CLIRinghouse Number 15

Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Number 15, March/April 2003

The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:

Build A New Library Or A New Library Model?

Summary: Three liberal arts colleges near each other saw two basic options for their libraries. They could go on operating as now, run out of space in five to ten years, and hope to afford new buildings. Or the three could collaboratively “de-duplicate” and weed low-use material, add compact shelving and off-site storage, explore digital formats for reducing space needs, and buy cooperatively to save money for creating a joint collection better than each school could offer individually. Their study of options indicates that such measures might work if faculty are closely consulted and accept benefit trade-offs.

The Study

With a planning grant from the Mellon Foundation, the Tri-College Library Consortium formed by Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore studied two central questions:

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

The following findings should not be assumed to apply to colleges besides the three that made the study but may help others think about their individual situations.

The Findings

Here are some Tri-College findings about collections acquisition and use:

  • Three-fourths of their collections combined rarely circulated, and more than half their volumes had not been checked out in ten years.
  • Forty percent of their titles were held by more than one school’s library, and in the most recent academic year, 80% of purchases by one school through its approval program duplicated purchases of other schools.
  • From 20% to 37% of borrowings already were crossing college borders.

Here are some Tri-College findings about electronic-publishing trends:

  • Although e-books “are not yet a viable substitute for regular books,” they have value as reference books, as reserve readings, and as browsing copies.
  • Print-on-demand, if publishers adopt it, might reduce library needs to purchase traditional books that might otherwise not long be available.
  • When confident in e-journal publishers’ reliability, libraries might gain space by eliminating duplicate printed sets.

Here are some Tri-College findings about student and faculty use:

  • 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.
  • Acquisition decisions must take into account significant variations among academic disciplines in the use of electronic information.

Here are some Tri-College findings about space planning options:

  • Space savings from switching to digital from paper reference works, government documents and journals are increasing, albeit faster in sciences than in social sciences and humanities.
  • Weeding duplicate copies not circulated in more than a decade can save substantial space but may entail substantial labor costs and requires care and consultation with faculty.

A Possible New Model

The three colleges are considering creating from their separate liberal arts collections an “integrated research collection.” That will require expanding the decision-making structures and communication tools that they jointly use now. They think the following areas are most important for collaborative resolution:

  • resolving differences in collection-development decision-making
  • coordinating acquisition-approval plans
  • developing central management and faculty communications for weeding
  • improving virtual browsing as a substitute for shelf browsing.

Additional Information

The Tri-College report is available free on CLIR’s Web site at


We regret that “not” was inadvertently omitted from a statement in CLIRinghouse #13 that should have read: 15.7% believed strongly or moderately that “the Internet has not changed the way I use the library.”

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