The Changing Nature of Collection Management in Research Libraries

By Branin, Joseph; Groen, Frances et al. | Library Resources & Technical Services, January 2000 | Go to article overview

The Changing Nature of Collection Management in Research Libraries


Branin, Joseph, Groen, Frances, Thorin, Suzanne, Library Resources & Technical Services


The contemporary history collection management in North American research libraries began midcentury. Since then, several issues have influenced the evolution of collection management with new forces emerging in the 1980s. In this article, we point to the challenges librarians face in managing the transition into a new and uncharted environment, including differing needs and scholarly communication patterns. We anticipate digital information will bring fundamental changes to scholarly communication and thus to collection management and point to a shift from a decentralized system of duplication print collections to one of fewer central repositories. We believe print collections are not likely to disappear but the importance of secure storage for digital materials cannot be overemphasized. In the digital age, the "library model" for funding and sharing information will be scrutinized for its applicability in a world of access. Collection management librarians must take the lead in wedding print collection management to new storage and electronic access and delivery options to maintain and preserve the record of knowledge.

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Historical Background

The contemporary history of collection management in research libraries in North America began in the middle of the twentieth century as the United States and Canada emerged froze World War II, Over a period of about 35 years, from roughly 1950 through the mid-1980s, collection management in research libraries in America became codified and professionalized. Three important issues greatly influenced the evolution of collection management during this formative period: (1) the rapid expansion of higher education, scholarship, and library collections; (2) the shift from collection development to collection management; and (3) attempts to collect cooperatively, as duplicate collections grew.

Rapid Growth in Size and Scope of Research Library Collections

Information overload may be the greatest challenge that scholars and librarians have faced in the twentieth century. In 1870, 840 papers were published in mathematics; by the middle of the 1990s, 50,000 new mathematics articles were being published annually (Odlyzko 1996). The second half of the twentieth century has been a time of spectacular growth in all fields of knowledge, especially in scientific disciplines. According to Cummings et al. (1992, 61), book production in the United States began an "extraordinary expansion" in 1945 that was "particularly rapid during the first half of the 1960's." The creation of new science journals, as reported by Science Citation Index source publications, dramatically increased in the four decades from 1950 to 1990, with the 1970s being the decade of the most dramatic scientific journal growth (Cummings et al. 1992).

Librarians whose careers spanned the pre- and post-1950s worlds noted a marked expansion in the scope of scholarship in America. Before World Spar II, academic research in America concentrated on Western culture and classical areas of science. After the war, American research horizons expanded to cover all areas of the world as well as applied and specialized fields of science (Holley 1987). Library collections grew rapidly to house the products of this expanded research effort. In the 1950s and 1960s many university librarians found themselves in the midst of a "golden age" of collection development when acquisitions funds seemed plentiful, U.S. currency was strong, and there was still room in academic library book stacks.

From Development to Management of Library Collections

Osburn (1979) documented the rapid growth of higher education and the reshaping of the academic research agenda in a post-Sputnik era. He stated that the patterns of scholarship in America were undergoing profound changes in the second half of the twentieth century, and research librarians needed to understand better and be more responsive to this new academic agenda. …

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