The background of the CBUC is to be sought in the changes that took place in the university world and in academic libraries in the early nineties. In 1990 there were three universities in Catalonia that had automated library services using in-house systems. Within five years the number of universities grew and it was necessary to seek an automated system to replace the old ones and to permit the initial automation of the libraries of the new universities. There was no formal cooperation, but the choice of system was based on the knowledge that it was better to choose the same program to facilitate technical support and installation.
The contacts brought the different libraries closer together and showed that cooperation could bring results that each library could not achieve in isolation. The objectives then focused on the creation of a collective catalogue containing the automated collections of all the university libraries, in order to improve the bibliographic information, and to facilitate copy cataloguing and the retroconversion of manual cards.
The project received funding from the Universities and Research Board of the Generalitat of Catalonia, and in 1995 the technical work began for the creation of the Collective Catalogue of the Universities of Catalonia (CCUC). The most difficult task was to establish criteria for the creation of the catalogue and to draw up a program for automatic detection of duplicated bibliographic records. All of this was made possible thanks to the fact that the Catalan libraries followed the same cataloguing and classification standards and used the same version of the MARC format (CATMARC).
The CCUC was created between 1995 and 1996 by working teams composed of library staff, computer staff and the management of the different institutions. The desire to carry out more cooperative projects in addition to the CCUC, and the need to contract technical staff to maintain the catalogue, led to the creation of the Consortium of Academic Libraries of Catalonia as the body responsible for managing the CCUC and for initiating new projects of cooperation, especially with regard to the use of information technologies.
Though the CBUC is still less than six years old, its objectives have evolved rapidly. It was initially set up to create a collective catalogue, but the possibility of organizing an interlibrary loan program was rapidly seen. After these initial activities new programs were initiated (joint purchase of equipment, training, benchmarking...) and the project for the Digital Library of Catalonia was drawn up. This extension of activities required a considerable increase in the number of meetings of the working groups and in the coordination work. The increase in activity has been possible thanks to strict annual planning and a great flow of information to the different bodies of the CBUC.
In addition to the extension of the initial objectives, the activities of the Consortium are having a considerable influence on the libraries of Catalonia that are not members. Some of the services of the CBUC - especially the collective catalogue - are widely used by Catalan libraries. Some have incorporated their collections in the CCUC without being members of the Consortium. The functioning of the CBUC has shown the possibilities and advantages of regional cooperation regardless of the differences between libraries according to whether they are academic, public, specialized, etc.
The CBUC has rapidly become established as an essential element in the Catalan library system. In the second half of the nineties cooperation has become a key factor at a world-wide level and there has been a tendency to set up digital libraries. In Catalonia, this tendency did not catch us unprepared. The CBUC has been able to cater for the new needs of the libraries, and to facilitate the changes that must be met by them.
The main tasks of the CBUC have been the CCUC and interlibrary loans. The main tasks at present are the extension of the CCUC with the incorporation of new libraries, the consolidation of new programs and the establishment of the Digital Library of Catalonia.
The CCUC does not grow exclusively thanks to the current and retrospective cataloguing carried out by the libraries of the CBUC; the incorporation of catalogues of libraries that do not form part of the Consortium is gaining importance. Thus, through the CCUC it is now possible to consult the bibliographic records of the libraries of the Jaume I University, the Theatre Institute (an independent body of the Provincial Council of Barcelona), the Ministry of the Environment of the Generalitat (regional government) of Catalonia, the University of Vic, and the Royal Academy of Science and Arts of Barcelona.
The new programs include the joint purchase of books with value added services, which allows the libraries to purchase books in advantageous conditions and permits the cataloguing of the documents in the CCUC, and the joint work with the Agency for the Quality of the University System in Catalonia aimed at establishing a guide for evaluating academic library services.
Many of the current activities are carried out in the environment of the Digital Libary of Catalonia. The aim is to jointly contract a hoizontal and interdisciplinary core of databases and electronic journals. Underlying this work is a vision of the future: in addition to offering the habitual services through traditional media, the libraries will increasingly base their services on electronic documentation. The particularities of this form of presenting documents have meant that digital libraries are being constructed in cooperation all over the world.
At the present time, cooperation is no longer instrumental but has become strategic for the libraries.The creation of new consortia of libraries in the last few decades and the revitalization of the concept are clear evidence of this. There are at least four elements that make cooperation strategic for our libraries at the present time.
Firstly, the economic and social changes that form what is being called the information society involve the globalization of the activites of all institutions, including libraries. The number of information providers is decreasing and they act in an internationl market, and the clients of the libraries wish to gain access to this information regardless of where it is located. In Catalonia, the joint work of the libraries has made them more visible for the community of users and for the administration, and their appreciation of them has thus increased.
Secondly, in different countries there is an increasing tendency to give importance to the regions in organizing administration and services. This general tendency has had profound repercussions, and has led to the discovery of the region as a natural framework for carrying out certain activities. Catalonia is also an example of this tendency towards regionalization, and the creation of the CBUC was influenced by the administrative decentralization of the Spanish state, the existence of other frameworks and instruments of cooperation (such as a Catalan computer network) and the possibility of close relations in a relatively small and well-communciated region.
Thirdly, the rapid technological and social changes form a complex and changing environment. The adaptation of the libraries to this new environment involves not only the investment of a large part of their budgets in technologies, but also internal reorganization and the creation of new services. The members of the CBUC have learned that cooperative work, with all the ineractions that it involves, is a guarantee that correct decisions will be made and sustained through the work of the Consortium, which is greater than the sum of its parts.
Fourthly, the libraries have a long tradition of organization and a consolidated working practice that is rooted in the habits of their professionals. At a time of change and increasing flexibility in all organizations, one of the priorities of libraries must be to create an environment that stimulates creative innovation. Through their daily work the libraries of the CBUC have discovered the value of cooperative work and consequently many of their activities now involve exchanging information with a view to revising established practices and redefining them in accordance with current needs.