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Build A New Library or A New Library Model?

CLIR Press Release:


For Immediate Release: April 30, 2003

Contact: Kathlin Smith 202-939-4754

Build A New Library or A New Library Model?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—While academic libraries grapple with the rising cost of acquiring scholarly materials, many are also wondering how much longer their existing buildings can house growing collections and services.

Three liberal arts colleges in suburban Philadelphia—Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges—decided to explore whether, through collaboration, they could free up scarce shelf space while simultaneously enhancing the scope and depth of their collections. The three already had a track record of cooperation as members of the Tri-College Library Consortium, formed more than a decade ago to develop a shared online catalog. With a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Consortium conducted a study that focused on two central questions:

  • Could the colleges overcome library space problems caused by growing collections and increasing demands for media, teaching, and student study areas?
  • Could the colleges take advantage of their unified online catalog and other cooperative projects to create a “research-quality collection” out of their combined holdings?

The findings of the study are presented in Library Buildings and the Building of a Collaborative Research Collection at the Tri-College Library Consortium, written by Judy Luther, Linda Bills, Amy McColl, Norm Medeiros, Amy Morrison, Eric Pumroy, and Peggy Seiden, and published by the Council on Library and Information Resources.

The study included a statistical analysis of existing collections and use, interviews with library users, and an assessment of the state of electronic publishing to predict its likely effect on future acquisitions and weeding. Among the most interesting findings on use was that three-fourths of the libraries’ combined collections rarely circulated, and more than half of their volumes had not been checked out in ten years. The analysis also showed a high degree of overlap in the collections. These findings suggest that the Tri-Colleges may be able to gain considerable shelf space in the short term by eliminating overlapping materials with low use.

At the same time, the study team’s discussions with users showed that unless electronic browsing capabilities and e-text quantities can be increased, students and faculty will continue to want to browse books on shelves. Duplication-reduction decisions must take into account on-campus needs for books that provide immediate class support. And acquisition decisions must take into account significant variations among academic disciplines in the use of electronic information.

The study found that faculty members have serious concerns about moving toward a more integrated collection. “The colleges must engage their faculties in discussions about trade-offs that will be necessary if the libraries maintain their current collection practices and duplication or overlap rates,” the authors note.

While the report’s findings are specific to the three colleges that conducted the study, they have relevance to a much broader audience. Library Buildings and the Building of a Collaborative Research Collection at the Tri-College Library Consortium is available only in electronic form, free of charge, at

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the management of information for research, teaching, and learning. CLIR works to expand access to information, however recorded and preserved, as a public good.

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