Creating the Conspectus

This activity is now closed. The information on this page is provided for historical purposes only.

At the beginning of the 1980s RLG and its members pioneered the Conspectus concept and infrastructure for research library collections. The RLG Conspectus was an inventory of research libraries' existing collection strengths and current collecting intensity. It was created through surveys using worksheets based on the Library of Congress's classification scheme.

The RLG Conspectus became a widely recognized collection assessment tool that has found its way around the world. It provided a common language with which to describe collections and levels of collecting—a language lacking until RLG members created it. Following the incubation and establishment of this tool, we shifted our focus in the late 1990s from coordinated collections assessment to projects aimed at achieving greater collections access.

  • See also: A short history of Conspectus developments by Dr. Mary C. Bushing, delivered at CASLIN 2001, the 8th international seminar of the Czech and Slovak Library Information Network.
  • More recent developments in collections analysis might be found through a search of, which formerly offered Conspectus software through its Lacey, Washington center. 


The RLG Conspectus Online, introduced in 1982, was an RLG file searchable through our RLIN® system interface. It was built through extensive, coordinated work by the university and college libraries that used it to assess their collections and collecting practices. For close to a decade, the RLG Collection Management and Development Program Committee used the file as a supporting tool in collective efforts to improve research collection management, development, and resource sharing.

Related tools developed over this time by RLG-member subject and area specialists included verification studies, supplemental subject-specific guidelines, and worksheets in 22 subject areas.

The RLG Conspectus became a recognized and widely used collection assessment tool. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) adopted it for ARL's North American Collections Inventory Project and the National Library of Canada adopted it for use in that country. It has been taken up in the United Kingdom, other European countries, and Australia. Groups of libraries collecting at less than research intensity have adapted it for state or regional resource sharing, fund allocations, space allocation and storage projects, accreditation, grant proposals, and preservation priorities.

In the early 1990s WLN (then the Western Library Network) developed PC-based software that enables libraries to create and/or maintain a local collection assessment database for one or more libraries. (OCLC/WLN continued to maintain and enhance conspectus services into the 2000s.)

Meanwhile, RLG began shifting focus from coordinated collections assessment to ways of achieving greater collections access through the SHARES partnership and by bringing new information resources online. In a few years, updates to the RLG Conspectus Online—as a repository for up-to-date institutional data and as a searching target—were no longer frequent enough to make this file sufficiently timely and useful. At the end of August 1997 we removed it from the set of centralized RLG databases.