Working with librarians, researchers, administrators, funders and publishers, CRKN has engaged stakeholders in innovative projects and initiatives, transformed the research environment by improving access to content in Canadian universities, and influenced the marketplace through a reduction in costs for CRKN members. CRKN’s inclusive and large-scale approach to content licensing continues to deliver value to its member universities and its model is considered a best practice internationally.
In the late 1990s, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) and Canada's four regional library consortia (CAUL, BCI, OCUL and COPPUL) were encouraged to approach the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) for support by demonstrating that systematic access to published research was an essential component of Canada's research infrastructure.
In June of 1999, following months of collaboration the Canadian National Site Licensing Project (CNSLP) was created with the support of 64 Canadian universities, and CFI awarded $20 million to CNSLP to support this component of research infrastructure. Participating universities and provincial governments committed an additional $30 million, and the University of Ottawa acted as the project host and administrative centre.
CNSLP’s goal was to bolster the research and innovation capacity of Canada’s universities by licensing electronic versions of scholarly publications on a national scale.
The objectives of CNSLP were three-fold:
- Building capacity: to increase the quantity, breadth and depth of scholarly content available to academic researchers throughout Canada, thereby building a rich and multi-disciplinary milieu to underpin world-class research;
- Transforming the research environment: to speed the transition from print-based to digital and value-added forms of scholarly content, thereby maximizing the use and utility of that content for researchers;
- Influencing the marketplace: to leverage Canadian universities' buying power and influence in the international scholarly publishing marketplace, achieving advantageous terms and conditions for usage and developing new business and service models.
In short order, an Executive Director was hired, and a Steering Committee and other committees (including the Negotiations Resource Team, now the Content Strategy Committee) were developed to direct the licensing process. By January 2001, the first CNSLP site licenses are activated for STM e-journals.
During its pilot phase, CNSLP focused primarily on full-text electronic journals and research databases in science, engineering, health and environmental disciplines—areas where the needs and costs were most acute.
As a result of project funding, CNSLP implemented multi-year licenses with seven major scientific publishers, providing access to over 1,000 e-journals and key citation databases for researchers nationwide. The consortium was also successful in establishing a “made-in-Canada” model license agreement, which set favourable terms of usage for the academic community.
During this period, the CNSLP project was hailed for its innovative approach to advancing research in Canada, winning the 2001 CAUBO productivity and Leadership First Prize, and the 2002 CACUL Innovation Award. CNSLPs Executive Director, Deb deBruijn, was also honoured with the 2001 CARL/ABRC Award of Merit.
Leveraging the organizational base and critical mass that had been established, CNSLP continued to add high-impact collections of journals and backfiles to the content portfolio, self-funded by members. By 2004, the consortium had more than doubled its initial content budget, demonstrated its impact on the research community, and met sustainability requirements from CFI.
As more content was licensed, additional staff were hired, and the structure of the project became more formalized. In April 2004, the Canadian Research Knowledge Network was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. At this point, a Board of Directors was formed, replacing the CNSLP Steering Committee.
Conscious of the growing need for digital content in social sciences and humanities disciplines, CRKN began planning, in 2005, for a three-phase content expansion project that would secure a portfolio of content in diverse formats and culminate with another approach to CFI for grant funding.
In February 2007, CFI announced an award under its National Platforms Fund for the Digital Content Infrastructure for the Human and Social Sciences (DCI) project – a further $19.1 million to be matched by 67 member institutions and provincial governments. As before, this award would be granted through the University of Ottawa.
In December 2007, CRKN moved from the University of Ottawa to new premises.
By June 2008, fourteen major research collections had been secured under the DCI project, making available thousands of e-books, e-journals, primary source materials, videos, classical music scores, and more. In 2009, CRKN committed the remaining DCI content funds toward digitization of select Canadian social sciences and humanities (SSH) collections at the University of Toronto and the University of Alberta.
At this point, CRKN had grown to 75 members, managed 45 licenses and funds in excess of $100 million annually and licensed a full complement of digital content in STM and SSH disciplines. While CFI had provided critical seed funding to accelerate strategic initiatives and to ensure inclusive and equitable participation, member institutions remained committed to sustaining initiatives through voluntary funding.
In 2010, a Governance Review recommended significant changes to the size and composition of CRKN's Board of Directors, which had remained largely unchanged since the inception of CNSLP in 2000. The Committee Review Task Group recommended further changes in October 2013 consistent with changes to not-for-profit legislation. CRKN's current By-laws were approved by the membership in October 2013.
In December 2012, CRKN hired Clare Appavoo, the organization's second Executive Director.
During 2013, CRKN contracted with staff at two other international library consortia to conduct an External Review of the organization's negotiation effectiveness. Overall the external reviewers found that CRKN is an effective and efficient representative for its members, achieving excellent cost control that generally matches or exceeds comparable consortia.