Collections and the Archive Layer – John MacColl

In this brief paper I want to concentrate on the major component of the collections of research libraries – the books and journals, printed and electronic, that constitute their scholarly research collections. I am not therefore talking about special collections, which are essentially of institutional value, and inevitably partial, rather than an attempt at completeness which is what our general collections traditionally aspire to be. I have also been tempted by the topic to consider the changes in library responses to the challenge of collections across the timespan of my own career – from the mid-1980s onwards – since that timespan has seen the arrival of the internet and the grappling with its consequences which have required libraries to consider questions of their values and principles. This has of course not been a bad thing, but we have not yet reached any shared agreement on the question of core library values and principles, with so much of our practice having been shaken up by the internet and the way it has changed publication and communication behaviours. And we do not yet have an agreed and uniform mode of practice in the research library sector in respect to collections, nor even a way forward towards one.

Research libraries are now a lot less likely to behave like each other than they did back in the 1980s and before. Most of us are sending journals to UKRR – but some at much greater volumes than others. Why is this? And what about our scarcely-used books? Most of us have library stores, but what we put there as opposed to what we discard will vary dramatically. Some of us have dedicated library spaces for researchers, and feel it imperative that they contain books; others have similar facilities and feel it imperative that they don’t contain books. We all have repositories, but there is no benchmark measure that indicates what is a good repository for a research library.

In the pre-web world, the idea of comprehensiveness within the walls of individual research libraries still existed. Research libraries then collected the world’s scholarly literature at a time when it was considerably easier to do so than it is now. Most of that literature was published, either as monographs or journals, and arrived in libraries in the form of book-like objects, where, once processed, it could take its place within miles and miles of shelving. Collection policies, if they existed, could be fairly straightforward. National and deposit libraries collected everything published within the country, and,  in the case of the largest libraries, a lot more besides – eg the major scholarly works of different world literatures. The friendly web clip on the home page of the Library of Congress website says ‘if it’s culturally significant, and useful for research, chances are we have it.’

There was, we acknowledged back then, the ‘problem’ of grey literature, but it was an esoteric problem. Libraries with a particular interest, say, in the reports of an international agency that lay ‘outwith bibliographic control’, as we also said then, might elect to collect  in some of these areas, but this was activity which was very much marginal. It was a form of special collections, without the preciousness. Today we inhabit a world in which bibliogaphic tools have lost the authority that once allowed fugitive material to be classed as ‘grey’, and unpublished material is often as valuable as published, of which it is sometimes an alternative and approved version. Or, to put it another way, the ‘problem’ of grey literature is now endemic.

Within the walls of our research libraries we held a representation of the complete scholarly archive. It was a version of the archive which was essentially good enough for our researchers. And what we didn’t hold, we knew about because we had records for it. But what we have seen, in our career lifetimes, is a loss of that institutional-level control and completeness to which back then we still aspired. Librarians were controllers, and libraries were obviously controlled zones. Look at the way Ross Atkinson of Cornell University Library, one of the major Collections Librarians in American librarianship, talked about this back in the earliest days of the web, in 1996:

The network is not a digital library. We cannot sit back and imagine that what is on the network is in the digital library … A library, digital or otherwise, is always a highly selective subset of available information objects, segregated and favored, to which access is enhanced and to which the attention of client-users is drawn in opposition to objects excluded … it is time – past time – for the academic library community to begin work on the creation and management of a single, virtual, distributed, international digital library, a library that has (conceptual, virtual) boundaries, that defines its service operationally on the basis of the opposition between what is inside and outside those boundaries, and that bases that service on the traditional social ethic that has motivated all library operations in modern times. The academic community must consider, in other words, the creation of a control zone …when an object of information is moved across the boundary from the open zone into the control zone, then that should be done with the understanding that the library community takes certain responsibilities – and makes certain guarantees – for the quality and accessibility of that object indefinitely…That epistemologically and ethically essential function of the library in the world of primarily paper information must be retained and strengthened as society moves increasingly into the online information environment.[1]

Atkinson died 10 years later, shortly after running a major conference at Cornell on the future of research collections (the Janus Conference). By then, though he no longer called it the ‘control zone’, he was still talking – quite presciently in some ways – about the same idea:

Within this category we locate our fifth challenge for collection development—the enormous one of archiving. This challenge must be approached in two parts, print and digital. We will require decades, generations, to move our paper holdings into digital form. In the meantime, the maintenance of large warehouses of print materials will become ever more costly. It is essential, therefore, that research libraries divide among themselves responsibilities for archiving low-use print materials. With respect to digital information, the most serious challenge universities and their research libraries face is how to reappropriate the responsibility for the preservation of key scholarly objects that are now maintained primarily or exclusively on the servers of publishers and other vendors throughout the world. Technical, economic and even political impediments can jeopardize continued access to such objects, despite the best intentions and commitments of publishers and vendors. It is essential therefore that research libraries re-assume full responsibility for archiving such scholarly materials for the long term.[2]

Are we still controllers? Are our libraries controlled zones? It may not feel like it, and we are more likely these days to wince at the idea than we would have even 10-15 years ago, but surely we still are? And don’t our researcher users still expect us to be? Only now we have to do it without the concept of ‘universal bibliographic control’, a major IFLA objective for many years, which has been surrendered in the digital deluge. Hence the need for our collections policies of recent years, laying out what we do and do not collect as institutional libraries, in a way that justifies a retreat from completeness.

