Report offers new perspective on UK research libraries

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OCLC, a global library cooperative, and Research Libraries UK (RLUK), a consortium of major research libraries in the UK and Ireland, have announced the publication of a report that provides a first-of-its-kind perspective on the scope, depth, and duplication present across RLUK library collections, and highlights the opportunities and challenges of managing these collections as a shared asset.

The report, Strength in Numbers: The Research Libraries UK (RLUK) Collective Collection, extends a growing body of evidence that highlights the importance of a system-wide perspective in supporting cooperative management of institutional assets like library collections.

The report describes the salient features of the RLUK collective collection – the combined collections of the RLUK member libraries – with a special emphasis on print book holdings. The findings from the report will inform strategic planning within the RLUK membership in regard to deeper cooperation around long-term collection management - particularly with regards to preservation and storage, the potential role of digital alternatives for print materials, and how library space can be used most effectively.

Findings include:

  • The RLUK collective collection encompasses 29.4 million distinct publications of all types, including 20.9 million distinct print book publications;
  • Print books in RLUK member collections reflect a rich global diversity, with 467 languages and 254 countries of publication represented;
  • Rareness is common in the RLUK collective collection, with relatively small levels of overlap across RLUK member collections adding scope and depth to the collective resource;
  • Nearly 460,000 distinct subjects are associated with the print book publications in the RLUK collective collection, with a variety of particular subject strengths distributed across the RLUK membership; and
  • The RLUK collective collection is both similar to and distinct from the collective collection of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL): for example, a significant portion (42 percent) of the RLUK print book collection overlaps with the ARL collection, but an even larger portion (58 percent) does not.

Universities are increasingly seeking above-campus solutions to shared operating needs. Research libraries that support universities and other higher education institutions are likewise moving towards cooperative management models to increase efficiency and enable the ongoing evolution of library services. The findings in the report reflect OCLC Research’s unique data and analytical capacities, as well as the institutional expertise and perspective of the RLUK members.

Lorcan Dempsey, chief strategist and vice president of membership and research at OCLC, said: ‘WorldCat1 was central to this project; its 374 million bibliographic records and 2.4 billion library holdings helped us to quickly develop an overview of the size and characteristics of RLUK’s collective collection, and place it in the context of peer consortia and the global library system. This undertaking would have been impossible without the worldwide library community’s contributions to WorldCat.’

The sheer breadth and scope of RLUK collections are remarkable – we hold print books in almost every language and from every country conceivable, over the entire history of printing,’ added David Prosser, executive director of RLUK. ‘Even with holdings of this magnitude, there is less duplication of content amongst RLUK members than might be supposed. Continuing to protect the collections that have been curated over centuries – and preserving access to these materials – is of course vital, and the report highlights the potential importance of international collaboration to help achieve this.’