Serious consideration of a merger began last spring, when a committee comprised of four people from each college gathered for discussion. The group held conference calls with other colleges who had merged.
"St. Olaf and Carleton are in a minority," said St. Olaf head librarian Bryn Geffert, since they are not part of a catalog consortium. In fact, most colleges and universities in Minnesota have conjoined library catalogs. "We really are something of an anomaly," Geffert said.
Although the two colleges have always shared materials, the catalog merger means that library patrons will be able to search both collections at once.
"St. Olaf has built its collection with Carleton's in mind," Geffert said. "It makes sense to consolidate for user convenience."
Library student worker Andrea Horbinski '07 said that getting books from Carleton now is "kind of a pain. You can't look at the Carleton books [you have checked out] on the St. Olaf site," she said.
The two Northfield colleges expect an increase in inter-campus borrowing after the merger, a trend that has been consistent at other colleges. Currently, a college vehicle makes two trips each week to take requested materials across town. If borrowing increases as expected, there has been talk about adding another delivery on the weekend.
Previously, only very ambitious students have used Carleton's library as a resource, Geffert said. After the merger, students will not have to make any extra effort to find materials at Carleton.
Some students never request books from Carleton, while others, like Rebecca Lofft, '04, use Carleton's library to get books that are already checked out at St. Olaf, like the fifth Harry Potter book.
The long-term goal of the merger is to work toward cooperative ordering. That way, the colleges will have less duplication of materials. The savings can then be used to buy materials that neither college could otherwise afford.
Merging the two catalogs is not cheap, however. The first phase of the project will cost $221,000. Although both catalogs currently use the same software, a company must transfer patron and book records to both libraries. About $70,000 of the initial cost goes toward merging the records. Costs also cover updating the data connection between schools and training staff to use the new system.
Webbridge, a product that allows communication between the library catalog and online databases, is a large part of the second phase. If, for instance, a student is looking for articles on Infotrac, when the search results come up, Webbridge allows the user to see whether the article is accessible through the library in print or through a subscription service. If the article is online, Webbridge actually creates a hyperlink.
Although the project will no doubt make students' lives a bit easier, it may be the opposite for library personnel.
"This was a really tough decision," Geffert said. "There were ferocious debates." Merging the two catalogs means that the libraries will no longer have absolute control over their own catalogs.
However, reference and instruction librarian Sarah Johnston said, "I think people have really come around to the idea that it's a good idea for the future."
The system interface is still being designed, and a contest is underway to name the catalogs. St. Olaf's catalog is currently named SAGE, after the plants around St. Olaf and its connection with wisdom. Carleton's catalog, MUSE, is named after the nine figures of Greek mythology. Entries can be made at the Rolvaag Library front desk.