Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

When One Plus One Remains One: The Challenges and Triumphs of Merging Two University Libraries

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

When One Plus One Remains One: The Challenges and Triumphs of Merging Two University Libraries

Article excerpt

Following the trend for library mergers of various configurations, the recent union of a state university with a private specialized university, each with its own library, provides insight into this ongoing phenomenon. The issues involved in such a vision occur on many fronts, including administrative decisions, technological implementation, physical plant management, and staff commitment. All of these require considerable strategic planning, sometimes in the shadow of time constraints. The author addresses the challenges, the benefits, and the potential problems resulting from the merger of two university libraries and the implications for other libraries considering a similar amalgamation.


Imagine this scenario: two universities, one a sprawling urban campus with multiple colleges and departments, hundreds of faculty members, and more than 20,000 students, and the other a private institution located in a single building, with a faculty of less than twenty and a small student body. Both universities possess magnificent libraries, the former containing over half a million books and periodicals plus online access to a multitude of electronic databases covering a vast array of disciplines, the latter a highly specialized collection of monographs, periodicals, audiovisual materials, rare books, and electronic resources and numbering more than 70,000 items. Energize the scene with the merger of the two institutions, a move that integrates both academic programs and faculty. Overlay the process with instructions to consolidate both libraries, physically and electronically, resolving the complexities of two very different library systems. This must be accomplished in approximately four months.

This, in essence, was the mandate faced by the Albert S. Cook Library in June 2009, when the planned merger of Towson University (TU) and the Baltimore Hebrew University (BHU) became a reality. As a staff member in the library of each of these institutions, formerly at one and currently at the other, the author enjoys a unique perspective on this process, and the focus of this paper is specifically on technical services aspects of the library merger.

Historically, a recurring trend in institutions of higher education is the merger of two or more separate institutions into one single new entity. (1) A literature review reveals that such mergers have occurred throughout the world. In the United States, mergers were relatively common among private and public higher education institutions beginning in the 1960s, and became more frequent in the 1980s and 1990s. (2) While some research regarding these mergers analyzes the reasons behind the mergers, other studies concentrate on the variables affecting their success. Only a few papers focus on the contemporaneous merger of the libraries along with their institutions, and still fewer address the technical aspects.

In his overview of mergers in higher education, Skodvin traces the various reasons behind amalgamations and differentiates between forced and voluntary mergers. (3) Forced mergers are initiated by external sources, such as educational authorities intending to restructure the higher education system. Voluntary mergers are initiated by the institutions involved. These can be motivated by political aims, to expand educational capability, or by economic needs such as a financial crisis. Skodvin emphasizes that although the impetus for mergers can range from the desire to resolve financial constraints to strategic planning goals, the common thread in every merger is the conviction that there is some assumed gain for the institutions involved.

Harman and Harman review the history of mergers and follow the development of types of amalgamations over the decades. (4) Earlier mergers were used to combine academic departments or faculties to form institutions with a greater range of programming, and more recent mergers were more likely to be driven by the quest for cost savings, the threat of declining enrollment, and/or concerns about institutional closures. …

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