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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Economics of Cooperative Collection Development and Management - The United States’ Experience with Rarely-held Research Materials

Donald B. Simpson,
Center for Research Libraries
6050 South Kenwood Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60637-2804 USA


This paper describes the mission and programs of North America’s most successful and enduring effort in cooperative collection development and management. The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) provides an ongoing opportunity for inter-institutional collaboration among significant academic and research libraries in the United States and Canada. Member libraries make local collecting decisions based on the collecting policies of CRL, especially in relation to peripheral materials, including newspapers, serials, dissertations, retrospective collections and area studies materials. Through shared ownership and pooled resources, participants in CRL programs reduce the individual costs of collecting a large body of materials to levels that cannot be matched locally. Lastly, the impact of electronic resources on CRL’s cooperative collection program is considered.


The Mission of the Center for Research Libraries

The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) is a membership consortium of institutions with significant academic and research libraries. It is an independent, not-for-profit corporation located at the City of Chicago in the United States. The mission of CRL is to foster and advance scholarly and scientific research through cost-effective, cooperative programs that provide reliable access through traditional and electronic means to unique and unusual collections of library materials that are in all appropriate formats, international in scope and comprehensive in disciplines. CRL is unique among library cooperatives that support scholarship due to its centralized library collection of over 5.5 million volumes in paper and microform, its cooperative, membership-based governance structure, and its programs that enable institutions of higher education to optimize their expenditures for library materials. (1)

The Center for Research Libraries was established in 1965 by 22 midwestern United States universities that had become members of the Midwest Inter-Library Center (MILC), CRL’s predecessor organization founded in 1949. The idea behind the original cooperative was to effect a creative solution to a conflict between university presidents (who did not want to construct additional library facilities on their campuses) and librarians (who asserted the research value of the volumes increasingly crowding their libraries' shelves). The university presidents believed that a regional depository library would alleviate the space problems in their overflowing libraries. The librarians asserted that a specialized collecting program at CRL could build a collection that would meet some of the more esoteric demands of their researchers. It was a desirable merger of interests.

The Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation funded the construction of CRL’s original building and the program got underway. As soon as the building was completed in 1951, the founding libraries identified books, journals, documents, and bound volumes of newspapers that were infrequently used by their patrons and, throughout the 1950s, transported to the new cooperative approximately two million items to be processed and shelved. In addition to accepting materials from its member libraries, CRL began in the 1960s a program of direct acquisitions from publishers, scholarly societies, and national governments in response to a demand for materials going unmet by the Farmington Plan. What began as a repository to reduce the pressure of collections expanding beyond the availability of physical space to house the collections shifted gears into a program of cooperative collection development. CRL moved beyond the storage of a stagnant collection of unused library books. Over its forty-eight year history, major universities and research institutions in the United States and Canada have shaped their libraries' collections based on CRL’s holdings. The success of the cooperative collection development program depends heavily on the ability to rapidly supply materials through interlibrary loan and document delivery to requesting libraries, which requires efficient book retrieval and document supply operations as well as excellent and highly visible bibliographic access. The acquisition of an item by CRL implies that it will be available indefinitely, which means that preservation quickly became an important part of the program.

CRL expands access to library resources for university faculty and researchers through its cooperative collection development program. Its valuable holdings, of interest to scholarly researchers, are likely to be used infrequently in any one library; which makes it prudent for libraries to support and utilize a centralized resource that effectively reduces the cost of access to such materials. By committing their membership fees to the cooperative acquisition and storage of these materials, each CRL member increases the research materials available to all scholars throughout North America while avoiding unnecessary duplication of holdings and costs.

Each member library considers CRL’s collections to be a remote extension of its own local collections -- in other words, a branch library. CRL informs researchers about the titles it holds by contributing its cataloging records to the most frequently consulted online international bibliographic databases and making its own catalog, CRLCATALOG, accessible via the World Wide Web. When a researcher learns that titles of interest are available at CRL, his or her university library sends an electronic request to CRL.

Whenever possible, the information is transmitted to the requester by fax or ARIELä; books or microfilms sent out on loan are sent by expedited shipping to the requesting library. About one-half of the use of the collection is accomplished through the interlibrary loan process with 100,000 items sent out each year in response to requests. CRL also maintains a reading room where scholars may consult materials; last year, patrons submitted almost 1,000 requests to the reading room.