Yet our policies reassure our researcher colleagues, that, though institutionally we are necessarily compromised in all sorts of ways – by lack of space, by the way publishers sell and license content to us, by its impossible cost rises, and just by the general sense that collecting is difficult and fragmented in our day – comprehensiveness is still available. It’s just that it is provided in a complementary way by the ‘system’ as a whole, into which we are plugged. Out there – as has been true for decades – is still the BL, and our research library partners which will supply on ILL. But increasingly the layer that supports our own printed and licensed collections is being built up from other sources too. This is being achieved through the mainly uncoordinated efforts of several different organisations, and is composed of content in both print and electronic formats – UKRR, Portico, CLOCKSS, Hathi, the stored print collections of various US regional cooperatives, and major research repositories. On top of this archive layer is a layer of metadata, generated largely by libraries themselves, but also by publishers and other agencies, and husbanded by OCLC and others.

Some of these collaborative efforts represent the fruits of library thinking about preservation, and some the fruits of library thinking about the management of redundancy. And indeed, there is a relationship between redundancy and preservation which is changing as we address this question of the archive. Lorcan Dempsey recently put the status quo ante situation typically concisely: ‘Preservation is a benign artifact of the print publishing model as materials are redundantly available across the library system.’[3] Except that whereas then the redundancy was ‘passive redundancy’ in the environment of ‘benign neglect’ to which Dempsey alludes, with duplicated printed materials insecurely held on open shelves in a large number of research libraries, now it is increasingly ‘active redundancy’, with a smaller number of duplicated items more securely held in stores. And that environment lends itself to collaborative management, as we see with UKRR and the various US collaborative print depositories.

While I worked for OCLC Research I was quite involved with a programme it ran on Research Information Management. One of its major objectives was to understand the world of researchers, from the centre out, with the researcher at the centre. We reached a point at which we could see four of these environments quite clearly: the environment of the researcher’s own domain; the environment of their institution; the assessment environment (represented in the UK mainly by REF); and the funding environment. What was not nearly so clear, though we wanted somehow to see it, was the environment in which the materials of their domain – those they consulted and those they produced  – were maintained and preserved. In other words, the scholarly archive. Back in pre-digital days, that would have been the contents of research libraries – what they held on their shelves. The content of the archive – represented materially by the physical collections – and the means of access to it, were largely identical. Now the archive is not constituted by what is held within the Library’s walls, nor even by those holdings plus the licensed content it provides from the cloud. These collections are no longer thought to constitute a complete, guaranteed and permanent store of scholarly materials proofed against loss. They are not an underpinning layer of the academy. Our institutional libraries are in retreat from their role in providing the scholarly archive.

However, they can of course contribute to the archive layer. Part of the layer takes the shape of UKRR. Part of it is in the shape of Portico and CLOCKSS. Part of it is WorldCat. Part of it is UK PubMedCentral. Part of it is Hathi. Lorcan Dempsey, again, writing recently said: ‘Think of Hathi Trust. A few years ago, it is likely that libraries would individually build infrastructure to manage digitized books and store them locally. It is now accepted that this is better handled in a consolidated way, gaining from economies of scale, but also from being able to put a unified resource on the network.’[4] There will be other parts.

But we don’t yet see this emerging infrastructure as an archive layer, and we are as far from having any governance of it as we were in Ross Atkinson’s day. I think we need, as a research library community, to take one step back from our institutional libraries, and then one further step back from our national perspective, and think more about how to create it and direct it collectively and efficiently. It is of course a diverse patchwork of services. It consists of services provided by cooperatives, national agencies, national libraries, publishers, disciplinary hub services and content archive stores. Part of it is operated by private, but non-profit organisations, all of which claim to operate on behalf of libraries and research. Can the international research library community find a way to influence and shape it? Can it consider where it is  collectively deficient, where it has pieces missing, and how those might be remedied?

This archive layer, or environment, branded with an international research libraries imprimatur, ought to be strong enough to influence assessment requirements, research funders and disciplinary domains themselves. The domain requirement for good archival behaviour should directly impact the researcher, just as the mandates from the bodies handing out grant monies and funding (and ranking) institutions via assessment exercises will impact institutions. In this model, the research library influences the development of the scholarly archive. This archive layer needs both to provide a permanent preservation repository and to have ways of articulating with local, institutional library services. It must hold the content that comes to the library ‘from the outside in’ as well as the stuff that is generated ‘from the inside out’.  It is what I believe Ross Atkinson was calling for as he saw his collections impacted by publishing on the web. It is the developing future of research library collections.

John MacColl, University of  St Andrews. October 2012.

Collections and the Archive Layer – John MacColl PDF

[1] Atkinson, Ross (1996) ‘Library Functions, Scholarly Communication, and the Foundation of the Digital Library: Laying Claim to the Control Zone’, Library Quarterly, v66 n3 p239-65.

[2] Atkinson, Ross (2005) ‘Six Key Challenges for the Future of Collection Development’ (Janus Conference) in e-Commons@Cornell

[3] Dempsey, Lorcan  (2012) ‘Libraries and the Informational Future: Some Notes’ in Information Professionals 2050: Educational Possibilities and Pathways, ed. Gary Marchionini and Barbara B. Moran, 113-26. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[4] Ibid.


