May 23, 2022

New Report from OCLC Research: “Understanding the Collective Collection: Towards a System-wide Perspective on Library Print Collections”

Here’s a new report (232 pages; PDF) from OCLC Research written by Lorcan Dempsey and six other researchers:

  • Brian Lavoie, OCLC Research
  • Constance Malpas, OCLC Research
  • Lynn Silipigni Connaway, OCLC Research
  • Roger C. Schonfeld, Ithaka S+R
  • JD Shipengrover, OCLC Research
  • Günter Waibel, Smithsonian Institution

Nine chapters focus on a number of topics that will be of interest to many infoDOCKET readers including librarians, library/info science students, and publishers.

It also includes several, ” first-ever calculations providing quantitative estimates and analyses of the system-wide collection.”


  • “. . . given any two Google 5 libraries—or, if the Google 5 results can be extrapolated to a larger context, given any two large research libraries—eight out of ten books in their combined collections will be unique.” (p. 43)
  • “. . . post-1923 materials collectively account for more than 80 percent, or about 12.6 million, of the US-published print books in WorldCat.” (p. 73)
  • “If the current growth trajectory of the HathiTrust Digital Library is sustained, we can project that more than 60% of the retrospective print collections held in ARL libraries will be duplicated in the shared digital repository by June 2014.” (p. 80)
  • For ARL libraries, cost avoidance of $500,000 to $2 million per year and space savings of more than 45,000 assignable square feet could be achieved through shared print provision. (p. 81)


  • Introduction: The Emergence of the Collective Collection
  • Books without Boundaries: A Brief Tour of the System-wide Print Book Collection
  • Libraries and the Long Tail: Some Thoughts about Libraries in a Network Age
  • Anatomy of Aggregate Collections: The Example of Google Print for Libraries
  • Beyond 1923: Characteristics of Potentially In-copyright Print Books in Library Collections
  • Cloud-sourcing Research Collections: Managing Print in the Mass-digitized Library Environment
  • An Art Resource in New York: The Collective Collection of the NYARC Art Museum Libraries
  • Print Management at “Mega-scale”: A Regional Perspective on Print Book Collections in North America
  • Subsidence and Uplift—the Library Landscape

Report Summary From OCLC Research

Understanding the Collective Collection: Towards a System-wide Perspective on Library Print Collections brings together the important work that OCLC Research has done for the community in providing a quantitative, analytic, system-wide view of library collections. This body of work has established an evidence base that has allowed and encouraged libraries to begin the shift from local provisioning of library collections and services to increased reliance on cooperative infrastructure, collective collections, shared technology platforms, and “above-the-institution” management strategies.

OCLC Vice President, Research, and Chief Strategist Lorcan Dempsey describes why OCLC Research has had a major interest in the “collective collection”—a term he coined to describe collective development, management and disclosure of collections across groups of libraries at different levels. He also provides the context for this work in the report’s introduction, The Emergence of the Collective Collection: Analyzing Aggregate Print Library Holdings, which is also available as a separate document [pdf]. In this introduction, Lorcan describes OCLC Research’s three broad interests around better understanding the existing collective collection and supporting the optimal evolution of reconfigured collections:

  • Understanding the characteristics of the collective print collection
  • Supporting policy and service decision-making with good intelligence based on WorldCat and other data resources
  • Understanding patterns or trends within the scholarly and cultural record.
  • Report Highlights

Report Highlights

  • Interest in shared print strategies has had several drivers: Google Books; the digital turn: changing patterns of research and learning; the opportunity costs of current use of space; efficient access to materials; and a general move to collaboration.
  • The network turn is leading to changes in the focus, boundaries and value of library collections.
  • Libraries and the organizations that provide services to them are devoting more attention to system-wide organization of collections—whether the “system” is a consortium, a region or a country.
  • Libraries are beginning to evolve arrangements that facilitate long-term shared management of the print literature as individual libraries begin to manage down their local capacity.
  • A system-wide perspective signals a real shift in emphasis.

Direct to Complete Full Text Report (232 pages; PDF)

Direct to Introduction Only

Links and summary also available here.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.