A collective collection, also known as a shared print program, involves mostly academic or research libraries collaborating to retain, develop, and provide access to their physical collections. Most collective collections comprise monographs and/or serials. Other efforts have addressed acquisition and/or retention of microform, federal government documents, and digital collections.
The goal of collective collections is to preserve and provide access to the scholarly record in its original print form. Each library participating in a collective collection agrees to retain certain titles for a given period of time, usually at least ten years. This practice ensures that the collective collection contains a predetermined number of unique items (such as specific editions of books and complete runs of journals) and that these items will be cared for and made available to all libraries participating in the collective collection. To prevent the loss of a unique title, participating libraries determine an appropriate number of copies that should be retained, so that if one were lost or destroyed, other copies would remain available. Shared print programs base these decisions on the number of libraries involved, the size of the collective collection, availability of the item outside of the collective collection, and other factors.
Secondarily, collective collections enable participating libraries to make informed decisions about weeding locally held volumes that are duplicated in the collective collection. In turn, this practice enables libraries to repurpose shelf space, whether to accommodate other print materials or to create a greater number and variety of spaces for users, especially students, to study, collaborate, teach, consult, and pursue other research and learning activities.
Two basic types of collective collection models exist. A distributed (or decentralized) collective shared print collection is one in which items in the collection are retained at the original library but are accessible to all partnering libraries. Centralized collective collections are those in which books and journals are removed from the original library and stored in a shared shelving facility. In many cases this shared shelving facility is a high-density preservation facility built according to the Harvard model, featuring rigorous temperature and climate controls to facilitate preservation of materials, along with elevated stacks and special shelving methods to maximize storage efficiency.
Library consortia generally coordinate collective collections. A consortium can create and manage a formal agreement (such as a memorandum of understanding), signed by each participating library’s director, which ensures that certain books, journals, or other materials are both retained and made available to other libraries, generally through interlibrary loan. The consortium can also manage the analysis of each library’s collection to divide the responsibility for retaining items equitably. The consortium can also establish criteria for shelving environments (to ensure long-term preservation), as well as outline the methods for providing access to titles to other participating libraries.
Library catalogs generally include indicators of which materials are part of a collective collection. Many collective collections are additionally tracked at a regional or national level. The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) hosts a Print Archives Preservation Registry (PAPR) to record titles, holdings, and conditions of serials held in major shared print programs across the United States. The Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries offers a similar tool called the Gold Rush Library Content Comparison System. In 2018, CRL and OCLC were awarded a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to enable collective collection retention commitments for serials to be reflected in the global union catalog WorldCat.
Collective collections may be regional or national in scale. As of May 2019, nearly eighty libraries in the United States had committed to retain nearly 18 million books for 25 years under the HathiTrust Shared Print Program. As of December 2018, more than sixty academic libraries participating in the Eastern Academic Scholars' Trust (EAST) had committed to retain more than 6 million monographs for at least 15 years. Collective collections programs outside the United States include Finland’s National Repository Library, Australia's CAVAL Archival and Research Materials (CARM) Centre, Canada's Keep@Downsview, and the United Kingdom's U.K. Research Reserve.
Libraries’ efforts to collectively manage and provide access to their holdings date back to antiquity and extend through twentieth-century projects such as the Farmington Plan. Funding reductions and escalating storage costs, as well as space constraints, for physical collections in the 2000s created an environment where library directors needed to rely on partnerships with consortia and other libraries. Librarians began to write about shared print collections as one possible method of dealing with these mounting constraints. In 2002 Richard Fyffe argued that librarians needed to start a dialogue with stakeholders and patrons in the scholarly community about the need to rely more on collective collections. In 2004 Bernard F. Reilly (former president of the Center for Research Libraries) envisioned “drawing together the major independent regional and national repository initiatives into a coordinated, community-wide print preservation effort.” In 2013 Lorcan Dempsey popularized the term “collective collections” in an OCLC research report. The trend toward collective collections has also received significant coverage in the mainstream press.