January 18, 2022

Historic Move: Big Ten Libraries Commit to Managing Separate Collections as a Single Collection (The BIG Collection)

Update: The BIG Collection project was first discussed in a 2019 report. On December 16, 2020 a steering committee was announced. 


From the Announcement (via Michigan St. University) and BTAA Website:

In a historic and unprecedented maneuver for a group of independent universities, the University Library Deans and Directors of the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) have committed to managing the separate collections of Big Ten university libraries as a single collection. As part of this effort, MSU Dean of Libraries Joseph A. Salem, Jr. was appointed to the BIG Collection Steering Committee.

Source: BTAA

The announcement was made by the Library Directors of the BTAA.
Intentional and strategic coordination enabling a networked approach will ensure the collective good, leveraging the true breadth of these remarkable libraries’ collections, while allowing individual libraries to focus more deeply on distinctive collections and services focused on local areas of strength and expertise. People are the heart of this initiative. By joining our strengths, we have the opportunity to create something more powerful than the sum of our parts. Articulating the needs of the whole, we will coordinate holistic action to elevate the collective interest and the greater good.


The BIG Collection will be supported by interoperable services and systems at scale that rest on a foundation of shared infrastructure.


Motivated by a report commissioned from OCLC, the Big Ten Academic Alliance library directors have affirmed a vision for a “collective collection”: 

“Going forward, we will orient our collective actions around the challenges and opportunities that come with interdependence and will implement the necessary systems, policies, and services needed to create an integrated user experience of the networked collections, from discovery to delivery. We will individually and collectively invest in strategies that transition our focus from building local collections to creating a shared, fully networked collection that supports our local students and scholars. With ever increasing rigor, we will manage the separate collections of the Big Ten as if they were a single shared collection, maximizing access to and ensuring the preservation of the scholarly record in support of our common mission. (signed by all Big Ten University Library Deans and Directors, September 2019)


The objective of the BIG Collection is to create an environment for Big Ten faculty, staff and students in which content will be universally available to all without regard to which institution produced or purchased the resources and materials.


The BIG Collection stands on the shoulders of a rich, well-developed community with decades of successful initiatives and cooperative endeavors. The BIG Collection is the lead idea, the center of gravity for all Big Ten library activity. 

“The BIG Collection is really about collaboration, impact, and efficiency,” Salem said. “Together, the Big Ten Libraries account for 22 percent of the printed word in English. When we coordinate our efforts, we can increase that or more efficiently and economically share that same amount of material across the Big Ten. It’s really exciting to think about how a shared system will allow individual libraries to build specialized collections that can be used by everybody affiliated with the BTAA. This will increase access to materials for all of our users. It’s just a tremendous initiative!”


Securing a Sustainable Future

This is a complex and long-term process, and it may take years to fully realize the vision and all of the components. But deliberate steps are underway now to:

1) Identify the technical and policy adjustments necessary to implement a seamless experience for users to access the collections and make requests as if the collections were held locally;

2) Provide seamless access for librarians and staff for decision support and collection management and ILL data and information;

3) Build a culture of deep collaboration and interdependence at all levels of library services.

The University Library Deans and Directors of the Big Ten universities are leading the overall effort, with coordination provided by the BIG Collection Steering Committee. This initiative builds on existing work in resource sharing, print archiving and joint digital acquisitions. The university libraries are currently examining models for transformative licensing agreements that will leverage existing investments in digital journals and other content, while improving access to information across the group of universities. 

FY 21 Steering Committee Members

Library Director Liaisons

Krisellen Maloney (Rutgers University)*

Joe Salem (MIchigan State University)

Claire Stewart (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)*

Committee Members:

  • Emily Campbell (University of Michigan)*
  • Rachael Cohen (Indiana University)*
  • Babak Hamidzadeh (University of Maryland)
  • Qiana Johnson (Northwestern University)
  • Kate McCready (University of Minnesota)
  • Rebecca Richardson (Purdue University)

*Names with a star represent continuity from the initial BIG Collection committees active in FY 20.

Learn More

Direct to MSU Libraries Join Other Big Ten Libraries in Effort to Expand Collection Access

Direct to Complete BIG Collection Website

Direct to Big Collection Project Structure

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) 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 Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.