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Collective Collections – The Ultimate Share?

by Susan Fingerman

Abstract: Sharing expertise and resources is endemic to the library community. Indeed, even among corporate competitors, there is a fair amount of cooperation as long as it doesn’t cross any boundaries of confidentiality or proprietary knowledge! I am no exception to those who share. I have also been around long enough to recognize that print collections became an albatross to many organizations a long time ago. My career has included the opening and closing of library facilities. But somehow totally shared (facilitated or collective)collections, the latest iteration of resource sharing, gives me pause. Is this a beneficial development, and if so who are the winners and who are the losers?

Over my 30+ year career as an information professional – I still like saying librarian – I have obviously seen and gone through many changes and made many adjustments to both my role and the role of a library in an organization.

My most vivid and immediate experiences have been in corporate information centers (libraries) but I have also worked as an independent with my own consulting business, in a social-science non-profit, and in an online academic institution. Particularly in the corporate sector, I have been riding a tsunami of openings-closings, changes in information platforms and the abilities of individuals to access information. My main “soapbox” issue has been to create and maintain awareness of the existence and value of an information operation to an organization’s mission and/or bottom line.

My main goal as a professional has been to provide service, access and choice to those that need information. So currently I am interested in the latest wave of collective or facilitated collection activity. I thought this column would help me figure out if these efforts disenfranchise library users, or create more efficient and effective library services. Do collective collections “just” save parent organizations money, or are they really just another phase of library evolution? And how are they being implemented?

The Why

The role of OCLC in enabling collective collections particularly interests me. OCLC was created in 1967 as the Ohio College Library Center to provide shared, computerized, cataloging services to Ohio libraries. Through the years the mission has expanded, and libraries have been sharing some information about their collections through cooperative cataloging and then through the interlibrary loan system and then through the Worldcat international catalog, Google books, etc. Now OCLC and others are turning their attention to collective collections, libraries getting together to decide who will keep print copies and where, how many, which editions will be kept, and more.

Lorcan Dempsey, OCLC Vice President and Chief Strategist, always has something cogent and instructive to say on many issues. His thoughts on “facilitated collections” hit the usual nail on the head in relation to my own conundrum.

In “Library collections in the life of the user: two directions,” Dempsey describes the prior logic of owning print collections locally as a “just in case” proposition. He notes the size of a collection as “strongly associated with the goodness” of a library collection. It was (italics mine) also associated with the potential of meeting user requirements, something that forms the basis of my tentative objection to the facilitated/collective arrangement. He goes on to write, “The library collection was an owned collection. This ‘localness’ was an important shaping influence on our collections and still influences our thinking about them. And, certainly, the size of a locally owned collection is still important in popular perceptions of ‘goodness’.” (Dempsey, 2016)

But now “... ‘localness’ is no longer a determining influence – effective usage no longer requires materials to be distributed to multiple locations close to prospective users. And, in fact, the network encourages the opposite trend—towards network level concentration and specialization.” (Ibid.)
In his January 31, 2016 Weblog posting titled The Facilitated Collection ( Dempsey again describes the network paradigm of research or information seeking. He mentions LibGuides or other resource guides as being an “interesting signal of the facilitated collection as they are organized around user interests rather than around local collections.” Indeed, Dempsey predicts that perhaps the majority of library collections will be shared and managed jointly within the next ten years.(Dempsey, weblog, 2016) That one hit home, as I have been the author of many LibGuides designed to do just that, highlight and lead the users to non-print materials in our network or in the open web.! The guides provide both discovery and access, two tenets of any good library service.

The library as a network, of course, also relates to all the online resources we provide in addition to print, but the sharing of those online resources is another whole can of worms that cannot be addressed in this column.

The How

Another critical aspect of this topic is the actual sharing arrangements. Dempsey does not shy away from the difficulties and complications of these arrangements. In the above-mentioned weblog, he writes, “In fact, the facilitated collection involves different levels of custodial relationship with its components, which can complicate stewardship arrangements...Stewardship of shared collections require conscious coordination of institutional actions, interests and policies.” He is including online resources in those statements, but there are just as many complications involved in print.

For this aspect, the “Curating Collective Collections” columns in Against the Grain were most instructive. The complexity of a comprehensive and meaningful memorandum of understanding (MOU) between institutions is a bit mindboggling. Demas analyzed 13 shared print program MOUs in detail, and in his final column in June 2014, he discusses the taxonomy of membership types and scope of shared collections. He discusses the list of policies and guidelines that need harmonization, as follows: goals, level of detail, retention commitments, storage models, collection management, validation of exact copy and ownership, minimum number of titles retained, bibliographic control/disclosure, business models and costs, and level of formality/legality. I’m not sure how many of these have been harmonized yet. He also predicts the growth of a national network that will develop “organically” through all these separate efforts. I imagine the OCLC involvement will help expedite that network.

The methodology used to evaluate collections for collectivization is also a whole other topic. To mention a few options, there is the OCLC Sustainable Collection Services product, and the Shared Print Analysis Tool offered by the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries.
Some specific collective collections that Demas mentions in his 2013 column as reaching maturity include the Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST), the Michigan Shared Print Initiative (Mi-SPI). the U.K. Research Reserve (UKRR), and of course the HathiTrust. Large systems, such as the University System of Maryland & Affiliated Institutions (USMAI) Library Consortium and the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC), are using the OCLC services. But smaller libraries and systems, such as the Eastern Academic Scholars Trust (, are also jumping on this bandwagon.

My reference list will give you a much broader look at the collective collection movement than I am able to just touch upon in this column.

I’m still investigating the opinions of the users who browse the shelves physically looking for that serendipitous discovery, or who continually need to request needed print materials from another source. I have not heard their voice in any of the literature I reviewed, but imagine there will be or has been something out there, as the collective collection movement spreads a wider net. And I’m still not sure who are, or if there are, winners and losers using collective collections!


Demas, Sam (2014) "Curating Collective Collections: Policies For Shared Print Programs: Questions to Address in Writing a Memorandum of Understanding," Against the Grain: Vol. 26: Iss. 1, Article 38.

Demas, Sam (2014) "Curating Collective Collections: Emerging Shared Print Policy Choices as Reflected in MOUs," Against the Grain: Vol. 26: Iss. 2, Article 52.

Demas, Sam (2014) "Curating Collective Collections: Shared print MOU's: Thoughts on Future Coordination," Against the Grain: Vol.26: Iss. 3, Article 44.

Dempsey, Lorcan. 2013. The Emergence of the Collective Collection: Analyzing Aggregate Print Library Holdings
Dempsey, Lorcan., (2016). “Library collections in the life of the user: two directions.” LIBER Quarterly. 26(4), pp.338–359. DOI:

Dempsey, Lorcan. Weblog on Libraries, Services and Networks. “Facilitated Collections.”
Kieft, Bob (2014) “Curating Collective Collections: What Exactly Are We Retaining When We Retain That Book?,” Against the Grain: Vol 26: Iss 5, Article 53.

Lugg, Rick. “Benchmarking print book collections: a beginningNEXT OCLC Blog, 10 May 2016

Machovec, George (2016) "Shared Print Analysis Tool at the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries," Collaborative Librarianship: Vol. 8: Iss. 1, Article 7.
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Copyright 2018 by Susan Fingerman.

About the author:
Susan Fingerman is mostly retired and travelling alot, but is keeping an eye on the current library environment. Susan can be reached at