Collections Were Us: Vignettes from a postmodernist library? – Frances Boyle

The question

The fundamental question for all research libraries is ‘How does the library sustain and increase its value to its institution?’  To answer this we need to ensure that our evidence is aligned to the institution’s value metric system e.g. fewer cases of plagiarism cited, increased scores in national surveys etc. In short what does a 21st century research library do (by way of collections, services, support, space, expertise etc) which makes a difference to the core mission of the institution?

For most research libraries the collection, in all of its manifestations, is a significant expenditure. So we need to make evident its value to our paymasters.  As we all know size and depth have been metrics which mattered to libraries, and indeed their institutions for some time. However is this something which had more value and resonance when libraries were the exclusive custodians and providers of content?

The context

Imperial College London is a leading research institution but its library does not have the breadth and depth of collections of other research libraries.   There is an established collection policy (Information Resources Management and Access Policy, [1]IRMAP) in place, there are no library committees, our relatively small book collections are primarily teaching collections and there is a well funded subscriptions budget.  So what are our collection dilemmas, I hear colleagues say – then read on gentle reader.

As with all research libraries it is no longer just about ‘our (i.e. the library/institutions) collection’ –  whether it be print, born digital or digitised content;  we are now operating in ‘my (i.e. the users) collection’ space – which comprises all of the above plus preprints, post prints, electronic reading lists, course content, digital objects  etc, to name but a few.

The landscape

Whatever the internal challenges we must also look outwards to the expertise and work in the sector. Some examples are the innovative Lemon Tree[2] work at Huddersfield, to Oakleaf’s[3] ‘Value of Academic Libraries’ work to the JISC funded work on activity data[4]. These and many other examples begin to address the ‘meaningful metric’ conundrum which will have resonance at institutional level by looking at engagement measures such as impact on student learning as contrasted to gate count. This will hopefully breaks us free from the libraryland gazing measures which have haunted many a statistical return e.g. how many items borrowed.

Interpreting our management data more creatively will allow us to review and interpret the findings to shape collections to meet our users’ needs and demonstrate value to the institution’s mission. Whilst this trend addresses one aspect of collection planning it also exacerbates tensions between an agile collection for current users to one that is built and planned for future scholarship.

Any thoughts about collections cannot be done in a vacuum but within the context of the Open Access (OA) maelstrom ranging around us. Other changes in the scholarly communication world e.g. data rich publications, alt-metrics, text mining, network wide shared services etc.  also have consequences for the notion of collections.

What is keeping us awake?

For over a decade the sector has been familiar with, and for many, operating in an environment where connection management, in a thousand different ways, is an integral part of any research library’s collection strategy.  The monograph and e-book market is now following the well worn path which ejournals took 15 years ago.

However whilst we continue to manage and plan collections in a world of discretely owned or licensed objects we are in danger of becoming divorced from our users’ and suppliers’ worlds.  We need to consider how we will build and manage collections in a climate of the ‘tiny deal’[5] following other content industries.

Like many libraries one of our challenges is around our ‘collection sphere’. We are expanding beyond the ‘Collection – Connection’ paradigm into the ‘Collection – Connection – Channel’ triad.

The content landscape is flexing as new players and indeed different species of player are entering the content block. We need only look at companies such as Cengage[6], VitalSource[7] , DeepDyve[8] , and Mendeley plus the offerings from established content suppliers to see the changes afoot.

Who the actual players may be is an interesting debate e.g. Google with its Apps for education, Apple with an iContent model ported to the iPad /Kindle/shiny device of choice market.  Regardless of who they are we need to consider how best to position the research library in the discussions.

The ‘tiny deal’ is not only something aimed to support our students but there are also drivers coming from the research world. The rise of alt-metrics and the debates around journal impact factors and article based measures is another example of how the information nugget is becoming smaller.

The growth of personalisation in the digital world means that vanilla e-content delivery is not enough. Our users routinely not only search, find and select content but also choose how it is delivered and mashed.  The growth of the ‘personal cloud’[9]  will doubtless impact on our users’ expectations of a collection.

One of the things we are doing

As are many colleagues we are moving from the theoretical to the practical to explore and work through some of these issues.  One example is that we are about to start a project looking at e-textbook delivery to a particular cohort of students by providing core content enabled for iPads and our VLEs.

There are many issues to explore – from negotiating with new players, to cost modelling, to changing  user requirements, to purchasing models, to collection building implications, to fundamental questions on the library’s role in content procurement – to name but a few.

We shall be looking at these new delivery channels and how they impact on content delivery and user behaviour. So are we in effect in a world of the fab four, ‘Content – Connection –ChannelContribution’?

And so..

The procurement and seamless delivery of scholarly output may no longer be enough for a research library’s collection strategy. We need to factor in the delivery channel facet which will doubtless have implications for budgets, structures and services.

In this fluffy stream of consciousness there are lots of questions (to which I offer no answers) but the big ticket ones are around the underlying implications of how we do stuff, who we do it with, should we do it all and how do we evidence our value.

In this heady post finch world we need to ensure that the return on our considerable investment in content supports our institution’s key objectives whether they are to enhance the student experience or improve the research outputs.  So what are the universal truths for collections?  Do libraries sideline collections  just as ephemeral procurement exercises or is it that our collections have never had to work harder in all their guises (as resources, as services etc)  to be integral part of  our institutions value bubble?

