The remarkable acceleration of shared print


Ten years ago, on February 22, 2008, fresh from a consulting project at a very crowded Davidson College Library, I drafted a first description of a “selective withdrawal system” for libraries. Back then I envisioned “an automated decision-support tool that assists libraries in weeding their print book collections intelligently and efficiently” and also noted that “deselection must be pursued with care, to assure that future scholars will have access to the scholarly and cultural record.”

If you had told me then that within ten short years, shared print programs would encompass more than 40 million long-term monograph retention commitments, I’d have doubted your sanity. There’s no way anyone could have predicted how quickly these programs would grow.

We’ve come a long way in a short time

In February 2011, my colleagues Ruth Fischer, Andy Breeding, Eric Redman, and I formed Sustainable Collection Services (SCS) to pursue a variation on this idea. By 2013 at ALA Midwinter, SCS introduced GreenGlass, an application to help libraries manage and share print monograph collections. In January 2015, SCS joined OCLC. GreenGlass already relied heavily on WorldCat holdings data and, as more libraries adopted it, both OCLC and SCS saw that more direct access to that data could help GreenGlass grow—and would reaffirm the centrality of WorldCat holdings in print management.

This has proved resoundingly true. As of February 2018, 12 shared print groups have used it to reach 23 million long-term monograph retention commitments. When combined with other efforts in the community, notably HathiTrust and FLARE, we are now aware of long-term retention commitments on more than 40 million monograph holdings. These holdings represent somewhere between 8–10 million unique titles. Given that shared print monograph programs were barely underway five years ago, that is remarkable progress.


And the work continues, with a second phase of HathiTrust underway, a second cohort of SCELC libraries, discussions among many state and regional groups, and other such efforts in progress among Ivy Plus libraries, ReCAP, and other less formal arrangements as well.

The future of shared print … and your library

OCLC has also continued to invest in GreenGlass. Dozens of enhancements have been made to the application, but also to the vital data preparation processes that make GreenGlass work so well. We have developed group functionality that allows shared print projects to model large-scale retention scenarios in real time.

And results are beginning to show. In June 2017, I reported on SCS progress to date in securing the collective collection. In the intervening eight months, we’ve seen additional commitments from USMAI and the second cohort of EAST. HathiTrust has also identified more than 16 million commitments in the first phase of its shared print project.

The key task now is to surface these commitments in WorldCat. Information on shared print holdings is dispersed, and a central registry will enable the community to see the full picture and help each library or group focus its contributions accordingly. OCLC’s shared print registration service—to be included as part of a library’s cataloging subscription—is currently in test with pilot groups and will be ready for full deployment soon. Once the registry is populated with the 40+ million commitments that have already been made, we will begin to adapt GreenGlass to support deeper analysis of the collective monographs collection.

We foresee many interesting opportunities for network-level analysis of monographs. We can:

  • identify unique contributions, scarcely held items, and candidates for digitization;
  • highlight areas of both deep and shallow overlap, enabling libraries to refine their commitments over time;
  • look at geographic dispersion of commitments, and potentially the level of security around them (e.g., which commitments are held in climate-controlled, access-controlled storage facilities); and
  • identify the full scope of unique print book manifestations in WorldCat, and benchmark the community’s progress in securing all of those manifestations.

Ten years ago, we set out to solve one specific problem as well as we could, and that focus has enabled us to create an effective, purpose-built solution. Now we can use this tool to envision opportunities for network-level collection development that will enable each library to see the shared print landscape and to answer two questions:

  • How can my library contribute?
  • How can my library benefit?

Every library’s answer will be different. But the cooperative benefit to all libraries—and our users—as we work together to preserve and share the scholarly and cultural record will be incalculable.