Collection security and surplus copies

Rick /

In his prescient 1992 book Redesigning Library Services: A Manifesto, Michael Buckland describes two primary functions served by local print collections. These are:

  • Preservation: assuring the integrity and completeness of the published record
  • Dispensing: getting content into the hands of users

Much has changed since 1992, but it seems clear that we need to continue to honor both of these imperatives, even as we begin to draw down print collections. As we work to free space for users and to reduce the cost of managing low-use monographs, we must simultaneously assure that no content is put at risk and assure that it is available to users when wanted.

To us at SCS, this suggests that low-use holdings need to be divided into three categories:

  • Archive Copies: in addition to secure, full-text digital surrogates in HathiTrust, some number of print copies must be retained and maintained, as a failsafe for technological disaster, to correct errors in digitization, and as original artifacts.
  • Service Copies: Once archiving requirements have been satisfied, additional copies are needed to lend or scan on behalf of users. The number of copies required here may vary, depending on historical use, availability as eBooks or on the used book market, and other factors.

The first priority must be to assure retention (within a group or region) of enough copies to satisfy these requirements. With experience and consistent use data and holdings information, these categories will become better managed over time. But there will always be a need for print copies to assure that these responsibilities to the scholarly record and users are met.

But our work on 50+ projects has repeatedly demonstrated that there are more copies than needed of the same material out there. Once archiving and service requirements have been satisfied, the next step is to determine how many more holdings or copies remain, and to gauge whether it is necessary to retain all of them. These constitute our third category:

  • Surplus Copies: This is the area where withdrawal, storage, and sharing begin to make sense, especially for titles that have not circulated in 20 or more years. Most libraries have a surprising amount of material in this category. At least some of these volumes can be safely removed, provided that attention is paid to holdings in the state/province, region, or country, and to the presence of a secure digital version in HathiTrust or another certified repository.

Those of us working with monographs can learn a great deal from the work done with JSTOR journal content. JSTOR content is securely archived in Portico, a TRAC-certified digital repository. Based on work commissioned by Ithaka Strategy + Research, the community has committed to maintaining two page-verified, dark archive print copies of all JSTOR journals, one at Berkeley and one at Harvard. A number of consortia have also committed to retaining runs of JSTOR backfiles, adding an informal light print archive layer to content security. As a result, many libraries have been enabled to remove JSTOR print volumes from their shelves, without risk to content and without degrading service to users.

Monographs are different, but much of that strategy applies. HathiTrust, also TRAC-certified, provides a secure digital archive for 5.8 million books. While it may be impractical to create a page-verified dark print archive for all those books, we know from Constance Malpas' Cloud-Sourcing Research Collections that "most Hathi content is held in trusted print repositories with preservation and access services." We also know that 24% of those are held by more than 100 libraries. Another 27% are held by 25-99 libraries.

Ultimately, academic libraries have millions of titles and millions of copies that exist in secure digital form, are widely held in print, and for which there is little or no demand. At least some of those are surplus copies, which can be removed with no risk to users or to the scholarly record. There is clearly significant room to move here, while continuing to support both the preservation and dispensing functions on which our stakeholders depend.