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The Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative: education, advocacy and inspiration for libraries

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There are two essential questions at the heart of the Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative (RRSI). How will library resource sharing services help support the mission of libraries in a rapidly changing world and how can resource sharing practitioners help develop new roles for librarians in better connecting people with information?

Although library resource sharing is an integral and long standing service in many libraries, it is not offered by all libraries to all patrons, nor do all libraries always follow, or even agree on, best practices.

In response to these issues, the RRSI has been working since 2005 (Wanner et al., 2007) to educate, advocate and inspire library resource sharing practitioners and others who can help them improve their services. The concern is that if libraries do not emulate the technical advances and the level of customer service offered by other successful information suppliers then they will not remain information providers of choice.

The work of the RSSI certainly focuses on enhancing cooperation among libraries but RSSI members also posit that how interlending departments function within their own libraries needs to be rethought. Although technological changes in the information landscape and the processes information seekers use to discover and access resources are transforming the world of resource sharing, many ILDS departments that successfully work with other libraries, remain ironically siloed within their own, feeling undervalued and marginalized. Therefore, the RSSI also advocates and helps these departments to become resource sharing hubs through which a myriad of information services and systems can converge. To this end, the mission of the RRSI is: "To foster an updated framework of cooperation and collaboration," as well as to:

  • rethink resource sharing for the twenty-first century;
  • be a catalyst movement for systematic change;
  • become an influential "think tank" – define and promote best practices;
  • inspire a change in attitude in providing services; and
  • encourage libraries to open up to find new ways to serve, not just their patrons, but all potential users

In other words, to educate, advocate and inspire.


The specific strategies the RRSI uses to get out its message and meet its mission include the way they are structured, their inclusiveness as they partner with all interested parties, and the tools that they create and use to spread their message, such as their manifesto, a checklist of best practices, their 60-second user surveys, and their annual innovation awards. Each of these reflects their goals of communicating the potential of libraries to effectively and efficiently meet user needs.

RRSI manifesto

The foundational principles guiding the RRSI are summarized in the Manifesto for Rethinking Resource Sharing (

The manifesto has been widely endorsed across the library community. Reflecting the international scope of the initiative, it has also been translated into Danish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, with more translations planned as volunteers become available.

Organizational structure

The organizational structure of the RRSI is designed for action, and includes a steering committee that meets through monthly telephone conference calls and bi-annual face-to-face meetings at the conferences of the ALA. At their meetings, they hear project updates, set and continually rethink goals and priorities and review progress. They also work to oversee the specific goals that speak to their mission and that their four working groups put into practice.

Anyone interested in the work of the RRSI is welcome and encouraged to become involved by joining one of the working groups.


The future of libraries and information sharing is a changing one so librarians need an advocate at all tables where it is being discussed, from their local administrator's to those headed by big businesses in technology and publishing. With cooperation and collaboration as defining aspect of library resource sharing, the Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative also seeks to be cooperative and collaborative, welcoming a diverse group of members, partners and audiences to their own table. This includes librarians from all types and sizes of libraries and from all corners of the world, as well as vendors, technologists, library users or any other information seeker.

RRSI Star Checklist

The RRSI's Star Checklist is now available at the RRSI website ( This document was created by the RRSI Policies Committee, which is also a committee of ALA RUSA STARS. The checklist includes more than 60 questions about resource sharing services and is designed as a tool to help library staff review and reflect on their resource sharing policies and processes.

60-second user need surveys

Traditionally, librarians make policy and procedure decisions based as much on staff or material considerations as on user needs. Librarians may be satisfied with this, but library users, and non-users, may then go elsewhere for better service. With limited budgets, decisions on change should be based on the end user as much as anything else.

To this end, the RRSI's User Needs Committee has come up with a list of questions that can be chosen by libraries to ask their own patrons about their own resource sharing habits, needs and preferences. These can be one question polls or "60 second surveys" that libraries can adapt.

Innovation awards

The Rethinking Resource Sharing Innovation Awards are the way that the RRSI recognizes, honours and publicizes individuals or institutions for the changes that they have made to improve user access to information.

These $1,000 awards have been sponsored by partners such as OCLC, Relais International, the Bibliographical Center for Research, and the Danish Bibliographic Centre. Since 2008, there have been seven award winners and two more awards have been funded for 2011 and will be presented at the 12th ILDS Conference.


These are also uncertain times for the world and for information, which may one day consist of open access to scholarly publishing and completely new pay schemes for popular culture material. However, remaining inclusive, broadly defined and flexible should allow the RRSI to remain relevant, attract interest from a diverse pool of members and secure a seat at relevant tables. The Initiative's broad focus on best practices and awareness of the role innovative technologies can play in improving information services extends from helping librarians navigate the current landscape into shaping the future of library resource sharing. And, if resource sharing touches on every aspect of librarianship, then the future of resource sharing is the future of libraries and everyone who needs access to the information that librarians continue to devote their careers to providing.


Mak, C. (2011), "Resource sharing among ARL libraries in the US: 35 years of growth", Interlending & Document Supply, Vol. 39 No. 1, pp. 26-31.

Wanner, G., Beaubien, A. and Jeske, M. (2007), "The rethinking resource-sharing initiative: a new development in the USA", Interlending & Document Supply, Vol. 35 No. 2, pp. 92-98.

This is a shortened version of "Dealing with difficult colleagues when you're the 'new kid'", which originally appeared in Interlending & Document Supply, Volume 39 Number 3, 2011, pp. 142-147.

The authors are Beth Posner, Mina Rees Library, The City University of New York Graduate Center, New York, New York, USA and Evan Simpson, TISCH Library, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA.

About the authors

Beth Posner is the head of interlibrary loan services at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, chair elect of the steering committee and chair of the user needs committee of the Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative and a mentor with the IDS project. Beth Posner is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: [email protected]

Evan Simpson is the head of reference and instruction for the Tisch Library at Tufts University and chair of the policies committee of the Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative and ALA RUSA STARS.