Australia's National Research Collection: Overlap, Uniqueness, and Distribution

Article excerpt

This paper presents the most recent findings of an ongoing study investigating the overlap, uniqueness, and distribution of print collections held in Australian research libraries. The goal of the study is to better understand the distribution of legacy print material amongst Australian research libraries in order to assess the potential for future collaboration in aspects of collection development and collection management. This includes collection development (selection and acquisitions), storage, disposal, and last copy retention. There is a particular focus on storage, and on the potential for creating forms of federated storage that reduce costs for the network of Australian research libraries and produce efficiencies in the discovery and delivery of legacy print items (Genoni, 2007; Genoni, 2008).

An important research method in achieving the goals of the project has been the use of studies of overlap and uniqueness amongst Australia's research collections. Results have been produced (Genoni & Varga, 2009) that supplement those obtained from previous similar studies (Australian Research Libraries Collection Analysis Project, 2004; Missingham & Walls, 2003). Each of these previous overlap studies have identified both the degree of duplication between collections and the incidence and distribution of uniquely held items for sections of the Australian research library community. While generating useful data, these studies have, however, been restricted in scope and utility by the limited functionality of the bibliographic services and software at their disposal. The primary source of data used has been the National Bibliographic Database (NBD), in the form of Libraries Australia and its predecessors. This service has not been well equipped with either the software or staff support necessary for deep mining of overlap data. As a result, previous Australian overlap studies have been limited to a subset of the university libraries and the National Library, and had limited flexibility in manipulating data.

In recent years, however, an alternative source of data for overlap studies has emerged, coupled with software designed specifically for the task of mining collections-based data. The data source is the OCLC WorldCat, now established as the foremost international union catalogue. As of July 2011, OCLC claim the database consists of over 236.7 million bibliographic records with 1.74 billion holdings provided by over 72,000 libraries (OCLC, 2011).

The potential to use this rich source of data for collaborative collection management has long been recognised, with Lavoie, Dempsey, and Connaway arguing that with the assistance of WorldCat,

... data mining across library collections could open the door to new opportunities for shared collection management. Studies of holdings patterns for institutional clusters at the consortium, regional, or even national level could reveal opportunities to reduce cross-collection redundancies and free up resources to fill gaps in collections (Lavoie, Dempsey & Connaway, 2006: np)

OCLC support WorldCat users with a range of services including 'resource evaluation, comparison and planning' based on the use of the WorldCat Collection Analysis software to assess and compare collections (OCLC). Some of the previous uses of WorldCat data have investigated its use in research related to the current study, including for the support of decision making with regard to stored material (Ward & Aagard, 2008); the identification and management of last copies (Connaway, O'Neill & Prabha, 2006); and the profiling of national collections (Dickey, 2011).


One of the challenges faced by overlap studies is that they are only as accurate as the catalogue data they mine (Rochester, 1987). In July 2007, the National Library of Australia entered into an agreement with OCLC that covered all Libraries Australia subscribers. …