Frances Boyle

Imperial College London Library

October 2012

What do we do with all the unused books in the modern Research Library? – Sandra Bracegirdle

Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky, My pile of books is a mile high[1]:

 The University of Manchester Library has been predicated on the traditional research library model of building collections, particularly print ones, which is familiar to us across RLUK. However changes in the environment in recent years have seen the “just in case” model challenged by factors such as:

  • Move to electronic provision and the increasing reliance on the virtual library
  • The move from a time of financial plenty to more austere times
  • the concept of the Library as the jewel in the University crown has evolved to become more focused on the rare and unique rather than sheer volume
  • Space as a service – the relationship between stock and service has changed as the pressure on space rises for student group work as well as for quiet study. The ever increasing book stock can leave our libraries looking more like a repository than attractive welcoming, functioning space.

The evidence for use of the physical library and its stock:

Some statistics from the University of Manchester Main Library (excluding special collections or stores):

  • The physical Library continues to be well-used with over 1.5 million visits a year of which c100,000 (7%) are from academic staff. Approximately 64% of Library visits are to borrow or return a book and number of loans has remained constant at 700,000 p.a. for the last 5 years.
  • There are 1.2 million books on the open shelves and of these 528,000 (44%) have not been borrowed in the last 10 years equating to 15,000 linear metres – almost nine miles worth of shelving. We continue to purchase c30,000 print books each year requiring an additional 1,000 metres of space.
  • Using the Copac Collection Management Tool to analyse a significant section of our open shelf collections 30.3% are unique to the Manchester whereas 40.1% are also held in 8 or more COPAC libraries.

Some of the options:

  • Why don’t we move all our unused stock to stores? One of the predominant factors here is cost – the cost to weed 500,000 books to store has been estimated at £350k, and that excludes the cost of storage itself. Yet once in closed-access store usage figures are often low. Are we in danger of becoming a Bibliotaphos – a burier of books – rather than focussing on access to knowledge wherever it is held?
  • Disposal – as can be seen from the figures above, much of our book stock is duplicated across other Copac libraries and this will be a common theme across research libraries. However there are a number of risks associated with uncoordinated disposal, particularly around our academic reputation and potential disposal of important material.

The emotive issues:

Academic staff often have a strong residual attachment to books but is this the triumph of carrier over content? As academic use of physical libraries declines so their view of libraries perhaps becomes preserved in aspic. Two recent articles on the subject in the THE have focused on nostalgia of book use and traditional methods of study – John Sutherland laments the move to digital and away from the traditional library environment[2] but on the other hand Gabriel Egan is forthright in saying “I strongly dislike the fetishism of the book some scholars go in for”[3].

The intellectual issues:

Today’s unused book can become tomorrow’s special collection and so management of a storage/disposal policy is important. It gives confidence that we have the professional judgement as librarians to understand our collections. However there are a number of challenging factors:

  • Considerably more time and intellectual effort can be required to establish if books are identical versions. For example, a book may exist in multiple editions but the metadata used to compare across libraries may not be of equal standard and matching algorithms may not work.  Additionally in some contexts the actual physical copy is important (previous owners, special binding, intrinsic value, etc.).
  • Does not allow for changes in teaching/research which mean that topics could come back into fashion where it will not be possible to obtain or access other copies.
  • Data driven decisions do not take into account books which are just used within the library.
  • Assessment of collections can be labour intensive and therefore expensive work. However the Copac Collection Management Tool has started to show how some of this can be automated, particularly by ensuring preservation of last copies.

 The strength of service

We have the opportunity to link the unpalatable (storage/disposal) with a positive message of improved service. There are growing opportunities in this area which are discussed more fully in other papers including:

  • Digitisation
  • e-books
  • PDA
  • Document supply
  • Direct delivery
  • Collaborative storage/disposal – a UKRR for monographs 

The balancing game

There isn’t a straightforward solution to the issue of unused books and in the end it comes down to balancing of the competing demands that libraries face:

Space versus access

Just in case versus just in time

Real concerns over access and preservation versus book nostalgia

Data driven stock control versus Intellectual collection development/management

Cost of weeding, storage and/or disposal versus many other uses for this money


Sandra Bracegirdle

Head of Collection Management, University of Manchester Library

What do we do with all the unused books in the modern Research Library? – Sandra Bracegirdle PDF

[1] Arnold Lobel

[2] Times Higher Education, 28Jun-4Jul 2012, p.42

[3] Times Higher Education, 14-20 Jun 2012, p.42

“With a little help from my friends” – a community-based future for print collections – Michael Emly

What is the future for our print collections?  Do we concur with the current president of CILIP when he blogs that “the library as a collection of books is a dead end”[1]?  Or lean towards Michael Gorman’s view that our function is “preserving the human record”[2]?

Certainly, things cannot continue as they are.  Every research library is under tremendous pressure to deliver against a wide variety of agendas, budgets are tight and space is constrained.  Print collections continue to grow and, even more importantly, occupy space that we want to use for other purposes. For many titles, digital surrogates are already available, or likely to become so within a short timeframe; and our users find them convenient.  “What is not available online doesn’t exist”[3].  Yet, as libraries serving the needs of the scholarly community, we know this isn’t true.  We cannot ignore our print heritage. Even after digitisation, we value access to the original format and we also recognise the importance of the book as artefact for some scholars.  Our obligations in this respect extend to future generations for, as Gorman asserts, a core function of libraries is the “preservation and onward transmission of our cultural heritage”.

