ATG Article of the Week: What’s a Collection Anyway?

by | Jun 10, 2019 | 0 comments

“What’s a Collection Anyway? is a new issue brief on library collections from Ithaka S+R’s Oya Rieger.


“Introduction: Collections at the Heart of Academic Libraries

In 1953, Kenneth J. Braugh stated that the mission of Harvard’s library was to collect and preserve everything.[1] Those days are long gone. For the last couple of decades, given the rapid expansion of scholarly content sources and types, even the best-funded research libraries have become cognizant that a comprehensive collection is an unattainable vision.[2] Nevertheless, many research library mission statements continue to give prominence to their role in making the world’s knowledge accessible to a wide range of user groups by acquiring, organizing, preserving, and delivering resources and assisting users in their effective use. Beyond the libraries at large research-intensive institutions, the mission statements of academic libraries of all sizes and budgets also often emphasize their role in collecting and making accessible information in a variety of formats in anticipation of users’ current and future needs.[3] In the face of pressure to offer additional services aligned with current and emergent research and teaching goals, it is becoming harder and harder to increase funding for collections. According to a 2018 report, almost two-thirds of academic libraries report flat budgets that fund numerous activities beyond the collection, including new services in web development, repositories, research data services, learning systems, digital humanities, research workflow support, open access, and digital media production.[4]

Historically, collections have been pivotal in defining how libraries organize their services. During the last two decades, advances in information and communication technologies coupled with new research, pedagogical, publishing, and financial patterns have ushered in significant changes to the nature of library collections, services, and facilities. The scholarly record is becoming much more heterogeneous, variable, dynamic, and distributed.[5] Nonetheless, regardless of libraries’ rebranding efforts, academic libraries continue to be closely associated with their collections. But in an increasingly networked, distributed, and licensed environment, how do we define the library collection? What do collections imply? What is involved in building a collection? The purpose of this brief is to survey the evolving nature of collections and to highlight some of the factors contributing to this change and their impact on the notion of collections…”

Click here to read the rest of Ms. Rieger’s brief.

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