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“Library Buildings and the Building of a Collaborative Research Collection at the Tri-Colleges,” the planning grant awarded to the Tri-College Library Consortium by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that is the subject of this report, was designed to address the intersection of two central issues-collection space constraints and collaborative collection development-facing the libraries at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges. Working with a consultant, a six-member Planning Group representing the three colleges and the consortium gathered data on the collections, convened focus groups of faculty and students, and engaged three publishing industry experts to assess the state of electronic publishing. After analyzing the data, the Planning Group studied alternatives for maximizing collection space and made recommendations for new models and strategies to be pursued by the Tri-College consortium.

Key Findings

  • Approximately 75 percent of the items in three libraries’ collections have circulated one or fewer times in the past 10 years.
  • About 40 percent of the items in the collections overlap (that is, they are held on more than one campus). About half of these overlapping items have not circulated in the past 11 years.
  • Students and faculty take significant advantage of the shared collections. Nearly one-third of the requests for loans made by Haverford patrons are for materials in the Swarthmore or Bryn Mawr collections. The percentages are similar for Bryn Mawr patrons and slightly lower for Swarthmore patrons.
  • The potential for space savings from use of electronic materials is greatest in the sciences. Users of these materials have eagerly embraced digital formats and are willing to allow the libraries to deaccession issues of print journals that have become available online.
  • The potential of digitization has yet to be realized in the humanities, which tends to be monograph-dependent, because the e-book industry is immature and lacks economic and technological models necessary for large-scale adoption.
  • Students and faculty place a high value on shelf browsing as a means of discovering information and of evaluating and selecting materials.
  • Faculty members value local ownership of materials and are concerned about weeding, which they believe would affect the quality of the collections and the ability of students and faculty to do research.
  • Of the three colleges, Swarthmore has the most severe space crisis. It has less than two years of growth space. Bryn Mawr may lose most of its growth potential in order to accommodate new services and needs. Haverford has about five years of growth space.


The results of this study indicate that the Tri-Colleges may, by eliminating overlapping materials with low use, be able to gain sufficient shelf space over the near term or until the promise of digital formats can be more fully realized. Since use rates of older materials diminish significantly over time, the libraries could add shelving capacity though a judicious regular weeding program without affecting student and faculty research. Furthermore, cooperative collection weeding would provide an opportunity for the bibliographers and subject specialists to work together to realign their buying practices to limit overlap and redirect dollars, thereby enhancing the scope and depth of the collections. Ultimately, the libraries and colleges will benefit greatly from a more unified approach to collection development that integrates three independent collections into a single research collection.

However, data from the focus groups and a pilot study on weeding indicate 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. (In this report, “overlap” refers to one or more copies of the same title in different libraries, as opposed to “duplication” which refers to copies of a title beyond the first one located on the same campus.) The libraries should also note that any weeding project must be done in tandem with faculty; otherwise, the libraries risk the loss of credibility and support from their constituents.

Even if the faculty did support moving toward an integrated collection, weeding would not solve all the libraries’ space needs. Compact shelving, which has been proposed for Swarthmore’s McCabe Library and could be added to other libraries in modest amounts, could create significant space gains. However, the colleges would still need to continue to pursue off-site storage options if no additional space is planned within the next 10 years.


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