The Transformation of Academic Library Collecting: A Symposium Inspired by Dan C. Hazen

On October 20th and 21st, I attended “The Transformation of Academic Library Collecting: A Symposium Inspired by Dan C. Hazen,” which was sponsored by Harvard University and was held in Cambridge, MA. This post is a short summary of highlights from the event.

A prevailing theme at the symposium was the concept of collective collections and the implications of this concept on managing research libraries’ collections. As Lorcan Dempsey (Chief Strategist and VP, Membership & Research, OCLC) discussed, libraries are transitioning from a “print logic” (which bases value attributions on locally assembled print collections) to a “network logic” (which bases value attributions on the library’s ability to meet a variety of research and learning needs through networks of libraries and affiliated organizations working in concert).  Many interesting points were made at the symposium as the presenters and attendees grappled with the implications of the network logic. What follows is a listing that should give you a sense of some of the key issues related to collective collections and the network logic discussed at the meeting:

  • Dempsey drew a distinction between two categories of collections:
    • Outside-In collections: those knowledge resources that the library purchases from vendors and then makes accessible to its researchers.
    • Inside-Out collections: those knowledge resources that the library facilitates the creation of through a suite of services in support of scholarship and then enables publication, discoverability, and curation.
  • Outside-In collections have traditionally been at the core of library identities, but, increasing, these collections are being framed as just one service of several.
  • Reflecting the transition to collections as services, major publishers like Elsevier are shifting strategies from publication and delivery of content to enabling researchers to be more productive (through platforms such as Mendeley and SSRN) and then enabling for the assessment of this productivity (through products such as Pure and SciVal).
  • There was discussion of how best to “right-scale” collective collection management; in other words, how do we partner at the right scales. Also, how do we develop and deploy methodologies for decision-making at scale.
  • There was discussion of the need to develop more positions focused on collective collections over local collections: Galadriel Chilton’s position of Ivy Plus Libraries Director of Collection Initiatives was cited as an example the type of position that we need more of.
  • As the network logic expands, overlap between libraries’ general collections should decrease as different libraries can focus their collections in more specialized areas; also, special collections should become “specialer.”
  • There is a dialectical relationship between technology and user behaviors: there is a constant interplay of reconfigurations between the tools and the behaviors that surround those tools.
  • Library are working toward collectivity in a context of “radical scatter” – information is diffuse, disorganized, difficult to discover.
  • Libraries are still burdened by a print logic: there is a lingering desire for comprehensiveness and libraries still boast of the size of their collections even as this measure of value decreases in relevance. There is a focus on competition in collections among libraries when there needs to be a focus on partnership.
  • Transition from a print logic to a network logic will depend on uptake both from our user communities and from library personnel. Galadriel Chilton argued that, to facilitate this update, we need to incorporate the network logic into pre-existing narratives of meaning about collections.
  • Usage patterns at Yale University provide strong evidence for the growth of the network logic: Use of local collections is down by 33 percent over the past 15 years. Concurrently, there has been a 144 percent increase in resource sharing. The collective collection (primarily facilitated by Borrow Direct – resource sharing among the ivies) is overtaking the value of Yale’s local collections.
  • Discussions of initiatives for collective collections should include a business plan – a way to make the initiative sustainable longterm.

Concurrent with the discussions surrounding collective collections, there were a number of other interesting points made at the symposium:

  1. Tom Hyry (Harvard University) discussed how the paths of special collections and general collections are converging. Associated with this, there is a need to develop a holistic view of collections that will expand capacity and facilitate open conversation between the traditional disparate areas of special collections and technical services.
  2. Jane Kamensky (Harvard University) discussed how memory as captured in archives and special collections is gendered. Typically, donations of personal papers come through a person’s daughter – the person in the family that traditionally saves, annotates, and organizes family letters. This “hidden labor” behind collections has important implications regarding how we should think about our collections.
  3. Bethany Nowviskie (University of Virginia) discussed the concept of “speculative collections.” Using the artistic movement of Afrofuturism as her point of departure, she argued that the ways in which libraries organize, present, and make collections discoverable memorializes a linear view of history and does not foreground the possibilities that collections offer as problem-solving tools that are oriented towards the future and enable the envisioning of new possibilities. Libraries need to work collaboratively with their communities to develop new ways of designing information architectures that reflect an orientation towards change rather than immutability. Nowviskie cited Blacklight as a platform that suggests ways facilitate this new sort of information architecture.

Finally, the symposium contained remembrances of Dan Hazen (1947-2015) a leader in the field of collection development and a distinguished Latin Americanist at Harvard University. The symposium was inspired by Hazen’s forwarding think regarding collections and his enthusiasm for partnerships. Nearly every presentation at the symposium made reference to Hazen’s leadership in collection development and many cited his publications.


One thought on “The Transformation of Academic Library Collecting: A Symposium Inspired by Dan C. Hazen

  1. Interesting about Yale having a 144 percent increase in resource sharing in 15 years. Our own increase at UConn for the same time frame is 168%. I wonder what our local collection use was?

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