Brief History of Oberlin Group

The idea for the Oberlin Group grew out of conferences of the presidents of 50 liberal arts colleges held at Oberlin in 1985 and 1986 to discuss the role of private colleges in educating the nation’s scientists. The colleges represented had produced an exceptional number of graduates who later earned doctorates in scientific fields. One of the purposes of these conferences was to draw national attention to the importance of liberal arts colleges for scientific education and, in so doing, to garner more foundation and government support. Drawing on the science conferences model, the late Bill Moffett, then Director of Libraries at Oberlin, formed a steering committee to plan a meeting of 60 liberal arts college library directors. Members were Bill Moffett (Oberlin) chair, Will Bridegam (Amherst), John Sheridan (Colorado College), Kathy Spencer (Franklin and Marshall), Christopher McKee (Grinnell), Eleanor Pinkham (Kalamazoo), Becky Pollock (Reed), and Richard Werking (Trinity University).

The first meeting was held at Oberlin College in November 1986. The group discussed issues of common concern, including the need for more library funding. Library directors from the 50 institutions represented at the science conferences were invited, as well as directors from a number of other selective liberal arts colleges. The first conference was a success and the directors decided to meet every year at a member institution. They became known as the ‘Oberlin Group of Libraries’ because of the site of the first meeting.

At the beginning the Oberlin Group functioned informally and with minimal structure. The main purpose has been to share information among the directors in a collegial way and to establish an atmosphere of mutual encouragement and support. Since the first conference, the Oberlin Group has evolved well beyond the annual meeting. Bill Moffett established (and Ray English continued) a listserv for the discussion of matters of common concern. In 1991 the group established an annual statistical survey, adapted from an earlier survey compiled by Art Monk (Bowdoin); initially compiled by Dennis Ribbens (Lawrence).  Members routinely conduct surveys and share their findings with the group.

In the 1990s the group initiated cooperative projects and activities such as reciprocal interlibrary loan agreements. Also, members have negotiated consortial contracts for subscriptions to electronic journals and electronic reference services. Because the entire membership is not obligated to participate in these consortial contracts, the subscribing subgroup varies from project to project.

The opportunity to talk formally and informally with other liberal arts college library directors about current issues in college librarianship is one of the key benefits of membership in the group.  An annual meeting is held each year hosted by one or more member institutions.  In 2011 the membership adopted new organizational principles to give the Group more structure, without losing the informality that many see as a key benefit.  This structure included a Coordinating Committee that oversaw the annual meeting as well as addressed other issues that came up during the year.  The Coordinating Committee also served as the contact when outside groups were seeking input from the Oberlin Group.  In addition to members who were elected to serve on the Coordinating Committee, the current meeting host(s) and the Treasurer were also part of the committee.  The inaugural Coordinating Committee was elected at the fall 2011 meeting in Atlanta, Ga.

At the annual business meeting fall 2016, the Oberlin Group directors decided by a large majority to pursue incorporation of the organization.   An Incorporation Committee was formed in November 2016, consisting of Amy Badertscher, Barbara Cornelius, Jill Gremmels (liaison to the Coordinating Committee), Marjorie Hassen, Kevin Mulroy (Chair), Stacy Nowicki, and Terry Snyder.  In July of 2017, the Coordinating Committee (Janis Bandelin, Convener; Jonathan Miller, Treasurer; Jim Cubit, Recorder; Jill Gremmels; and Dena Hutto) became the Board of Directors and adopted bylaws that was voted on and passed in May of 2017.

In the spring of 2018, a survey was conducted of the entire membership concerning the strategic direction of the organization.  In 2019, working with a consultant, the Board of Directors developed a draft Strategic Plan for the membership to approve.  During the fall 2020 Annual Meeting, this Strategic Plan was adopted.

The Mission Statement for Oberlin Group of Libraries is:

The Oberlin Group leverages our diversity as a community, our commitment to continuous evolution as an organization, and our collective wisdom to enable the building of effective and sustainable library programs.  As advocates for the role of libraries in transforming teaching, learning, and research, we anticipate and address evolving challenges and opportunities in support of our liberal arts institutions.

revised: 2011, 2017, 2021