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I. Introduction: Purpose of the Study

This study is an outgrowth of recommendations made in The Evidence in Hand, a report issued by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) in 2001 (Nichols and Smith 2001). Among other things, that report addressed the vast inequity between the cost of preserving the print library materials that are most important to the historical record and the resources available to cover those costs. The report made three broad recommendations for addressing print preservation:

  1. Establish regional repositories to house and provide proper treatment of low-use print matter drawn from various collections.
  2. Investigate the establishment of archival repositories that would retain a “last, best copy” of American imprints.
  3. Build interinstitutional networks for information sharing about the status of artifacts and delegation of responsibilities for caring for them.

During the past two decades, several repositories have been established in the United States to provide storage space for library materials. Other facilities are being planned. The repositories are largely the products of interinstitutional efforts undertaken by public and private institutions of higher education.1 They were created to accommodate low-use, primarily paper-based materials that do not have to be readily available for consultation in campus libraries. Such materials tend to be those used for advanced research in the humanities and social sciences.

These interinstitutional repositories differ in function, if not in form, from the high-density “shelving” facilities developed off-site by major university libraries such as Harvard and the University of Texas.2 Many of the regional repositories described in this report are more than cost-effective solutions to collections storage; they are a means through which multiple institutions work together and pool resources to manage significant portions of their holdings. They offer a shared space in which collections deposited by different libraries are maintained under a common regime: they are included in a common inventory-control system, subjected to common standards for bar codes and labeling, and shelved in standardized units. Their circulation is managed by a single organization.

The facilities support a certain degree of interdependence and cooperation among the participating libraries with respect to the preservation of artifactual holdings at a regional or system level. Joining collections under this common regime promotes a tendency to view the aggregated holdings as a single, shared corpus of research materials. The participating libraries exploit this common asset through interlibrary loan (ILL) and document delivery (DD). Some go a step further in actively managing the corpus as a whole; for example, they work to reduce redundancy and increase the diversity of holdings by systematizing, and coordinating responsibilities for, additions to the corpus. Other libraries seek to “rationalize,” or achieve economies in managing, their collective print holdings by aggregating “last-copies” from among the participating institutions’ individual collections. Such collections consist of single copies of particular published works or series designated to be retained by the group after duplicates have been eliminated. Still other libraries use their individual holdings to assemble “collections of record,” that is, comprehensive or near-comprehensive holdings of works on particular subjects or of particular types of materials, such as trade catalogs. Such efforts enable libraries to manage the aggregated knowledge resources of the repository in a strategic way.

In preparing this report, we were interested primarily in the repositories as sites, or tools, of interlibrary cooperation. We wanted to determine how, and to what degree, various consortia and university systems are using repositories to move beyond the immediate goal of providing cost-effective collection storage and delivery and to begin to cooperatively manage and preserve their research collections. This report also suggests which practices, policies, and programs best foster the equitable sharing of the costs of collections care and to identify which practices and organizational and financial structures best support the integration of cooperative collection development and preservation efforts.

Finally, we wanted to explore the extent to which the repositories studied represent an emerging architecture of broader cooperation, whereby the participating libraries might move beyond serving their regional communities and participate in a national network for cooperative preservation.

The following repositories were surveyed for this study:

  • The Northern Regional Library Facility (NRLF), Richmond, CA. One of two state-funded regional repositories in California, the NRLF serves the University of California (UC) Berkeley, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Davis, and, beginning in 2004, Merced.
  • Southern Regional Library Facility (SRLF), Los Angeles, CA. The second of two state-funded regional repositories in California, the SRLF serves the state universities at Los Angeles, San Diego, Irvine, Santa Barbara, and Riverside.
  • Five-College Library Depository, Amherst, MA. The repository serves four liberal arts colleges (Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith) and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
  • CONStor, Newark, OH. CONStor was formed under the aegis of the Five Colleges of Ohio, Inc., a consortium consisting of the College of Wooster, Denison University, Kenyon College, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Oberlin College.
  • Washington Research Libraries Consortium (WRLC), Upper Marlboro, MD. The consortium operates a repository that serves eight Washington, DC-area institutions: American, Catholic, Gallaudet, George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, and Marymount Universities, and the University of the District of Columbia.
  • Research Collections Access and Preservation Consortium (ReCAP), Plainsboro, NJ. This consortium consists of Columbia University, the New York Public Library (NYPL), and Princeton University.
  • Southwest Ohio Regional Depository (SWORD), Middletown, OH. One of five state-funded regional repositories in Ohio, SWORD serves the University of Miami, Wright State University, the University of Cincinnati, and Central State University.
  • Library Service Center (LSC), Durham, NC. Created in 2001 by Duke University, the repository provides off-site storage for the seven libraries of the Perkins Library system and for the separate libraries of its business, divinity, law, and medical schools. The facility was intended by its planners at Duke to also provide storage and related services for the other universities of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. But to date only the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill occupies space there. Hence, as an inter-institutional repository the LSC is still emerging.

