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Deaccession Materials Held in Print and Electronic Form

Research libraries face a revolutionary challenge in transitioning from a world where end users start their research at the library, using mostly print materials, to a predominantly digital world where researchers begin their quests on the Internet. Managing the middle period, when libraries are struggling to transform themselves from print warehouses to collaborative learning, research, and knowledge creation centers, must be done on a network scale in order to be effective.

Effective disposition of print e-journal back files across the network promises the greatest potential benefit in terms of shelf space cleared and money saved. E-journals would also seem to be the category of materials for which the most reliable print and electronic safeguards are already in place or being put into place. Collaborative action is extremely time-critical as libraries continue to build and fill up new storage facilities, most often without any reference to what other institutions are doing.

OCLC Research worked with partner libraries and other institutions interested in the management of print resources to establish best collaborative approaches.


At the RLG Programs Shared Print Collections Summit in November 2007, attendees discussed the desirability of clearing shelf space by divesting our libraries of print back runs of journals available electronically. The group wondered if there was any low-hanging fruit that could be harvested that would provide a significant impact with a modest amount of effort.

Earlier in JSTOR's history, clearing shelf space was mentioned as one of the primary goals of the project. Anecdotal evidence seemed to indicate that this goal had not been achieved on a broad scale by research libraries. Yet the titles covered by the JSTOR collections seemed to offer up the kind of low-hanging fruit discussed by Collections Summit attendees. The titles are available electronically. Back-up copies exist in both electronic form (LOCKSS, PORTICO) and in print form (CRL, CDL and Harvard archives, among others). If conditions were not favorable for discarding such titles now, when would they be favorable?

Shared Print Collections Summit attendees suggested that a working group be formed to explore these questions


In April 2008, attendees of the November 2007 Shared Print Collections Summit were invited to participate in a new Deaccessioning Print Journal Backfiles Working Group (DAP-J), focusing initially on discarding print back runs of JSTOR titles. Surprisingly, few who volunteered indicated a readiness to deaccession any print back files at that time. Their interest lay in determining what specific pressures would compel them to remove items from the shelves, what economic factors would make it worthwhile, and what guarantees would have to be in place before they could deaccession with confidence. Thus much of the group’s work involved documenting the various obstacles to deaccessioning and prioritizing [.pdf] the importance of various key factors in the decision-making process.

In May 2009, the group reported to the RLG Programs Council that libraries of different categories, fulfilling different missions for different audiences, and operating under different funding models, will by necessity have varying approaches to the question of deaccessioning print back files of e-journals. The RLG Programs Council charged the group with creating a decision tree that would help guide research libraries through the best avenues of action for the various scenarios.

The group soon discovered that the current technical and bibliographic infrastructure did not adequately support informed decision-making about deaccessioning print journal backfiles. No firm evidence existed about the number of existing copies of any given journal, nor about which institutions were committed to retaining and preserving their copies. Two paths emerged in the effort to create a deaccessioning decision tree: either library administrators believed that their institutions held no preservation mandate and thus discarded print volumes freely, or they felt that without better evidence about the number of copies needed to support demand across the system and without an effective means of determining which titles and volumes were covered by retention and preservation commitments, no print journal volume could be safely deaccessioned.

This conclusion fueled the desire to help mount a Print Archiving Pilot Project in March 2010, using the current technical and bibliographic infrastructure to note and disclose retention and preservation commitments for print journal backfiles.


Most recent updates: Page content: 2012-07-09


Dennis Massie