Equally important in considering the long-term future of our collections is the condition of many of our older print materials, especially those published between 1870 and 1970.  Many have such poor quality paper that they are slowly crumbling.  Leeds surveyed its collection of early 20th century French literature and found that 60% of titles published before 1970 were in poor or very poor condition, mainly due to acid paper[4].  As things stand, by the time the current batch of Ph.D. students is close to retirement, all that will remain on the shelf will be a dusty pile of confetti.  The recent RLUK/BL Preservation Learning Project has highlighted these concerns and challenges us to find new ways of managing our collections in order to ensure ongoing access for our users[5].

Even back in 1984, the Ratcliffe report[6] recognised these very same drivers and acknowledged that the long-term needs of the scholarly community could only be met through coordination and collaboration in collection management.  This theme reappears frequently across the years in a series of reports and projects, many with RLUK involvement: Follett[7], Anderson[8], Cofor, CoCoMaN, Fielden[9] and CCM to name but a few.  RSLP proved very influential in pushing forward an agenda of cooperation between research libraries, changing the nature of the discourse and funding a number of projects in its Collaborative Collection Management strand[10].  After all, since it envisioned a National Union Catalogue for the UK and access to those information resources wherever they are held, then it was a logical next step to articulate the idea of a ‘distributed national collection of research resources’[11].  And Fielden laid the foundations for the UKRR which has achieved a remarkable success in actually implementing this idea within the domain of periodicals.

UKRR has certainly given many of us a breathing space – at least where space pressures are concerned. However, successful as UKRR has undoubtedly been, less certain, perhaps, is the commitment of the individual member libraries to actively safeguard those volumes which they hold for the national research community in the long-term.  This open question, as well as the small likelihood now of any short- or medium-term top-down funding for transposing a UKRR-like methodology to monographs, means that any further progress in this area will have to be of a grassroots nature.  Is this a viable option, what mechanisms might be used and would our community be prepared to engage with such an initiative? – these are key questions for RLUK, and ones which the recent Copac Collection Management Tools Project[12] attempted in part to address.

The work of this pilot, which has been widely reported, suggests an affirmative response to all 3 questions.  By building a collection management tool which exploits the data already present in the Copac database, the project offers a model for a low-cost solution that leverages existing infrastructure in order to improve decision-making, while making the underlying supporting processes more cost-effective and efficient (one case study reported an 85% saving in staff time for certain procedures).  The Copac Tools can be used to avoid disposal of items which are not widely held within the UK, or, more positively, the identification of such titles can be used to underpin programmes of conservation or digitisation, avoiding duplication of effort and providing broader benefit to the research community.  Local decisions can be made with awareness of the national context, and those same decisions can be shared with the rest of the community through Copac.  The focus and value of local collections can therefore be sharpened by acknowledging that they form part of a larger whole, and a more selective approach to retention becomes possible without detriment to the principle of long-term access for scholars.

A mechanism therefore exists; but would staff buy into it?  Remarkably, the consultative workshops organised by the project, and which involved representatives from 25 RLUK libraries, demonstrated a remarkable consensus in favour of the initiative.  Because there are such clear advantages for any participating library, the enthusiasm was palpable.  There was widespread concern about the potential loss of last copies, recognition that the needs of researchers can only be met in the long term through “deep resource sharing”[13] between the various libraries serving that community, and strong encouragement for further development of the Copac Tools in order to achieve these goals.  Workshop participants strongly supported the explicit development of a UK National Research Collection, distributed across our many institutions but with a national organisational framework to coordinate and provide direction.  They also looked to RLUK as an organisation to provide leadership in this initiative, a proposal which became one of the key recommendations in the Project final report.

It is rare that individual and community interests coincide, but in this case, they do indeed seem to.  We have over 30 years of reports and projects which provide the intellectual justification and rationale for collaborating far more closely in the management of our collections.  We observe similar forces at work in North American research libraries, again underpinned by a number of detailed reports and studies[14],[15],[16].  With the Copac Tools, we have, for the first time, a mechanism which makes this viable within the UK.  Do we have the wisdom, the foresight and the determination to embark on this radically different path in collection management within our own institutions?  And as RLUK, are we willing to provide leadership in developing a national collaborative framework for safeguarding our print heritage for the research community?  Are we prepared to create a future for our collections with a little help from my friends?  Or do we prefer, in 50 years time, to be the custodians of several shelf-miles of dust?

“With a little help from my friends” – a community-based future for print collections – Michael Emly PDF

[2] Gorman, M. The prince’s dream.  SCONUL Focus, 54 (2012), p.11-16

[3] I first heard this user attitude described by Clifford Lynch, speaking at a CURL workshop in Manchester in the mid 1990s!

