Writing about the history of Cambridge University Library, David McKitterick [Worldcat identity; Worldcat search] says:

There is one simple lesson to be learned from studying library history. Those administering, and those using, libraries have almost invariably faced a growth of knowledge, reflected in increasing numbers of books, that threatens to engulf each succeeding generation. [History of the library. In Cambridge University Library: the great collections. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Peter Fox, ed.]

I was reminded of these lines when reading my colleague Constance Malpas's account of some interesting work commissioned by Ithaka from Candi Yano. Professor Yano has developed a framework within which to think about the optimal overlap, or redundancy, of collections required to ensure print preservation (the focus was on journals, but it poses interesting questions also for books). We have spent the last few years thinking about digital preservation. I think that the issues surrounding the preservation of the scholarly and cultural record in print are about to loom into view as the opportunity costs of storing progressively less-used print collections become too high to bear. Space is being reclaimed for other purposes, and publications continue to pour forth. The current threat of being engulfed is prompting greater thinking about systemwide responses.

In sum, the evidence in hand suggests that there is substantially less duplication in aggregate holdings than is required to achieve the preservation guarantees obtained in Yano’s model. Given unrelenting space pressures on library print collections, and decreasing circulation rates, it seems imperative that libraries – research libraries, in particular – take immediate action to establish a common understanding of our respective (and collective) preservation goals and identify the core requirements for managing this highly distributed, thinly duplicated resource as a single, shared collection. This is an area where RLG partners are poised to take action. [hangingtogether.org » Blog Archive » Safety in Numbers? Calculating Optimal Overlap for Print Preservation]

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