Broader Universe Awaits Libraries at Colby, Bates and Bowdoin

Story posted January 03, 2007

Colby, Bates and Bowdoin colleges have received a $280,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to build a model collaborative library collection development program. The plan is to share collection resources in all formats, electronic and print, reduce unnecessary duplication and redundant purchases, and make a broader universe of materials available at each campus.

Previous grants from the Mellon Foundation to the three schools, which collectively are called "CBB," have helped build a service framework for collection sharing, enabling the libraries to develop technologies to share catalogs and support interlibrary loan activity.

The goals of the current project will bring collaboration among the three libraries to the next level. The libraries plan to determine how to expand the collection of materials available to the CBB academic communities, share budgetary and space resources so that all three libraries can operate more cost-effectively, and build a faculty culture that embraces the plan.

"It's tremendous," says Associate Professor of History Patrick Rael, clearly already on board with the concept of developing three collections which function as one. Rael says NExpress - an existing regional resource-sharing system among the CBB libraries and those of Williams, Wellesley and Northeastern - has helped his research enormously. "With the library's newest expansion, it's just becoming premier, really first-rate. I think we're very fortunate, not just as educators but as researchers."

The grant will be used over two years to hire two temporary librarians who will enable current staff to devote time to the project.

"We need the time," says Bowdoin College Librarian Sherrie Bergman. "We need the project work to be conducted by librarians who have established collegial relations with faculty members and who are knowledgeable about the research and curricular needs of our faculty and students."

The CBB librarians are identifying areas of historical curricular and collection strength for each school and each college. Four pilot curricular areas are being selected to begin the project, which ultimately will span all disciplinary areas and all subject areas of the collections. The pilot areas will be among those that are taught at all three schools, place budgetary pressures on their respective libraries, and are interdisciplinary in nature.

The libraries are using two software tools to analyze areas of collection strength and overlap, measured against current and projected curricular needs. The tools offer collection comparisons on such parameters as collection age, format and past circulation. The resultant data analyses will support development of new approaches to collection development, weeding, cancellation, print archiving, and preservation activities.

The libraries will be working in new ways with vendors for the acquisition of new materials. They will develop joint monographic approval plans with the goal of acquiring a larger number of unique book titles, and test new models for the development of shared journal and electronic book collections.

Because collection-building strategies differ among the disciplines, librarians will consult closely with academic departments and individual faculty members on the three campuses. They will discuss curricular concentrations and collection strengths, overlaps and gaps to achieve increased collection breadth at each school. Space limitations at each library make it logical also to consider cooperative de-accessioning, print archiving and off-site storage agreements.

Professor Thomas Conlan, Program Director of Asian Studies at Bowdoin, notes that the books his department orders are typically very expensive, and says sharing them lets each library focus on areas of expertise.

"It makes all three libraries more than what they are," says Conlan. "The synergy is great."

In the second year of the grant, the model book approval plan will be extended to all appropriate subject areas, and the libraries will write a joint collection management document that presents the strategic vision for a shared collection plan. They also will review benchmark data to measure the success of the new model plan to bring more unique materials to each school.

Project librarians say the enthusiasm and high satisfaction with resource sharing among faculty and students are what make the collaboration possible. Results of the project will be widely disseminated among the library community with the hope that the CBB partnership can serve as a model for other library collaborations.

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