 2007: member libraries will be loading their records into WorldCat in order to create a group catalog, access the WorldCat Resource Sharing network, and analyze member and consortium collections with WorldCat Collection Analysis. The Databases group, meanwhile, negotiated their first deal with Columbia University Press this summer for consortial pricing on several of their electronic resources.
Though these accomplishments are on familiar terrain for library consortia, several years of exploratory discussion have confirmed that AMICAL should be a consortium inclusive of information technology professionals and faculty as well as librarians. It was also deemed essential that for any organizational mission, the emphasis needed to be on learning and those we educate. With this in mind, it was obvious that partnering with the major stakeholders would provide focus for the organization and a clear sense of purpose. Too often we talk among ourselves, separately. Those in attendance in Paris and Beirut were convinced (and remain so) that working closely with faculty is essential if AMICAL is to make a difference! What happens in the classroom is fundamental to the deep learning at the center of all of our institutional missions, and partnering to make that better is good, meaningful, potentially synergistic work.
AMICAL 2006: Focusing on library/IT/faculty collaboration
The theme chosen for AMICAL's 3rd annual meeting (May 31- June 3, 2006) both reflected this orientation and helped to define it for the consortium and its work: "Integrated Learning: Collaboration with Faculty and Shareholders on Campus." Hosted by the American University in Cairo, the conference's keynote speakers included Joan Lippincott, Associate Executive Director of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) (speaking on Institutional CyberInfrastructure) and Susan Perry from Mt. Holyoke College, Senior Advisor for Liberal Arts Colleges at the Andrew Mellon Foundation and Director of Programs at the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) (speaking on Liberal Education in the 21st Century). The second day of the conference included a Technology Forum where AMICAL members demonstrated innovative software, tools and services. Presentations were also made by teams of librarians, IT staff and faculty - modeling exactly the way we hope the consortium itself will develop. Another development was the voluntary reformation of the Working Groups. The spirit of cooperation and collegiality was evident as attendees tried to make things better, more efficient, and more in tune with members' goals for the consortium.
A consortial mission
The Cairo conference offered rich programmatic content, but it also achieved several critical administrative goals: notably, the articulation and ratification of a mission statement and the decision to replace the Letter of Intent by a membership agreement and guidelines for governance and administration of the consortium.
The basis of the agreement and guidelines is AMICAL's mission, agreed upon in Cairo:
AMICAL is an international consortium of American-model, liberal arts institutions of higher learning. Our mission is to advance learning, teaching and research through the collaborative development of library and information services and curricular resources at member institutions. AMICAL is committed to sharing information and technologies across national and linguistic borders, using English as the primary language for consortial work.
AMICAL, clearly, is a consortium that plans to draw strength from our diverse human and information resources to further the common goals of our institutions. Whether we're sharing library holdings or course content, open source software know-how or professors on exchange, AMICAL will be helping American liberal arts schools abroad to connect and share their strengths - for the benefit of their libraries, their technology resources, their faculty and, most of all, their students.
As we prepared to depart Cairo at the end of the 2006 meeting, our last evening was spent on a dinner cruise on that most magnificent of rivers, the Nile. Our AUC hosts had set a hospitality standard that will be particularly difficult to replicate. As we said goodbye and thanked our hosts, we said it in all of the languages of the consortium - English, Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Russian, Armenian, Greek, German, Kyrgyz - now that is an international consortium!
Through the work of a Governance Committee that solicited input from members as well as expert advisors, AMICAL's Membership Agreement and Operational Guidelines were drafted and then adopted on 1 December 2006.
Director of the Library, American University of Kuwait
Information Services Librarian, American University of Paris
Dean of the University & Vice President for Academic Affairs, American University of Paris
Senior Advisor for Liberal Arts Colleges, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation