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Consortia activity in academic libraries: Anti-competitive or in the public good?

Advances in Library Administration and Organization

ISBN: 978-1-84950-579-6, eISBN: 978-1-84950-580-2

Publication date: 30 October 2009


Academic library consortia activity has become an integral part of academic libraries’ operations. Consortia have come to assert considerable bargaining power over publishers and have provided libraries with considerable economic advantage. They interact with publishers both as consumers of publishers’ products, with much stronger bargaining power than individual libraries hold, and, increasingly, as rival publishers themselves. Are consortia changing the relationship between academic libraries and publishers? Is the role of academic library consortia placing academic libraries in a position that should and will attract the attention of competition policy regulators? Competition policy prohibits buying and selling cartels that can negatively impact the free market on which the Canadian economic system, like other Western economies, depends. Competition policy as part of economic policy is, however, only relevant where we are concerned with aspects of the market economy. Traditionally, public goods for the greater social and cultural benefit of society are not considered part of the market economic system. If the activities of academic library consortia are part of that public good perspective, competition policy may not be a relevant concern. Using evidence gained from in-depth interviews from a national sample of university librarians and from interviews with the relevant federal government policy makers, this research establishes whether library consortia are viewed as participating in the market economy of Canada or not. Are consortia viewed by librarians and government as serving a public good role of providing information for a greater social and cultural benefit or are they seen from a market-economic perspective of changing power relations with publishers? Findings show government has little in-depth understanding of academic library consortia activity, but would most likely consider such activity predominantly from a market economic perspective. University librarians view consortia from a public good perspective but also as having an important future role in library operations and in changing the existing scholarly publishing paradigm. One-third of librarian respondents felt that future consortia could compete with publishers by becoming publishers and through initiatives such as open source institutional repositories. Librarians also felt that consortia have had a positive effect on librarians’ professional roles through the facilitation of knowledge building and collaboration opportunities outside of the home institution.


Maskell, C. (2009), "Consortia activity in academic libraries: Anti-competitive or in the public good?", Williams, D.E., Nyce, J.M. and Golden, J. (Ed.) Advances in Library Administration and Organization (Advances in Library Administration and Organization, Vol. 28), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 81-151.



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