Home 9 In the Spotlight 9 ATG Original: Seeking Long-term Solutions to the Future of Collections: Part 2 – Collective Collections

ATG Original: Seeking Long-term Solutions to the Future of Collections: Part 2 – Collective Collections

by | Jan 15, 2020 | 0 comments


By Nancy K. Herther

In a 2010 blog post, Google estimated that, according to their advanced algorithms, the number of book titles published at least in recent times was 129,864,880, which seems a low estimate; however, there are no solid data on which to base any estimate. The American Library Association estimates that there are 116,867 libraries of all kinds in the United States today. Bowker estimates that at least one million self-published books were published in 2017 alone. And print books are even more difficult to guestimate, with numbers ranging from 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe. As an average, books sell less than 250 copies each. However, no one I contacted for data was willing to be formally quoted. Clearly, the amount of information out there is well beyond the ability of any library system to provide on-site to their users.

Source: Which countries publish the most books? (infographic) by Piotr Kowalczyk founder of the Ebook Friendly website – provides a number of interesting and relevant graphics.


An interesting article published in Collaborative Collections, the authors –  all members of Pennsylvania Academic Library Consortium, Inc. (PALCI) – note that “though a fair amount has been written on local/individual DDA programs, the limited scope of published articles, book chapters, and monographs on consortial DDA presents research obstacles to the traditional literature review. The endeavor requires a bit more sleuthing—for example, sifting through Charleston Conference proceedings and mining consortia websites for meeting minutes and annual reports—only to find the historical record trail off in previous academic or fiscal years without further comment. Moreover, much of the DDA chatter happens on blogs, public and private email lists, or in comment sections of popular websites like Babel Fish and the Scholarly Kitchen.” This, the authors suggest, has led to “elusiveness and fragmented record.” The same difficulty seems to exist related to collective collections.

The first formal discussion I was able to identify related to collective collections came in the paper “Public Libraries as Institutional Repositories and Stewards in an Historical and Ethical Context,” in the IFLA Conference Proceedings 2006, where Wallace Koehler wrote: “Digital collections, the collective wisdom would have it, are particularly sensitive to the collapse of companies, economies, countries, or even civilizations. Any one of these may destroy individual or collective collections of information, of virtual cultural heritage.” The idea of cooperation or shared collection information has been around for some time, and have been successfully proven with both WorldCat and the HathiTrust Digital Library. However, today the challenge is two-fold – dealing with the huge collections that exist today and with the ever-increasing  stores of research reports and data yet to come.

There have been many articles written about collective collections – and even columns by leading experts in issues of Against the Grain by Sam Demas (College Librarian Emeritus, Carleton College & Principal, Sam Demas Collaborative Consulting) and later by Bob Kieft  (retired College Librarian, Occidental College) have been following these trends for many years.  

Demas and University of Minnesota University Librarian and Dean of Libraries Wendy Pradt Lougee, both leaders in this emerging area, wrote eight years ago in an article in Library Issues titled “Shaping a National Collective Collection: Will your campus participate?” (Library Issues, 31:6, July 2011).  In the article, the authors point out that “most libraries, including the 80+ high-density storage facilities, are already at or are quickly approaching storage capacity.” Additionally, they point out the “pressure to convert high value central campus collection storage space to user services space.”

Rather than continue the “isolated, institution-by-institution curation of the nation’s library collections is no longer a sufficient strategy.” The authors go on to note that “care is needed and support must be provided to ensure that libraries forced to weed their print collections do not make mistakes and withdraw materials that should be retained…collective action is needed to ensure that a ‘national collection’ of print materials is preserved in service to scholarship…The issue of shared print archiving must be understood in this larger context of collective and cooperative investments.” Since this appeared there have been many position papers, research and data published on this emerging concept.

The issue of shared print archiving, Demas and Lougee continue, “must be understood in this larger context of collective and cooperative investment in infrastructure, preservation and access. Isolated, institution-by-institution curation of the nation’s library collections is no longer a sufficient strategy…However, this need is complicated by the political and logistic situations that exist today for most libraries. “

Copyright and libraries have been a critical issue for years, certainly since the rise of electronic access. However, space is becoming a major issues as well.  Space costs money and as knowledge grows, we move from an environment where content was scarce and libraries filled a role of helping to identify best available sources.  As Demas and Lougee point out, “it will take years to fully realize the goal of a national trust comprising a collective collection for the nation, the necessity of managing down our legacy collections is a pressing reality today.”

