CoopGateway, the world’s largest digital library on cooperatives and mutuals, was created by the Alphonse and Dorimène Desjardins International Institute for Cooperatives, in collaboration with the HEC Montréal Library and InMedia Technologies, a company specialized in knowledge technology. CoopGateway’s mission is to promote the access, development and sharing of knowledge on cooperatives and mutuals in the digital age.

Space to occupy, knowledge to disseminate

Despite the importance of cooperatives and mutuals in various countries’ socio-economic fabric, interest in them tends to fluctuate over time and in different environments. In the digital age, cooperatives and mutuals are facing new challenges in the production and dissemination of knowledge, which may call into question the vital space they occupy in our societies:

As noted by Hill (2000) and Kalmi (2007), the “disappearance” of this economic organization model from university textbooks could eventually lead to unfortunate consequences for cooperatives, in terms of economic turnover,  attraction or retention of staff, or the management quality of these organizations: “The unfamiliarity with co-operatives among university graduates is also likely to have an adverse effect on the development of co-operative businesses since new recruits have no knowledge of their operating logic.” (Kalmi, P. (2007). The disappearance of cooperatives from economics textbooks. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 31(4), 625-647.)
Since the state of technological development is far from being uniform from one region of the globe to the other, it follows that much of the past and current knowledge of the cooperative and mutualist model still remains in paper form. On the other hand, knowledge that has not been digitized and that remains in analog form tends to be used less and less. This is a situation that needs to be quickly corrected, in view of a wide and fast diffusion of knowledge specific to cooperatives and mutuals.
Although the cooperative and mutualist movement is widespread worldwide, the anchoring of hundreds of existing cooperatives and mutuals remains essentially national, regional or local. In doing so, more difficult access to documentation – in the case where it is published in languages ​​other than those generally used internationally (English, Spanish, French) – and difficulties related to translation and the linguistic adaptation of these documents hinder the dissemination of knowledge about cooperatives and mutuals.
The national, regional or local anchoring of cooperatives and mutuals also has the effect of “breaking up” knowledge into a multitude of nodes whose interrelationship remains weak on a global scale. Digital documents on cooperatives and mutuals are scattered on the Web and although some commercial databases contain information on them, they are often presented in an irregular and incomplete manner due to lack of knowledge of these institutions. With regard to the current acceleration of globalization, there is therefore a need to further centralize knowledge on cooperatives and mutuals, with a perspective to improve dissemination.
To the extent that the cooperative and mutual model evolves, and will continue to do so, in the coming years and decades, it must be confronted with theoretical models from multiple scientific disciplines in order to highlight the peculiarities specific to this model and to identify innovative solutions to the different problems and challenges that cooperatives and mutuals are likely to know. It is a fact that Professor Sonja Novkovic, Chair of the Committee on Co-operative Research of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), also emphasized: We are integrating what we do more and talking across disciplines. This interdisciplinarity is a trend in general. […] We need more integrated disciplinarity, more integration between different fields of research […].”

In short, the production and dissemination of knowledge on cooperatives and mutuals is facing significant challenges that must be addressed quickly if the role of these forms of economic organization in our societies is to be promoted. The existence of a centralized data collection, digitization and retention structure for the creation and dissemination of knowledge is a priority task in restoring these forms of economic organization to their rightful place in university research and teaching and to strengthen their presence and role in the societies in which they operate.

CoopGateway: a unique tool in the world

An analysis carried out by the Institute in 2018 has shown that among the few other websites devoted, in any way, to knowledge about cooperatives and mutuals, CoopGateway has no equivalent in the world in terms of the number of stored documents, their international coverage and the number of languages ​​in which these documents are written.

In fact, the Institute has mapped the main websites and databases related to cooperatives and mutuals, based on four criteria (number of documents hosted, type of documents, languages ​​used and geographical coverage). This mapping demonstrates the presence of three types of websites or databases:

  • Web sites or databanks with a limited number of documents, often published in one language only;
  • Web sites or databanks offering a limited number of documents, but in several languages. These sites therefore have a more international scope;
  • Websites or databanks providing access to a wide range of documents in multiple languages.

CoopGateway is in this last group. It should be noted, however, that the few websites identified within this group have very general scopes, giving CoopGateway a unique edge for those seeking fast, accurate and relevant access to data on cooperatives and mutuals.

CoopGateway: comprehensive content

CoopGateway acquires, organizes, preserves and distributes digital documents on cooperatives and mutuals. In constant evolution, CoopGateway’s content includes both edited publications such as books and periodicals and gray literature such as annual reports, without limitation on the nature of the documents (text, image, photo, video, etc.) or on file formats.

To date, CoopGateway includes thousands of digital documents in over 19 languages ​​and from 43 countries that are progressively being imported into the platform. CoopGateway’s digital support ensures sustainability and easy access to knowledge about cooperatives from a single point of access. The bibliographic records of CoopGateway are freely accessible. Creating an account in CoopGateway allows you to submit content and access most documents. CoopGateway also has limited circulation data and documents that can be made available to researchers based on their projects.

Developing collections thanks to a collaborative approach

For cooperatives and mutuals with a large amount of paper and digital documents, creating a collection in CoopGateway can be an advantageous way to ensure the sustainability of these documents, their processing according to international standards and easy access for those authorized to consult them according to the agreement convened with HEC Montréal. The Institute has therefore established a collaborative approach with cooperatives and mutuals for the deployment of documents in institutional collections. For example, CoopGateway has already published online the Desjardins Group collection and the International Summit of Cooperatives, and is currently working on the dissemination of la Coop fédérée’s collection.