The Programs of the Center for Research Libraries

The Center for Research Libraries operates a cooperative collection development program (see Figure 1) that assists academic and research libraries in reducing the costs of making rarely-held primary research materials available to scholars and researchers. The cooperative collection development program collects, preserves and provides access to these research materials in print, microform and electronic formats. The cooperative collection development program is based on CRL’s first strategic asset - a large centralized collection consisting of five major components upon which member libraries make local collecting decisions. The components are expensive to collect in relation to their use at any one institution, but are made cost-effective through the application of CRL’s second strategic asset - the CRL interlibrary cooperation model, which holds the materials centrally for shared use. The cooperative collection program is further strengthened by CRL’s third strategic asset - its experienced staff with substantial capabilities to develop and successfully complete inter-institutional resource-sharing programs. Members greatly reduce the per-library costs of acquisition, processing, preservation and use of carefully selected library materials held in shared ownership by CRL. The components are expensive to collect in relation to their use at any one institution, but are cost-effectively available when held in common and supported through pooled resources. (2)

Figure not available, please contact author.

Figure 1


Newspapers are acquired by the Center through purchased and gift subscriptions, deposit, reformatting projects, or through the demand purchase service. CRL aims to collect at least one newspaper from each state in the United States and at least one from each country to provide a broad pool of titles for use in research. CRL also acquires specialized newspapers, such as those of the U.S. ethnic press. Bibliographic access to these newspapers are provided by CRLCATALOG and the foreign newspapers page on CRL’s Website. The demand purchase service for backfiles of U.S. and foreign newspapers with current subscriptions alleviates expenditures from local material budgets. Additional costs savings may be achieved through the purchase proposal and shared purchase services. Members are relieved of the costs of providing local access to newspapers that have limited ongoing local demand.

The goals for the global newspapers component are to:


CRL acquires serial titles rarely-held by North American libraries through exchange agreements, purchased and gift subscriptions, and member deposit with a focus on foreign serials, especially Asian and Eastern European science and technology titles. Titles currently acquired are outside of the core of heavily used, high demand titles that are commonly collected and retained by individual institutions. The component maintains backfiles of titles that are more commonly held but have little use due to the age of the material. A single, collectively held backfile of little used material reduces the costs of shelving locally while increasing the collective use. Such backfiles provide a paper archive that backstops emerging electronic files of serials. Bibliographic access to these newspapers are provided by CRLCATALOG.

The goals for the serials component are to:


CRL provides comprehensive access to doctoral dissertations submitted to institutions outside the United States and Canada. Foreign doctoral dissertations are acquired by the Center through gifts, exchanges, the demand purchase service, and member deposit. A small number are acquired on serial subscriptions when published in a sub-series of a serial title to which CRL subscribes. CRL also purchases Russian dissertation abstracts in the humanities and social sciences from the Russian Academy of Sciences (INION). A single, commonly held collection of foreign doctoral dissertations reduces the costs of shelving locally while increasing the aggregated use. The demand purchase service for foreign doctoral dissertations reduces expenditures from local material budgets.

The goals for the foreign doctoral dissertations component are to:


CRL acquires and maintains extensive collections of major microform or reprint sets of global archival materials; selected monographs; special collections such as U.S. imprint, primary and secondary level textbooks; college and university catalogs; and U.S. state documents. These collections are acquired through the purchase proposal, shared purchases, and archival demand purchase services; subscriptions; and member deposit. Access is provided to microform and reprint sets that are expensive to purchase and to large collections of material that are expensive to maintain locally. The demand purchase service for microfilmed archives of the activities of national governments reduces the need for expenditures from local material budgets. Additional costs savings may be achieved through the purchase proposal and shared purchase services.

The goals for the national retrospective collections component are to:


CRL administers and coordinates the activities of six area studies microform project: Cooperative Africana Microform Project (CAMP), Latin American Microform Project (LAMP), Middle Eastern Microform Project (MEMP), Slavic and Eastern European Microform Project (SEEMP), South Asia Microform Project (SAMP), and Southeast Asia Microform Project (SEAM). Each project has its own governance, by-laws, and fees. Each project selects material to preserve and collect according to their own guidelines. These cooperative projects provide access to a pool of material that are beyond the means of any individual area studies program to provide and that might not be available at all without preservation. The Center coordinates collective activities of the various area studies projects through the Area Studies Council (ASC). The ASC provides a forum for discussing shared concerns and reducing duplicative efforts.