The growth in digital copies of many texts through Google Books, Internet Archive and Hathi Trust, among others, has provided a model of how this connected collective might look. Recently the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) and the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) announced a two-year partnership as an experimental effort to “advance accessibility for library electronic resources, with the goal of providing equal access to information for all library users” rather than be limited to libraries in some particular legal consortium structure.  However, the BTAA is looking more directly at print collections in their most recently announced effort.


Damon Jaggars, Vice Provost and Dean of University Libraries at The Ohio State University, is credited for the conversation which began this work. Referencing the ACRL 2019 conference as “’Recasting the Narrative,’ and our University Libraries colleagues will be reporting on research and service initiatives that are indeed changing the story of how a research library can impact the research, educational, and outreach missions of a national public flagship university.”

The Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) and their institutional libraries began their work by commissioning the OCLC to conduct a study called Operationalizing the BIG Collective Collection.  This study focused on the goal to increase both impact and efficiency throughout the fourteen member universities and 15 university libraries through creating “a collection managed collaboratively across a network of libraries—and is focused specifically on the ‘purchased’ or print collection.” This has opened a larger discussion throughout the profession. As University of Minnesota Dean of Libraries Wendy Pradt Lougee notes, “the report provides one potential lens on the problem space and action,” although others may be suggested and explored separately by the BTAA.

Lorcan Dempsey, OCLC project lead, speaking at the 2019 Charleston Conference, admitted that today we “clearly have no answers here, it’s really about choices, what one decides is important.” Collective collections is more than resource sharing. The rationale is defined as: “to extend the reach of materials available use, especially as any individual library is collecting a progressively smaller part of the totality of relevant resources; to make their management more efficient (by sharing costs and responsibilities); to coordinate collections above the individual library level, allowing individual libraries to specialize and contribute within a defined network of defined responsibilities and collectively steward the scholarly and cultural record.”

Currently BTAA members collectively steward “over 1/5th of the nation’s print scholarly record.

Historically there have been many collaborative collecting schemes established between kindred academic libraries that involved carefully determined “strategic areas for cooperation, collaboration, and resource sharing.”

Lorcan Dempsey

The OCLC report “studied the longtail of library holdings when you factor in circulation or use.  One of the key questions under consideration is how we might use collaboration and the web, those items infrequently used and not needed for regular on-site reference-type consultation, could effectively serve broader populations of scholars if resource sharing networks existed to facilitate access and usage,” Dempsey reported at the 2019 Charleston Conference. “This is a major project to examine new opportunities to collaborate at scale that will require the collective will of institutions and their libraries as they explore new models of collection management, growth and cooperation.”

“As research libraries make the transition from being collection-centric to increasingly service-centric organizations, a recurring challenge that remains is determining how institutions meet the needs of their local community,” the report continues. “For many years, institutional leadership recognized the impossibility of collecting everything and the fact that fulfilling local needs often required accepting a level of dependency upon partner institutions. In this environment, institutions constructed cooperative collection development schemes, shared reference models, and brick-and-mortar facilities to house and service lower-use collections.”

At the Charleston Conference, Dempsey stressed the changing needs of the academy which impact libraries directly from issues like instructional design, new skills and expertise. Academic libraries work within these larger institutional goals, working to provide value within their institutions in this time of change. For libraries this ‘reshaping’ has led to an increased focus on consortial arrangements. Dempsey spoke of four major drivers which are making consortial work more essential today.  First, in order to scale capacity, whether it be content negotiation, build shared systems, or in resource sharing.  Second, consortia allow for better, more coordinated scaling of influence, allowing for more concerted advocacy, lobbying and promotion – such as with Open Access and increasing funding needed in higher education.

Dempsey also spoke of the value of consortia in scaling learning and innovation. He stressed the “soft power of consortia” that brings people together around their problems, allowing them to pool their uncertainty, share experiences, confer with each other about their futures, and acquire confidence from working together” which he believes is “a large part of the value and stickiness of consortia.”

“One of the biggest challenges for research libraries continues to be attaining recurring funding for library resources, tools, and services needed,” ARL president, Lorraine Haricombe, vice provost and director of the University of Texas (UT) Libraries at UT Austin reflected in a recent interview. “The Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) recently identified a framework for operationalizing the BTAA’s collective collection to increase both impact and efficiency. This is an intriguing solution and a great move in the right direction.”

In the last part of this series we look deeper at the OCLC report and the BTAA’s plans for collective collections which seeking not only solve the impending collection crisis but helping to redefine the role of libraries in the aggregate in meeting the needs of the future.  Three of the key architects of the plan – OCLC’s Constance Malpas and Consultant Mark Sandler – and BTAA’s Kim Armstrong share their insights on this new initiative and its potential impact for future research services.

Nancy K. Herther is Sociology/Anthropology Librarian at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus.  herther@umn.edu


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