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A Summary of a Report Published by the Council on Library and Information Resources

Library Buildings and the Building of a Collaborative Research Collection at the Tri-College Library Consortium

by Judy Luther, Linda Bills, Amy McColl, Norm Medeiros, Amy Morrison, Eric Pumroy, and Peggy Seiden
April 2003

Many academic libraries are facing the twin challenges of rising acquisitions costs and dwindling space. Such is the case at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges, which make up the Tri-College Library Consortium. In considering these challenges, the colleges saw two options. First, each college could go on operating as it had been, run out of space in five to ten years, and hope to get funding for a new building. Or the three colleges, all located in the Philadelphia area, could collaboratively reduce duplication of items and weed low-use material, add compact shelving and off-site storage, explore digital formats to reduce space needs, and buy cooperatively to save money for creating a joint collection that would be superior to anything each school could offer individually. A recent consortium study, just published by the Council on Library and Information Resources, indicates that the second option might work provided that faculty members are closely consulted and are willing to accept some trade-offs.


With a planning grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Tri-College Library Consortium studied two central questions:

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

While the study findings are specific to the three colleges that conducted the study, they have relevance to many institutions.


Collections acquisition and use

  • Three-fourths of the books in the colleges’ collections rarely circulated, and more than half the volumes had not been checked out in 10 years.
  • Forty percent of the titles were held by more than one school’s library. In the most recent academic year, 80% of purchases by any one of the three schools through its approval program duplicated purchases of at least one other consortium member.
  • From 20% to 37% of borrowings were crossing college borders.

Electronic-publishing trends

  • Although e-books are not yet a viable substitute for traditional books, users value them as references, reserve readings, and browsing copies.
  • Libraries buy many traditional books at the time they are published because they fear the books will soon go out of print. Print-on-demand, if publishers adopt it, might reduce the need to purchase books for this reason.
  • If they believe an e-journal publisher is reliable, libraries might gain space by eliminating duplicate print copies.

Student and faculty use

  • Unless electronic browsing capabilities and the quantity of e-texts can be increased, students and faculty will continue to want to browse books on shelves.
  • Decisions to reduce duplicates must take into account on-campus needs for books that provide immediate class support.
  • The extent of use of electronic information varies significantly among the academic disciplines. An awareness of these differences must be a key factor in acquisition decisions.

Space-saving options

  • Libraries are gaining space by switching to digital from paper reference works, government documents, and journals. These space savings are occurring faster in the sciences than in social sciences and humanities.
  • Weeding duplicate copies that have not circulated in more than a decade can save space; however, it may entail substantial labor costs. More important, it requires close consultation with faculty.


The three colleges are considering creating an integrated research collection from their separate liberal arts collections. They think the following areas are most important for collaborative resolution:

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


Library Buildings and the Building of a Collaborative Research Collection at the Tri-College Library Consortium
by Judy Luther, Linda Bills, Amy McColl, Norm Medeiros, Amy Morrison, Eric Pumroy, and Peggy Seiden, April 2003. 45 pages

The report is available free of charge (in electronic form only) at

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