The goals for the area studies component are to:

The Economic Benefits of CRL Membership

Last year, CRL added nearly 80,000 new volumes at a unit cost of $13 compared to the average of $62 among the university library members of the Association of Research Libraries. For the average member, each volume cost 38 cents. Over the last decade, a typical member gained access to a million new volumes at an average of 23 cents each. In total, CRL membership enables each member to add to its collection nearly five million volumes at a unit cost of less than one penny each per year.

By sharing the costs with over 165 partners, each member leverages its resource-sharing dollars many times. Members need not acquire, process or store little-used scholarly journals, foreign newspapers or foreign dissertations. CRL's ability to take member deposits frees local space as well as shifts the burden of maintaining the collection to the entire group where the cost is widely spread. Demand procedures fulfill requests from scholars for specific purchases of foreign dissertations, archival materials and newspapers without creating fragmented collections at each member library.

Leveraging dollars is also made possible by the Center's active development program. In the past dozen years, CRL has added to its budget $10 million, the equivalent of three years of membership fees, for both capital and project purposes. The CRL online public access catalog, improved storage facilities, retrospective catalog conversion and preservation microfilming have been accomplished in large part with funds from sources other than members' fees. The Center can attract such grants because a single grant can benefit a large number of institutions.

The Question of Electronic Resources

North American academic and research libraries, faced with rising demands from users, have found it necessary in recent years to reallocate within budgets that do not keep up with the increasing costs of library publications. They also face a dual problem in which they must continue to acquire and provide print resources while they are confronted increasingly with a growing array of electronic publications. Assumptions are sometimes made by legislators, trustees and others that the transition from publishing in print to publications available only electronically will happen over a short period of time. Further, some believe erroneously that just as quickly the conversion of all existing print collections into electronic format will occur. The reality is that traditional publications, whether solely in print or jointly with electronic forms, will be required well into the future for libraries to meet user needs. Similarly, the lack of funds will slow dramatically the conversion of existing printed collections just as it has for preserving endangered books. The problem of acquiring all that must be collected and making these items permanently available is the most serious challenge ever to face the community of research libraries.

CRL, with nearly 50 years of experience in preserving and archiving publications in print on paper and in microform, has begun in the 1990s to explore and learn about the processes and economics of converting print materials, storing and making them permanently available in electronic formats. A project recently funded at CRL by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is converting into bit-mapped images nearly one million pages of 19th and 20th Century serial publications from the provincial and national governments of Brazil. Selecting, installing and maintaining a mass storage system as well as developing a World Wide Web access tool at CRL has provided invaluable insight into managing and operating an international service at the forefront of technology. These efforts direct collecting and service demands away from individual libraries to the shared cost environment of CRL.

A number of electronic journals projects are underway, including the JSTOR project, which is providing on-line access to a growing number of journal backfiles, but not current issues, and the Elsevier titles, which is offering on-line access to current issues and limited backfiles. Based on experience with information retrieval service providers offering current abstracts and indices on-line in the 1970s, the question arises about permanent availability. For retaining literature seen by the commercial sector as without substantial profit potential, the library community in the past has turned to CRL for these materials.

It is clear to CRL that the increasing numbers of electronic resources will impact the future of inter-institutional collaboration, including CRL’s core program of cooperative collection development. CRL envisions projects that will continue the effort to explore the principal options available to CRL in the context of electronic resources.

Having gained experience in converting print to electronic format, archiving it and making it available via the Internet, CRL will explore the acquisition, storage and delivery of materials that originate in electronic format. This brings into the discussion issues about current versus retrospective materials and pricing strategies apart from traditional membership fees as well as access from institutions beyond the existing membership. CRL will pursue a project involving electronic titles as a means of exploring the processes and economics surrounding lesser-used electronic journals.

CRL is seeking to partner with providers of electronic files of retrospective journals to strengthen the economics of their service by storing paper backfiles of the journals. The objective is to encourage libraries to discard local paper files, freeing scarce shelf space, and rely upon CRL for these titles as they have for other titles for decades.


The Center for Research Libraries as it nears its fiftieth anniversary remains a clear economic benefit to North American libraries today. CRL provides individual libraries ready access to a large array of scholarly materials at costs significantly below what they could achieve locally. How this successful model will be impacted by electronic resources


  1. Center for Research Libraries, Strategic Directions and Initiatives 1997-2001. (Chicago, CRL, 1997) p. 1

  2. Ibid. p.1-2.