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Right-scaling stewardship of the collective print resource

Brian Lavoie and Constance Malpas /

Improving the efficiency and lowering the cost of managing monographic print collections is a priority for many libraries as they seek to rebalance resources and attention across a shifting portfolio of collections and services. Cooperative print strategies, in which local print collections within a group of institutions are managed as a collective resource, have emerged as a potential solution to the difficult challenge of releasing resources from local print management while preserving (or even enhancing) the value of libraries’ long-standing investment in print books. These shared print initiatives are often organized within existing cooperative arrangements, such as academic consortia.

OCLC Research has been actively engaged in exploring shared print. This work is intended to help libraries understand the broader system-wide context in which shared print initiatives are being conceived and launched, as well as the implications for collections at the local level and at scales “above the institution.” The latest report from OCLC Research, Right-scaling Stewardship: A Multi-scale Perspective on Cooperative Print Management, focuses on “right-scaling” cooperative print management in an academic consortial setting.

In partnership with The Ohio State University (OSU) and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), OCLC Research explored cooperative print management from the local and consortial perspectives. The goal was to produce an empirical foundation for thinking about the implications of a consortial-scale cooperative print strategy, including the size and characteristics of the local and consortial print book resources, distinctiveness and redundancy within these collections, and broad patterns of system-wide demand for these materials. The report also considered criteria for differentiating materials that are optimally managed at the local level, and those optimally managed “above the institution” within some form of collective stewardship infrastructure.

The report highlighted three key insights about collective collections managed within a shared print context:

  • Coverage requires cooperation. Cooperative arrangements around collective collections organized at a given scale are generally insufficient to support coverage of collective collections organized at larger scales. As such, the scale of cooperation must grow as the scale of the collective collection grows.
  • Scarcity/uniqueness is relative. The degree of distinctiveness attached to a particular collective collection depends on the frame of reference within which it is placed. Materials that appear scarce at one scale may in fact be plentiful at higher scales; in this sense, the scale of cooperation plays a critical role in shaping the degree of redundancy and distinctive strengths associated with collective collections.
  • Scale adds scope and depth. Local collections are often sufficiently distinctive that aggregation across them creates a rich and diverse long tail within the collective collection. This suggests that building collective collections may be just as much about identifying and leveraging distinctive local and consortial strengths as it is about consolidation and reducing redundancy.

The report includes a detailed consideration of distinctiveness within shared print collections, based on the intensity of collection activity in particular subject areas, and how comprehensiveness of collection coverage is relative to the published literature in those areas. Examination of the data for OSU and CIC indicates that distinct subject-based collecting strengths can be identified at the local and consortial levels, highlighting where individual libraries and consortia have made significant investments. However, the data also show that cooperation is needed to establish reasonable thresholds of coverage in most subject areas: even very large institutional collections provide limited coverage of the complete literature.

Cooperative arrangements around collective collections organized at a given scale are generally insufficient to support coverage of collective collections organized at larger scales. As such, the scale of cooperation must grow as the scale of the collective collection grows.

The report touches briefly on network demand for the CIC collective print book resource. Using data from the OCLC WorldCat Resource Sharing system, the analysis finds that while CIC libraries serve thousands of non-CIC libraries through ILL access to its collective print book collection, CIC libraries are in turn served by thousands of libraries across North America and beyond. So while the CIC collective print book collection is a rich resource relied upon by libraries around the world, CIC members themselves also rely on the print book resource of the rest of the library system. Therefore, local and consortial print retention decisions could have important ripple effects throughout the broader library system.


The system-wide print book landscape: millions of distinct print book publications

The Ohio State University local print book collection and the CIC collective print book collection are embedded in a broader landscape of system-wide print book holdings, which can be viewed at a variety of geographical scales.

To mark the publication of the Right-Scaling Stewardship report, OCLC Research hosted and sponsored a symposium on shared print. The symposium was co-sponsored by OSU, CIC and OhioLINK. The event attracted more than a hundred attendees, and included panel discussions and keynote presentations from thought leaders across the OCLC cooperative, addressing the topic of regionally scaled cooperative print strategies. Videos and slides from the symposium are available online.

Right-scaling Stewardship is organized around the concept of collective collections: i.e., collections scaled “above the institution.” OCLC Research has been conducting work on collective collections for some time, and has accumulated an extensive body of work in this area. Recently, OCLC Research collected some of this work in a single volume, Understanding the Collective Collection. The reports in this volume illustrate the utility of collective collections as a means of exploring a variety of library-related topics, and their role as a key principle for managing library collections in the 21st century.

About the Author

  • Brian Lavoie

    Brian Lavoie

    Since joining OCLC in 1996, Brian Lavoie has worked in a variety of areas, including bibliographic control, analysis of library collections, models and frameworks for library service provision, digital preservation and analysis of the structure and content of the Web. Brian is a co-founder of the award-winning PREMIS preservation metadata working group, and currently serves on the PREMIS Editorial Committee. He also co-chairs the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access.

  • Constance Malpas

    Constance Malpas

    Constance works on issues related to measuring and shaping the outcomes of large-scale print conversion projects, and collaborative efforts to develop definitions and policies in shared print storage.