One of the recurrent themes in these pages is that systemwide coordination of print materials is necessary as libraries begin to retire collections - to offsite storage or removing them altogether. There are various drivers here: the demands on space, the emergence of a digital corpus, the cost of managing a resource that releases progressively less value in research and learning. Print runs of journals have been an early focus, but interest is extending to books also. I believe we are moving to a situation where network-level management of the collective collection becomes the norm, but it will take some years for service, policy and infrastructure frameworks to be worked out and evolution will be uneven. The network may be at the level of a consortium, a state or region, or a country. At the moment, this trend is manifesting itself in a variety of local or group mass storage initiatives, as well as in several regional and national initiatives.

Last week, I came across interesting discussions of two of the more high profile initiatives in this area. These are WEST: toward a Western Regional Storage Trust, a US consortium of institutions, and the UK Research Reserve, a national approach.

Karen Schneider discusses West, placing it in the context of her own library's needs to reclaim space to meet local needs.

But the most significant infrastructure issue faced by the library facility is that the bulk of the space is occupied by very-low-use materials: books and journals.
In the mid-1950s, it made sense that the bulk of the library's space needs were occupied by then-state-of-the-art information tools. But the only way our library can maintain relevance is to reclaim the bulk of this space for 21st-century services such as information literacy instruction, faculty technology development, group study, and cultural events. We are not a museum for obsolete information technologies; to again quote our beloved Ranganathan, "The library is a living organism." [Free Range Librarian]

The UKRR was a central topic at the Dare to Share conference organized by the British Library's Preservation Advisory Centre and Research Libraries UK to consider preservation as a part of collective approaches to print management. I was not at this event, but it generated very interesting twitterage, the presentations are now available online, and University of Huddersfield archivist, Sarah Wickham, has written a brief report of the day's discussions.

A presentation by Deborah Shorley [PDF] describes the UK Research Reserve: "UKRR is a HEFCE-sponsored scheme which helps UK university libraries dispose of their low use research journals, safe in the knowledge that one copy will be kept in BLDSC, with two backup copies in other UKRR libraries" (HEFCE - Higher Education Funding Council for England. BLDSC - British Library Document Supply Centre). The local reationale is raised to the national level: "We must manage our national research information infrastructure responsibly; Print material is becoming less important to researchers; UK universities urgently need more space to do their work; We can no longer cope with the ever-expanding collections in our university libraries".

Each of these discussions notes the importance of data: to make sensible decisions you need to have good intelligence abot the collective collection of which individual libraries are part. Holdings and circulation data, especially, come to mind. This point is also raised in the very interesting presentation by Brian Clifford, which focuses on the management of books at Leeds University. [PDF] He introduces an interesting collections typology, as a way of framing different dymanics at work across the collection:

  • Heritage: Significant & distinctive collections which continue to be developed
  • Legacy: Significant & distinctive collections: historic strengths but no longer added to
  • Self-renewing: Supporting current research & teaching
  • Finite: No longer relevant - can be considered for withdrawal
[Heritage or legacy?]

Brian goes on to discuss action at local, regional and national level if the library's responsibility to their own users and to the scholarly print record are to be met.

As can be seen, the move to shared responsibility for print raises major service and policy issues, as well as very practical management issues.

An effective and efficient approach will depend on good intelligence in the form of aggregate data about collections (and Karen discusses OCLC in this context). Brian Clifford notes the balance between metrics and local knowledge in making judgements. Local knowledge will always be important, but it does seem that to scale across many institutions some shared decision criteria which can be operationalised through available data resources will be required.

Comments: 4

Sep 13, 2010
Mike Mertens

Some other useful highlights from the day I think were the welcome given to the notion that non-HE collections would need to be part of any new and meaningful system of data aggregation to support auditing for access to distributed (print) collections, the inclusion generally of museums and archives, as well as libraries in any such arrangement, and the adding to the mix of these ideas approaches from the field of records management .

Crucially, for any of this to work (efficiently) it is going to require good metadata, an elevated and consistent currency of the same, and an even greater penetration of systems/format standardization across and within sectors (aka shared services for discovery and description).

Most of all, though, as Neil Grindley put it succinctly: "‘Preservation people’ need a lot more opportunities to swap notes with ‘collections people’, to work out how the roles fit together."

Sep 13, 2010
Lizanne Payne

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) plans to develop a print archives registry and decision-support system in conjunction with WEST and other print archiving consortia. WEST, CRL, and others do aim to use WorldCat as the primary method of disclosure (revealing archived status and conditions) and access/delivery. The specialized decision criteria, including typologies such as that developed by Leeds and WEST and Ithaka's What to Withdraw framework, argue for a separate customized but broad-scale application (at least in the near term) to support the decision-making process (what to archive, what to deselect). CRL and its 250+ members serve as an excellent locus for such a system in North America and a powerful forum for defining best practices and common approaches. Work is beginning to outline methods and metadata standards for defining archived print materials using WorldCat, across multiple archiving initiatives.

Sep 13, 2010
L. S. Creider

1) Given the relative size of the UK and the US, the UK will have a better of chance of pulling this off, particularly with the precedent of the BL Lending Library. I would think that the US would need several such bodies.
2) The great problem with CRL is the cost, which eliminates many institutions such as mine from participation. Great care needs to be taken to have an economically sustainable model that yet remains open to all researchers.
3) OCLC will need to do a better job of accommodating local data before it will be able to be truly useful in this area.

Oct 06, 2010
Debbie

I find the typology interesting because it defines collection strengths in a way which is different from how they are usually defined - as the disciplinary strengths of an institution.
The latter still exist in the self-renewing category I suppose, or perhaps they underpin the other three categories, but it seems that Brian Clifford is suggesting that all libraries have a responsibility to what we used to describe in Australia as the Distributed National Collection.
Now, given the addition of digitisation, we might refer to it as Robert Darnton does as the "Library without Walls". See www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2010/oct/04/library-without-walls/.

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