Shared Print Programs – new ways libraries are ensuring long-term scholarly access to print books

By Scott Warren, Associate Dean for Research Excellence

How do we ensure that a sufficient number of copies of historic books continue to be held in academic libraries to enable use when needed? When the Libraries’ 2019 Annual Report comes out later this fall, you may notice a new statistic – number of volumes under shared print retention – and wonder what it means. That seemingly simple figure encapsulates a complex multi-year effort well underway by academic libraries large and small, including the Syracuse University Libraries, to ensure the long-term availability of sufficient copies of the millions of print books held by academic libraries. More concretely, that number in our Annual Report, 399,245, is the count of the Libraries’ circulating print volumes committed for retention under the HathiTrust (HT) Shared Print Program and the EAST (Eastern Academic Scholars’ Trust) Shared Print Program.

Both programs represent sustainable, large-scale solutions to a challenging issue – new collections continue to grow while libraries remain finite in terms of space and resources to manage historic collections. Roughly a decade ago concerted conversations began regarding ways libraries could better share the load and create reliable data about what books other institutions were committed to keeping long-term (that information was not available in OCLC’s WorldCat database, which merely noted a library owned a title, but made no mention of what it intended to do with it). Over time, these conversations gelled into several multi-institution shared print programs, distributed throughout North America, with either a regional or a topical focus.

In the spring 2018 issue of Connections, I wrote about our participation in the HathiTrust Shared Print Program, which seeks to ensure retention of adequate print copies of the monograph volumes (books, as opposed to serials or journals) that underlay the HathiTrust digital corpus. The Libraries joined that effort alongside over forty other libraries. The result was 16 million volumes (4.8 million individual titles) allocated among the participating libraries, with 25-year retention commitments recorded in each local catalog. Since then, the HathiTrust program has grown to almost 80 libraries and added another 1.5 million items (750,000 individual titles).

HathiTrust isn’t the only shared print program in which the Libraries participate. Soon afterwards, the Libraries also signed on to EAST. EAST’s mission differs in that it is not trying to duplicate a digital corpus. Rather, EAST, which now comprises 60 libraries spread from Maine to Florida, is “focused on retaining unique, scarcely held and frequently used scholarly monographs and serials in support of scholarship, research and teaching” from among its members’ collections. Other research libraries in EAST include the University of Rochester, New York University, Boston College, Boston University, Florida State University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Pittsburgh.

Two intensive, months-long analyses of collections data submitted by members resulted in more than 9 million circulating books committed to retention. The Memorandum of Understanding that participating libraries sign also guarantees interlibrary loan for these books. As I write, the Libraries are taking part in a new round of analysis, slated to run throughout 2019. From that will emerge commitments among EAST members for about 29,000 historic print journals.

Because of these multi-year projects, we now know who has committed to keeping what for extended periods, data previously unavailable. Such shared allocation helps distribute responsibility in a markedly more sustainable fashion since no library can possibly add or retain everything its patron population may ever need. This helps each academic library use its finite resources more efficiently and effectively. These commitment decisions do not mean that we are planning to deaccession everything else. Rather, they signal libraries planning in the very careful deliberate manner that we always have as stewards of scholarship, collectively hedging our bets, to the benefit of all. Our long-term goal is to ensure access to the print scholarly record in toto and libraries have come to realize that the only sustainable way to do so means each library not trying to own everything locally, while also guaranteeing sufficient copies do remain in the broader library collective.

Another way to think about this long-term, large-scale effort is that academic libraries are continuing to shift their perspective on print collections from the twentieth century model of largely isolated siloes (with reputation based primarily on size) towards one where participating libraries are more than ever nodes on a rich, active network. That network functions increasingly well as shared print programs scale up. Moreover, because these programs place a high premium on the development of accurate metadata and thorough analysis, provision of resources where needed at point of request should be better ensured than before shared print programs existed.

The Libraries are not just members of these programs; we are helping shape their development. Scott Warren, the Libraries’ Associate Dean for Research Excellence (and author of this post) served on EAST’s Operations Committee from 2017-2019 and was elected to EAST’s Executive Committee this year. Additionally, Annie Rauh, interim Head of Collections and Research Services, was recently tapped to join colleagues from across the United States on the HathiTrust Shared Print Program’s Advisory Committee.

Shared print has even reached the point where there are professional positions dedicated solely to it! Here’s a recent advertisement from the California Digital Library – https://www.cdlib.org/cdlinfo/2019/01/16/cdl-job-opening-shared-print-operations-and-collections-analyst/ . Similar librarians now exist in most such programs, including folks at HathiTrust and EAST whom we work with regularly. Within the Libraries, staff from Collections, Cataloging, the Program Management Center, Access and Resource Sharing, and Information Technology have all contributed to our successful participation in both programs. It is worth noting how one simple number in our Annual Report can represent a concerted team effort, one that in this case has so far spanned three years of work.

Finally, at an even broader level, two nascent alliances are helping ensure shared print programs work in harmony, and move towards a national or even continental scale. One, the Rosemont Shared Print Alliance, focuses on journals and serials. The other, the Partnership for Shared Book Collections, is still coming into existence, but will center on books. Once finalized, it will bring together programs with an estimated 40 million volumes under retention in the United States and Canada. With these collective efforts in mind, Syracuse scholars should rest easy knowing that while the Libraries’ commitment to preserving and providing access to scholarship is taking on new forms, it is stronger – and our reach vaster – than ever before.

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For more information, contact Scott Warren, Associate Dean for Research Excellence or Anne Rauh, Interim Head of Collections and Research Services.