[4] LIFE_SHARE Project. Case Study 4 (Leeds): Physical conservation vs. digitisation for preservation ( 2011)

[5] See particularly the papers from the 2010 conference and 2012 workshop organised by the project, available at and

[6] Ratcliffe, F.W. Preservation policies and conservation in British libraries.  British Library (1984) p. 61

[7] Follett, B.Joint funding councils’ libraries review project group: report (the Follett report) HEFCE (1993)

[8] Anderson, M. Joint funding council’s library review report of the group on a national/regional strategy for library provision for researchers (The Anderson report) HEFCE (1996)

[9] CHEMS Consulting.  Optimising storage and access in UK research libraries: a study for CURL and the British Library CURL (2005)

[13] A term coined by the 2002 report Barriers to resource sharing among higher education libraries

[14] Malpas, C.Shared print policy review report OCLC (2009)

[15] Schonfeld, R.System-level strategic planning for collections management and preservation (2010)

[16] Lavoie, B., Malpas, C. and Shipengrover, J.D. Print management at “Mega-scale”. OCLC (2012).

Developing sustainable economies for accessible collections: extending demand driven ebook acquisition to interlending services – Nick Woolley

It’s all about access

No research library can satisfy the information needs of users solely via the local collection. Where the local collection stops the above-campus collection starts, to which libraries have traditionally facilitated access by agreeing and maintaining cooperative and reciprocal access schemes, or by bringing the collection to the user via interlending and document delivery.

This dual approach has served the community well – up to a point, but is now facing an increasingly uphill struggle against a perfect storm of budgetary pressures, growing user expectations and changing needs, increasingly discoverable collections and a more volatile supply chain, all coalescing to rapidly change the landscape in which we operate. More than ever before, the power of the collection is being determined by access rather than ownership.

Utopia on the horizon?

While there are some signs that (open access) utopia may be on the horizon, it would be folly to wholly base our strategy and operations on anticipating future conditions that may never arrive, let alone conditions not of our making. We need to respond to the imperative as it exists today, that is to demonstrate our value and impact at the institutional level upwards, and influence the shape of things to come. To do that, we need to encourage and facilitate even greater use of our collections locally and above-campus, while ensuring the evolving needs of our users are more than adequately met.


Initiatives like the UKRR have gone a long way to address some of these issues, and have also provided exemplars for how we can successfully collaborate to create national-level shared services. The ongoing development of the Copac Collection Management Tools (CCM) is another area with great potential to help us co-ordinate collection activity, and use cases around access will undoubtedly prove a fruitful area for service development.

Two practical steps all research libraries can take now towards delivering accessible above-campus collections are optimising adoption of commercial just in time content services, and reinvigorating collaborative sharing mechanisms and infrastructure. Of course, developing and extending services bears a cost, and consequently economic sustainability must be key throughout.

At King’s College London we have been expanding our just in time offering by adding demand driven titles to our ebook portfolio, and by improving our interlending and document delivery access to the above-campus collection. Additonally, co-ordinating the two has allowed us to develop a sustainable economy as well as enhance access to content.

EBL at King’s

In December 2010, we launched a new demand driven ebook service using the Ebook Library (EBL) platform. From the outset, our strategy was to provide instant and unmediated access at the point of need 24/7 to as wide a scholarly collection as possible. After loading 120,000 records into our catalogue, we discovered the appetite of our users exceeded our budget and we needed a new approach to reach a sustainable economy. Our solution was to control use at the discovery stage by tactically drip-feeding and periodising selected EBL metadata in response to known user requirements based on group-specific satisfaction and feedback, and any possible service impacts such as library space redevelopment. By October 2012, we had made over 700 autopurchases, over 11,000 Short Term Loans (STL), 60% occurring outside office hours, and successfully reached key target groups, e.g. taught graduates. Significantly, over 12,000 unique users have made over 51,000 free browses (usage of less than five minutes), which is perhaps evidence of satisfying a new level of sampling behaviour and resource evaluation demand.

Interlending and Document Delivery (IDD)

In 2011-12, the IDD service at Kings processed over 10,000 local requests for books and articles, and supplied over 1,000 books and articles to other UK institutions. The service has been developed to provide as much as possible electronically, including autopopulation of web forms via the linkresolver, e signatures, and delivery direct to staff and student email accounts.

Similarly, over 60% of the articles supplied to other libraries are from King’s e journals where licences permit printing then scanning. For an area of library services that has experienced consecutive predictions of demise, the service at King’s is thriving and based on user feedback, proving vital to making above-campus collections accessible to support research.


Since November 2011, local interlending requests for books not held at King’s have been satisfied where possible using EBL demand driven titles not loaded in the library catalogue, and which would only otherwise be visible to those users who visit the EBL platform directly. Up to October 2012, nearly 500 requests, approximately 20% of all interlending book requests, have been fulfilled using EBL this way.

Using demand driven ebooks to satisfy interlending requests provides two significant benefits to the development of sustainable economies for an accessible collection. Firstly, it means users are getting the content they need faster and electronically, which for most users represents a better service and a more accessible collection. Secondly, it not only makes the demand driven service work harder to repay library investment, but does so more cost-effectively than alternate means of print supply, before even factoring in savings in staff time.

Sharing better

A significant consideration in providing access via just in time methods is overall cost. Using EBL to satisfy book requests at King’s represents a good local economy comparatively, but like all just in time approaches, costs will ultimately depend on levels of demand. In this regard, just in time services can become victims of their own success, challenging the goal of sustainability despite meeting the need to make the above-campus collection more accessible. To tackle this dilemma across the board we must share better.

