v.22 #5 Managing Our Collections in a Digital Age

by | Nov 30, 2010 | 0 comments

by Roger C. Schonfeld (Manager of Research, Ithaka S+R; Phone: 212-500-2338) roger.schonfeld@ithaka.org

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This issue focuses on print collections management in a digital age. While numerous libraries are rethinking print collections as a result of their digital availability, actions at individual libraries aggregate into broad questions about the future need for access to print materials. Even as libraries seek additional flexibility in collections management, this critical concern about access and preservation is faced by all types of libraries, from those that traditionally maintained working collections to those that have made significant investments in preservation.

My objective for this issue is to highlight some key initiatives that collectively provide a broad overview of community directions for print collections management and preservation. Each of the initiatives reviewed is grappling with complexity in an environment of reduced resources for libraries and growing pressure on their print collections in particular. One key common theme is the importance of collaborating across institutions to build sustainable trust networks to ensure that preservation and access to materials are not threatened during this format transition.

Two pieces provide overviews of projects being developed to collectively manage journal collections. Emily Stambaugh of the University of California describes WEST, which is constructing a trust model and sustainability plan across multiple consortia and individual libraries to ensure that print materials are accessible and preserved while vastly increasing flexibility at the local level. Frances Boyle, project manager of the UK Research Reserve, describes this national-level initiative to build a shared research infrastructure for higher education, including assured preservation and access, in partnership with the British Library. The vast differences between the approaches being spearheaded by each, in pursuit of fundamentally the same objective, suggests that choices about the design of trust networks are often contingent on time and place.

But journals are by no means the only content type having their print versions called into question, and these issues face small college libraries and large research institutions alike. Bob Kieft, library director at Occidental College, describes innovative approaches to the development and management of monograph collections, including (at least) one year of patron-driven acquisitions as well as a strategic drawdown in holdings in collaboration with neighbors. Judy Russell, dean of libraries at the University of Florida and former Superintendent of Documents, reviews some of the challenges faced by Regional Federal Depository Libraries as well as opportunities for collaboration that have been identified by ASERL member institutions. It is noteworthy that both are looking to regional collaborative trust networks for collections management and preservation.

Finally, my colleague Ross Housewright of Ithaka S+R describes the challenges that some libraries face in strategic planning around print collections given the complexities of campus stakeholder preferences. Sensitivity to user needs and ability to deploy strong rationales for decision-making can help leaders navigate difficult choices.

This Against the Grain issue focuses on managing print collections, but the truth is that each of the profiled initiatives is fundamentally about library strategy and services. In an environment of constrained resources, libraries strive to serve user needs with new formats and innovative support roles, find mission alignment with their parent organizations / funding bodies, and avoid deviating from the vital shared value of preservation. Finding the right balance for print collections is imperative to planning a strategy for the library to meet user needs in a changing environment.

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