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5. Other U.S. Supraregional and National-Level Repositories

5.1 Center for Research Libraries

Founded in 1949 as a regional library repository by 10 midwestern universities, CRL now has more than 150 member colleges and universities. The materials in its custody include about four million volumes and volume-equivalents. Ownership of these materials is shared by the member institutions. The CRL operates a climate-controlled, medium-density storage facility that also houses most of its processing, cataloging, ILL, and DD operations.

CRL holdings consist of low-use primary source materials for research in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. These holdings resemble those of the regional repositories. They are especially rich in newspapers, archives, journals, and government documents. Many of them are non-U.S. in origin, and many are in microform.

CRL developed its corpus of materials through purchases and donations, with the aim of supplementing on-campus and local holdings of member research libraries. Materials are added to the repository through deposit by voting member institutions, purchase by the consortium, and area studies preservation microfilming and digital reformatting programs that are governed by area studies specialists from member institutions. Voting members can nominate and vote for collections to be purchased each year with CRL funds. Duplication of holdings is avoided by policy.


CRL is a consortium of universities, colleges, and research libraries. It is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation governed by the community of North American research libraries. CRL’s board of directors is elected by the center’s voting members and is drawn from the research library and academic community. As such, the center’s governance provides some assurance that its collection-management and preservation programs will serve the collective interests of its voting members, that is, the large and midsize research libraries in that community.

Funding Model

CRL’s capital and operating costs are paid from annual membership fees, revenues from sale of microforms and services to nonmembers, and grants. Since the collections are collectively owned, member fees are not tied to storage but are based on the size of the member library’s own collection and the five-year average of its acquisition expenditures. With this economic model, CRL’s collection-management program is most likely to be shaped by the collective interests of the research libraries in its voting membership rather than by any single party. Since the formula used to assess annual member fees limits the maximum annual fee a member institution may pay, larger libraries have some advantage over smaller ones.

5.2 Library of Congress

The Library of Congress serves as a de facto “library of record” or national repository for the American research community. This role is expressed and formalized in the Library’s mission, which is “to make its resources available and useful to the Congress and the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations” (Library of Congress 1999).

This goal of building and maintaining comprehensive collections as a permanent resource for the community informs many of LC’s activities. The Library has put structures in place to ensure the long-term availability of its print holdings to the public. Holdings are stored and maintained in several secure facilities and are made available in reading rooms and through interlibrary loan. They are inventoried and discoverable through metadata available to the community through LC’s own online catalog, OCLC’s WorldCat, and other utilities. Their availability is enhanced with reformatted versions of some of these holdings in microform that are produced and distributed by the Library, and in electronic form in the digital text, image, cartographic, audio, and moving image files mounted on the World Wide Web under the National Digital Library initiative.

LC, as the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, has amassed the largest existing corpus of American imprints. Copies of published materials deposited in the Copyright Office by authors and publishers as part of the copyright-registration process form the core of these holdings. While this process has provided a continual stream of materials, LC’s collecting program also acquires American materials by other means, including purchase, exchange, donation, and deposit agreements with publishers.

Because of the broad scope of LC’s holdings of published materials, its bibliographies and catalogs serve as points of reference for other libraries’ acquisition and collection-management decisions. Other libraries key their own collection-management decisions to LC’s collections policy statements, which define the scope of LC’s intended (if not actual) coverage of published materials. These policies not only specify the Library’s responsibility for acquisition and preservation of materials on a wide range of subjects and in a variety of formats but also indicate the areas in which it expects others to collect and preserve materials. The statements also cover other collection-management matters, such as the terms and extent of the Library’s commitment to retain various kinds of printed materials in original form.21

LC is sensitive to the collecting and preservation efforts of other major U.S. research libraries. It has participated in such programs as the Research Libraries Group (RLG) Conspectus and area studies projects such as the Handbook of Latin American Studies and the CRL’s Foreign Newspaper Microform Project. It also recognizes and respects the purview of other libraries in preserving materials in certain domains, such as the AAS with pre-1877 U.S. imprints.

LC’s ability to realize its goal of being a comprehensive national repository has been limited by the nature of its governance and funding, as described below.


LC is an agency of the legislative branch of the federal government. As such, it fulfills a dual role, as the Library’s Web site expresses it, as a “working library of a government and a de facto national library.” The Library’s strategic priorities indicate that its obligations to libraries, scholars, and other constituencies, in fact, are secondary to its responsibility to serve the information needs of the United States Congress.

As the repository of a universal collection of human knowledge and the creative work of the American people, the Library has the primary mission to make this material available and to identify, analyze and synthesize the information it contains to make it useful to the lawmakers who are the elected representatives of the American people.22

The Library’s constituencies are, in order of priority, “the Congress, the U.S. government more broadly, and the public.”23

This hierarchy can work against LC’s repository role. An example of this is the availability of books and serials from its general collections for circulation to congressional offices, the federal judiciary, and certain executive branch agencies of the federal government. A legacy of days when the government was much smaller and libraries’ lending practices more informal, this practice has recently been curtailed somewhat. Nonetheless, circulation and the accessibility of Library general collections stacks to congressional staff and others has undermined the Library’s efforts to safeguard and maintain the integrity of its holdings.

These priorities might also tend to favor the acquisition and preservation of certain kinds of materials, such as recent materials relating to economics, science, politics, and other matters of current interest to legislators, over historical materials or those pertaining to the humanities. Historically, this has not been the case: the Library has consistently devoted the major portion of its collections budget to primary resources for scholarly research. Should budgetary constraints arise, however, it is always possible that near-term congressional priorities will override those of “secular” research.