Most research libraries in the UK are reliant on the British Library for document supply, a relationship which comes at a price that effectively makes the above-campus collection less accessible to end users than the local, and despite the local e journal licences that permit sharing between institutions free from the constraints of unnecessarily heavy DRM.

However, to date there have been few viable alternatives that meet modern requirements. One example in practice is ArticleReach as used by the University of Liverpool and the University of Glasgow. ArticleReach, from library software vendor Innovative Interfaces(III), allows a global consortia of libraries to cut-out local work at the requesting stage by automating workflows via a consortial database, thereby lowering costs and reducing the time between demand and supply. However, this option is only available to customers of IIE. As part of the RLUK ‘Collaborating to reduce Costs’ working group, Phil Sykes is leading work to explore potential opportunities for research libraries to improve sharing in this area. One as yet unexplored opportunity has recently been presented by the launch of Knowledge Base+ (KB+).


The new KB+ shared service from JISC Collections aims to ‘Do Once and Share’ to address several outstanding needs around Electronic Resource Management (ERM), specifically issues of data quality. Crucially, part of the underlying KB+ strategy is to build services around data, and significantly in the context of sharing, KB+ also represents the first above-campus and non-vendor specific database that could contain all the key information required to enable a new wave of automation for inter-institutional cost-effective document delivery.

If, as the research library community, we are concerned with developing sustainable economies for accessible collections, we need to take action both locally and collectively. Reinvigorating interlending and document delivery with new collaborative initiatives is as vital as local innovation. If we want to reach utopia, surely it should be of our own making?

Nick Woolley

Associate Director – Information Resources, Library Services, King’s College London

October 2012

Developing sustainable economies for accessible collections: extending demand driven ebook acquisition to interlending services – Nick Woolley PDF


Transition Complete? – Daryl Yang

Who can hold an all-embracing collection in the modern world?  If we define ‘who’ as one independent, physical entity – institutions, organisations, or even governments for example – the answer must be a big resounding ‘no one.’  In an era when almost everyone can publish their work and the estimated number of journal articles ever published (up to 2010) is likely to be more than 50 million[1], not many libraries still aspire to hold a comprehensive collection of the world.  Resourceful librarians perhaps have recognised this for a long time and thus created various mechanisms to deal with it – inter-library loans, document supply services, etc.  However, with the financial constraints and shortage of physical space many of us are facing today, more and more libraries are adjusting (and having to do so) their collection policies, including national libraries and those supporting world-leading researchers.

This is certainly not the first time libraries have to reflect and rethink their practices and services.  For example, the role of libraries, and the value of their collections, had been questioned and dismissed when the first radio was invented or when TV was introduced into households.  As technology develops, libraries, which represent the accumulation and advancement of human knowledge, need to find the right balance between the past, the present, and the future in order to meet the demand of the research community.

UK Research Reserve (UKRR) was set up to help libraries transition smoothly from the past into the future, and it enables member libraries to find the right balance within individual institution’s contexts.  On the surface, it aims to release 100km of shelf space during Phase Two (2009-2014), but deep down, it’s about culture change, and the opportunities and potential that space and funding can generate for participating libraries.  UKRR focuses on print journals and has so far processed nearly 66km of material.

In a sense, UKRR’s approach to build up its ‘collection’ may raise a few eyebrows – it’s more deleting than adding; more about access than possess, and more collaborative collections than individual/special ones.  This is how we view collection at UKRR: ‘the collective holdings of all UKRR members are considered the pool of UKRR holdings, with the duplicated offered holdings removed to leave a core collection distributed across the membership.’[2]  So far, it works well – member libraries are thus able to repurpose newly-available space in a wide range of ways in order to provide better and more efficient services to their users.  This is a model of collaboration, coordination, but above all, it is a model of trust.  We break down institutional boundaries and work together to achieve common goals.  The funding from HEFCE acts as a great catalyst and helps smooth edges and overcome difficulties.  Changes are happening.

But the environment has also changed significantly since HEFCE awarded UKRR Phase Two funding in 2008.  It’s unlikely that the sector will receive further funding from HEFCE to continue this collaborative and coordinated model which specifically deals with print journals, so what next?  Should we give up the momentum that has been built up over the past 6 years?  Have we already got rid of what we can and it’s time to hang up the de-duplication hat?

According to surveys we have conducted, we believe there are still more journals that need to be processed and de-duplicated.  In fact, weeding is a continuous process for many libraries and hence there are always materials that require UKRR’s services.  UKRR also held an event to look at monographs in 2011.  Monographs are not in-scope material for UKRR to process, but there is no doubt the sector needs a similar approach to deal with them too.

Print collections, serials and monographs, are expensive to keep and can sometimes be difficult to justify the resources required to maintain them.  On the other hand, there are high levels of risks if we simply bin them.  UKRR was thus born and from the recent evaluation on the programme, we have learned that UKRR, a centrally managed and coordinated system, is well regarded by many.  Its shared services model has contributed significantly to member libraries and helped them make informed decisions regarding print journals.  It seems the sector regards a collaborative and coordinated approach, such as UKRR, the best and feasible way to deal with print collections.

UKRR was set up to deal with specific issues (i.e. de-duplicating print journals), but it has become a platform where collection management professionals share experience and best practices.  For example, key issues regarding digital resources have been identified – the quality and completeness of digital backfiles, gaps in digital resources, permanent access to electronic journals, to name a few[3].  As we transition further from print to e-resource (and disposing of print materials along the way), it is important that we evaluate the quality of the digital world and ensure that it is good enough to meet the needs of current and future researchers.

