Our History

History of the Health Science Information Consortium of Toronto

The Health Science Information Consortium of Toronto (The Consortium) was founded in 1990 out of a desire to strengthen the relationship between the University of Toronto Libraries and the libraries of health care institutions affiliated with the University's Faculty of Medicine.

The Consortium was established following more than two years of intensive study and planning. In 1988, a needs assessment study was commissioned and published as Linking Libraries: A needs assessment study for development of a health science resources and information network for the Metropolitan Toronto area (Campbell Consulting, Toronto, August 29, 1988). During the course of the study, focus groups were held with hospital and university library staff, other health related consortia and networks were examined, and recommendations were put in place for the governance and organization of a formal Toronto-based network.

The Consortium's original purpose was to enhance resource sharing through the coordination of new technology and the rationalization of information resources. When it was established, it consisted of 38 member institutions. The members included the University of Toronto Libraries (UTL), 11 fully affiliated teaching hospitals, 16 partially affiliated teaching hospitals and institutions and 9 community hospitals. Every member had a link with the University of Toronto: the teaching institutions were affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine; the community hospitals were institutional members of the University of Toronto Libraries system.

Constituted as an association of members, the Consortium is governed by a set of by-laws. The governance structure includes a Board of Directors and an elected Management Committee. In establishing the governance structure, the Board was given responsibility for policy decisions and financial management, while the day-to-day operations were to be directed through the Management Committee.

Part of the reason behind the formation of the Consortium was to strengthen the ties between the University of Toronto Libraries and the teaching hospital libraries to better serve teaching faculty, researchers and students. Before 1990, there were no formal ties between the libraries and no mechanism for joint consultation, planning or policy making. There was a heavy reliance by the teaching hospitals on the University Libraries but no formal arrangement to facilitate efficient resource sharing.

The Consortium Office, which is staffed by a full time Executive Director and a part-time assistant, is member-supported through membership fees. The Office is located in the Gerstein Science Information Centre at the University of Toronto The Consortium Office provides a central focus for developing joint policies and procedures. One of its key roles is to foster communication among the members and to encourage collaboration. The Executive Director has an important liaison role between the University Libraries and the hospital libraries.

When the Consortium was formed many options were explored to enable stable payroll and benefits arrangements for the Consortium staff. The University of Toronto Libraries agreed to take on this responsibility and provide support through its HR and Personnel Offices. Because of this arrangement, the personnel, compensation and labour relation policies in effect at the University apply to the Consortium staff.

Since its inception, the Consortium has undergone many changes. In the mid-1990's as the health care system in Ontario and Toronto was undergoing tremendous upheaval, with hospitals closing and merging, the Consortium took on a major review of its membership model and how it could go forward in the new reality. The focus has moved from the initial emphasis on sharing of paper-based resources to the consortial licensing of electronic databases and full-text resources. Communication with the membership has been enhanced by the introduction in the late 1990's of three listservs and the Consortium website. In 2001, membership was expanded to include libraries in public health departments.

Today, the Consortium consists of 41 members, including the University of Toronto Libraries, and its geographic boundaries stretch from Oshawa in the east to Barrie in the north and Oakville in the west. Members work together toward our common mission: to promote advances in health care through optimal use of information resources, technologies and our collective expertise. There are several very active subcommittees and working groups that are currently working on numerous initiatives.

The guiding principle for the Consortium is that collectively members can accomplish as a group much more than a single member could accomplish on their own. Economies of scale are, of course, a primary raison d'être. In addition, members share expertise and knowledge, which contributes to the effective management of library services in all member libraries.

The Consortium serves as a model of cooperation for the greater good of its member libraries and institutions. As one member has commented, if the Consortium did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.