Funding Model

LC’s program is also affected by the nature of its funding. The storage and preservation of its collections are funded primarily by the United States Congress through annual appropriations. The Library is not eligible for funds from federally funded grant programs such as those supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts. In recent years, however, the Library has raised a considerable amount of funding for special collection-related initiatives from the private sector-from U.S. corporate and individual donors and private foundations. This funding is modest compared with the Library’s appropriated funding.

Federal funding makes the Library’s program sensitive to fluctuations in the federal budget and to the often-changing political and economic priorities of the federal government. This funding model also requires that Library preservation programs and fulfillment of the Library’s role as repository of record compete with other national priorities such as defense, social programs, and technology.

Encouragingly, the Library’s role as the national library was formally recognized by the Congress in its federal appropriations for fiscal year 2002. In that legislation, the appropriation for the “National Library Program” was designated as distinct from funds earmarked for the other program areas under the Library appropriations umbrella (that is, the Congressional Research Service, the Law Library, and the Copyright Office).

In recent years, LC has taken some important steps to strengthen its role as a national print repository and its accountability to the larger community. In 1992, the Library closed access to its general collections stacks to all but LC staff, to protect its artifactual holdings from damage and theft. More recently, it initiated a comprehensive inventory of its general collections. The inventory entails a shelf-by-shelf survey of the Library’s general-collections stacks, examination of physical copies of monographs and serials stored there, and revision of holdings information on a title-by-title basis. Some books and newspapers, specifically pre-1805 imprints, will be relocated to special collections such as the Rare Book and Special Collections Division or to “medium-rare” storage areas, where they will be maintained under more controlled conditions. The outcome of this audit of print holdings will be a better sense of the preservation needs of the Library’s artifactual collections, better control of these collections, and greater reliability of the holdings information pertaining to these materials.

In 2002, the Library brought online the first module of a much-needed remote collections storage facility at Fort Meade in Maryland. When fully built, the facility will hold millions of volumes, including some special collections.

A third effort is a “heritage-copy” program designed to ensure survival of the printed heritage of the United States. This is being done by creating a comprehensive, prospective archive of printed materials published in the United States. Such a program will involve setting aside in “dark” storage one of the multiple copies of each U.S. imprint deposited for copyright, along with the creation of a system of incentives for American publishers to deposit their published output. (Currently, not all published works are deposited for copyright, and large categories of deposited materials, such as textbooks, most cookbooks, and auto repair and product manuals, are not retained for Library collections.)24

While the details of this program are still being defined, the program in many respects resembles the Canadiana Preservation Collection initiated by the National Library of Canada. When accomplished, such an effort will strengthen the Library’s role as a repository of American imprints and its contribution to cooperative management of the nation’s printed collections.

5.3 American Antiquarian Society

The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) has formally assumed the responsibility for the comprehensive preservation of U.S. imprints before 1877. Its mission is “to collect, preserve, and make accessible all materials printed in America in this period” including books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, broadsides, music, children’s literature, graphic arts, genealogy, and local histories, among other genres. At present, the Society’s collections encompass more than 3 million printed items, including 675,000 books, 2 million newspapers, and thousands of graphic images. In 2002, the Society doubled the collection storage capacity of its current facilities with the addition of a compact shelving vault.

The AAS has begun to fill gaps in its current holdings by soliciting newspapers printed in the United States during its focus period from U.S. libraries (including the LC) and historical societies. These materials are deaccessioned and donated to AAS by contributing libraries for permanent retention. (The Society disposes of inferior duplicates, however.)

The facility has a staff of three professional conservators and a full curatorial staff on the premises. AAS maintains an on-site reading room, cataloging staff, microfilming operations and reference, and DD services. Records of the Society’s holdings are available online through RLIN and OCLC, and on the Internet through the Society’s own OPAC system.

The archival conditions of care afforded the Society’s holdings, and the fact that they do not circulate except for special exhibit loans, provides a high level of assurance that they will be preserved even if they are “last copies.”


AAS is an independent, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable corporation. Its policies and programs are shaped by a 22-member council whose members are elected according to the society’s bylaws and who appoint the president of the society. While this model fosters good stewardship of the materials in the Society’s possession, it does not offer mechanisms to ensure accountability to the larger community of libraries who might rely upon the repository for comprehensive archiving of American imprints.

Funding Model

Operating funds come from a combination of investment earnings on endowment, royalties, revenues from cost-return services connected to the collections, charitable contributions, and grants. With this funding model, as with the society’s governance, there is little incentive for the society to align its collection-management and preservation efforts with the goals of the greater library community. Despite this, the AAS has voluntarily assumed an important preservation role that benefits the community at large.


21 In its collection policy statement for newspapers, for instance, the Library specifies microfilm as its preferred format for permanent retention. LC collecting commitments are also governed by federal statutes, such as the repository library responsibilities defined in Chapter 19 of Title 44 USC, the authority for the establishment and operation of the repository program (

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 The concept of the heritage-copy program was outlined by Winston Tabb, then LC associate librarian for collections services, in a meeting on last-copy preservation convened at the Library of Congress on June 25, 2002. The LC’s continued consideration of such a program was confirmed recently by Director of Acquisitions Nancy Davenport and is included in its current strategic plan.


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