Have we completed the transition from print to E?  My answer is ‘no’ based on my time with UKRR.  A collaborative platform like UKRR provides the sector an efficient and effective way to manage print collections; at the same time, it has the potential to play a powerful role to voice the sector’s concerns regarding digital collections.  The challenge is: when there is no more top-down funding, like so many challenges the sector has faced throughout the years, what shall we (and can we) do as a community this time?

Transition Complete? – Daryl Yang PDF

     [1] ‘How many journal articles have been published (ever)?’, O’Really?, 15 July 2010, [accessed 02 October 2012]

     [2] ‘The UK Research Reserve Collection Principles and Policy’, UK Research Reserve, August 2010, [accessed 05 October 2012]

     [3] Not all journals are being digitalised cover to cover and therefore what’s available in print may not be available in electronic format.

Pixels, pointers, and pieces: the future of collections – Richard Ovenden

The materials that are most heavily used by research libraries are no longer part of our collections. They are resources acquired through licenses and have arrangements for access that are governed through metadata and authentication. Few libraries that hold these licenses or subscriptions take copies of the data which are at the core of these resources. The data and metadata which enable the access that these resources depend on is created, updated, and managed by the publishers (be they commercial organizations, learned societies, institutions, or subject communities) that supply them. We should not be thinking of these materials as collections, but more in the category of ILL or document supply. Our ‘management’ or curation of these ‘collections’ has been reduced to invoicing, bulk-upload of metadata, and management of licenses. This activity will undoubtedly become more automated and delivered by higher and higher levels of aggregation and negotiation in the future.

The sense that library collections imply degrees of responsibility for stewardship or curation (acquisition, preservation, security, management, access) is one which is finally gaining traction in the digital era. There are groups of resources which are created by research institutions and for which the on-going responsibilities for stewardship and creation have been devolved to (or at least have ended up with) the library. These include research data, research outputs of all kinds (from pre-prints to dissertations and theses) as well as digitized resources (images, text, even finding aids). We are moving fast from the era of creation to the era of curation of these kinds of resources as we increase the scale, volume, and speed of creation, and as the expectation of funders increasingly requires careful consideration over the issues of management, preservation, sustainability and access.

We have performed these functions well in the print era (albeit in ‘regimes of benign neglect’ to quote Cliff Lynch), but as print becomes a smaller and smaller part of the regular intake of libraries, and occupies a smaller and smaller part of our budgets, our emphasis will (and in many institutions already is) shifting to a focus on the stewardship and creation of materials which are distinguished by the characteristic of uniqueness: these materials may be unique because they have emerged from the research activities of individuals or research groups, they may be unique because they are digital renderings of unique physical materials, or they may be unique because they are the physical materials themselves.: in particular the special collections of research libraries (Rare books, manuscripts, archives, photographs, etc). These materials often require greater efforts in their curation than the commonly held print materials that are now being replaced with digital.

Increasingly the category of special collections is becoming digital or ‘born-digital’. It can include email, spreadsheets, word-processed materials, digital images, sound, and moving images. The curatorial approach requires not only highly specialized technical knowledge (file formats, forensic analysis), but also knowledge and application of IPR and data protection. The curatorial infrastructure for managing these collections is similar to the ‘repository’ infrastructure used for research outputs etc, but this material is different in that it will often be created from outside of research institutions and often without thought for future preservation and use. The research value of personal or organizational digital collections of this type is often very significant, but the challenges of dealing with it on any scale and with any surety are equally un-trivial.

One element of this aspect of collecting is material found on the open web. Although there is significant activity in web archiving beyond the Internet Archive there are a number of domain archiving activities) nevertheless significant areas of the web lack any formal archiving. Web sites in some parts of the world can appear and disappear rapidly, and oppressive regimes and geo-political conflict can often place websites and blogs as being at risk from cyber-attack (both from regimes and terrorists). We will be increasingly interested in developing collections which might be termed the ‘ephemera’ of the web.

All of these activities imply a degree of infrastructure which enables our libraries to deal with these collections: technical digital infrastructures, policy frameworks, staff skills and competencies, in addition to the expertise in subject and content which our libraries have traditionally excelled in.

Ephemera continues to be created in the print world. In some respects the printed output of the 20th century  – and even the 21st century – and this now can be considered to be under threat. The material culture of print was an exceptionally important part of the history and culture of the 20th century but aspects of it are at risk as we digitize and rationalize holdings of print (for very sensible and practical reasons). The material culture of, say, the 16th century has been saved and stewarded over centuries thanks to an appreciation of the underpinning materiality of books and manuscripts and due to the multiplicity of holdings. We are already losing much material that illuminates the 20th century because of the fragility of our understanding and appreciation of the material culture of print in the 20th century – provenance, advertising, ephemera, use and re-use of materials – this evidence is being lost as we dispose of copies and rely on digital archives to provide access.

In conclusion, or collections will become increasingly focused on unique assets, both traditional and digital. We need to adjust our organizational regimes to focus on the curation and stewardship of these unique resources, sharing and collaborating more to do so as the complexities and costs are higher than they were before.

Pixels, pointers, and pieces: the future of collections – Richard Ovenden PDF