KohaCon10: A cooperative view

MJ Ray was up next to talk about co-operatives (co-ops). First up a definition of co-ops from the International Co-operative Alliance.

“A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”

Co-ops (while newly popular) are not a new thing! The first known was in 1493 – Aberdeen: The Shore Porters Society – but is not what we consider successful since it’s not longer a co-op today.

Co-operatives are based on values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. How then do co-ops put these values into practice? They have voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community. I love the way all of that sounds – maybe Koha needs to be governed by a co-operative … but then again that’s not a non-profit so I’m not sure how that would work. That said there is certainly a lot of overlap between how co-operatives work and how Koha works.

In the library land the co-operative we all think of is OCLC – that said MJ points out that they are not universally loved and are in fact headed to court under allegations that they are no actually a co-operative anymore but a “corporate monopoly” (more here). OCLC of course says they the lawsuit is without merit. MJ does not give any opinions, just says it will be interesting to see where this all heads because of his interest in co-operatives and the poor image this produces of co-ops in general.

I love the equation that MJ shared with us that was used at a co-operative event in the UK:

Sc * (Ci + Mt) = Co
Shared Commitment times Common Interest plus Mutual Trust = Cooperation

Once again a strong strong overlap with open source and Koha. When you start looking at the Koha software (MJ showed us a diagram of just the email system and it was pretty awesome) you see the true cooperation that goes into creating it. Given all this the question comes back to a lot of the points that Bob made in yesterday’s governance talk.

What does the future construction of Koha look like? We don’t know yet, but there are a few options we’ve already discussed. We can rebuild like before, have a host organization. We could form a foundation which brings up questions of funding and status of the founders. We could do an association with membership and activities. But (since this is what the talk is about) we also need to consider a co-operative of some sort.

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  1. Not sure if I should have hidden my view of skyriver-oclc. Personally, I think that the wider OCLC membership should “man up” and decide en masse if/how/why this WorldCat policy is fair to their members. I’m not sure if it would happen as it feels a bit like OCLC has managers and they now have some assets (the catalogue records) which they’re treating as an opportunity for private enterprise more than a shared resource.

    I think other koha-involved librarians+consultants have written about libraries not being ever so assertive more clearly than I can… Maybe this issue will arouse them out of their slumber? It should be easier to influence oclc than an actual private enterprise.

  2. And thanks nengard for this summary. When my slides and notes are up, and the video (gulp), it’ll be obvious where I misdirected you all 🙂

    Oh and being a non-profit would be easy. Just give the profits back to members as surplus payments, or make grants to community projects. That’s how most co-ops qualify as non-profit even if they’re sort of for-profit too. I dance around that often, with phrases like “more-than-profit”.

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