Cornell University is studying the viability of establishing an off-site storage facility on a similar model. The facility would accommodate the growth of Cornell library collections and would also serve smaller colleges and libraries in the region.3

1.1 Related National-Level Efforts

A further purpose of this study was to appraise prospects for further rationalization of libraries’ efforts to manage the growing print corpus in institutions across the nation. The question is this: Could these regional or statewide efforts work more closely to form the basis for a national network of cooperative library preservation? The prospects for such cooperation depend upon the framework for preservation and the retention of library collections in place beyond the regional and system levels-that is, at the national level.

This supra-regional framework consists of the Library of Congress (LC), a national library that to some extent fulfills a national repository function, and other repositories, notably the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) and the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), that assemble and maintain comprehensive or near-comprehensive holdings in major areas of interest. American research libraries depend on these institutions to preserve and make available lesser-used materials that support research and maintenance of the cultural record.

Like the AAS, other independent research libraries and large urban historical libraries-such as those of the New-York Historical Society and the Chicago Historical Society-hold collections of record in certain areas of interest. Unlike its peers, however, the AAS has assumed responsibility for the comprehensive preservation of materials published in the United States before 1877, thus formally accepting primary stewardship of an important portion of the printed corpus. The CRL, begun as a regional repository of an earlier generation that served 10 midwestern universities, has grown to be a broad consortium of North American research libraries that maintains and continues to develop a shared corpus of research materials.

Ongoing fulfillment of this “fallback” function at the national level permits individual research libraries, university libraries, and the regional repositories that these institutes form to tailor their collection-development, preservation, and access policies to local or immediate needs.

In considering the prospects for national-level coordination in the United States, it is instructive to examine major efforts undertaken in other parts of the world. The National Repository Library of Finland is an example of a traditional fallback library that serves a nation’s libraries. Most advanced among the newer models is the CARM Centre in Australia, which is operated by Cooperative Action by Victorian Academic Libraries (CAVAL). There are also emerging efforts in the United Kingdom, promoted by the Research Libraries Support Group and the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries. (See Appendices 6-7.)

1.2 Limitations of the Study

The picture of regional repositories that appears in this study should be considered a snapshot rather than an enduring portrait. Some of the repositories, such as ReCAP and LSC, have been in operation for less than two years. Their volume-counts and many of their policies are still in flux. Because many of the repositories are new, their average operating costs are skewed, in some cases by the intensive intake operations associated with creation of the facility. The pace of intake can be artificially accelerated at this phase in a repository’s life cycle, owing to pressures to rapidly transfer pre-selected materials from participating libraries’ on-campus storage space or from other remote storage. It is unclear whether selection and segregation of materials for storage, extremely labor-intensive processes, will continue to be as rapid as it has been to date. As a result, it is difficult to gauge the relative economic or strategic effectiveness of the individual repositories at this point.

Regional repositories are designed to manage a subset, albeit a very important subset, of the full range of library materials-that is, materials receiving infrequent use or no use at all. These items tend to be older materials that are used chiefly for research in the humanities and social sciences. Many of them are in languages other than English. Solutions and regimes devised to manage these collections are necessarily different than those suited to heavily used, core collection materials. Repository collections, for instance, tend to be under relatively loose bibliographic control, some having only container or collection-level records. Many also tend to require special handling, owing to age and fragility. On the other hand, access to them is required only irregularly. Hence the applicability of the cooperative collective management regimes instituted by the repositories is worthy of further study.


1 For purposes of this report we chose to use the term “repository,” rather than “depository,” to refer to the regional facilities for storage of library collections. The latter term seems to be somewhat ambiguous in usage. In one context (“book depositories”), it is applied to the storage facilities created by state and private consortia that hold but do not own the materials placed there. In the legal sense (“Federal Depository Library Program”) it is applied to libraries officially designated by governmental organizations such as the United Nations and the U.S. Government Printing Office as recipients of official publications and documents.

2 Nitecki and Kendrick 2001 provides a wealth of information on the design, economics, and operational logistics of high-density storage facilities.

3 Development of a cooperative storage facility is one of the possible Cornell initiatives examined under the Andrew W. Mellon-funded project, Models for Academic Support: Restructuring Organization for Cost-Effective Information Services. The project prospectus is posted on the Web at


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