The cat that didn’t bark

About a year ago, OCLC completed a two-year project (funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) with the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) that, among other enhancements, added support for the registration of serial retention commitments in WorldCat. These enhancements not only help improve discovery of shared print data (PDF) across all OCLC services, but also bolster CRL’s Print Archives Preservation Registry (PAPR) and other partner efforts.

At the time that project was completed, we estimated OCLC and its member institutions would register about 15 million commitments over the course of the year. As of today, the community has actually added more than 25 million retention commitments.

While there are many, many institutions and partners contributing to the success of this program, I’d like to take a moment to recognize our top contributors (approximate retention registrations shown):

  1. Eastern Academic Scholars’ Trust (EAST): 9,910,837
  2. HathiTrust Shared Print Program: 9,605,017
  3. Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC) Shared Print Program: 1,720,200
  4. Maine Shared Collections Cooperative (MSCC): 1,505,161
  5. Florida Academic REpository (FLARE): 797,367
  6. Consortium of UNC Shared Print (CUSP): 429,781
  7. Council of Academic Library Directors (CALD) Cooperative Collection Management Program: 286,591
  8. Council of Prairie and Pacific Libraries’ Shared Print Archive Network (COPPUL SPAN): 196,525
  9. Central Iowa – Collaborative Collections Initiative (CI-CCI): 113,761
  10. ConnectNY (CNY) Shared Print Trust Program: 52,892

A big “thanks” to these groups and institutions, and to every cataloger and program administrator who has added shared print and serials retention commitments to WorldCat. Every time you make that happen, it means that other libraries can “hear” your clues and make more informed decisions.

Does your cat bark?

In the Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of Silver Blaze, Holmes is tasked with finding a missing racehorse and the murderer of the horse’s trainer. He discusses that case with Gregory, a Scotland Yard detective:

Gregory: Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?
Holmes: To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
Gregory: The dog did nothing in the night-time.
Holmes: That was the curious incident.

The dog didn’t bark, we discover, because it was familiar with the murderer—a clue that’s important because of its absence. It’s a clever plot device. But in real life, it’s notoriously hard to “spot an absence.”

As a cataloger with more than 30 years of experience at OCLC, I know that collection strategies must be based on local, institutional needs. But the entire purpose of WorldCat and other shared OCLC services is to employ the work of other catalogers and metadata professionals, all around the world, to make their local collections better.

Shared print programs are an increasingly important part for those trying to protect the scholarly record. In addition, we know that sharing the costs of low-use titles lets libraries reclaim prime physical space through responsible deselection.

But if you want to know what you can safely weed, what you should share, and what you should definitely keep, your catalog needs to be connected to others’. Because if our “cats” don’t “bark,” our colleagues can’t know if what they’re evaluating is popular, rare, or entirely unique in relation to what you’ve decided to maintain.

Serials are three times quieter

In late 2020, my colleague, Matt Barnes, OCLC Director of Sustainable Collections Services, wrote a piece about “time-traveling librarians” and shared print. In it, he mentioned that our research shows that around 2% of collections are made up of materials present in five libraries or fewer. Matt points out:

“Now, someone outside the library community might think, ‘Two percent isn’t that big a deal,’ or ‘Five copies are plenty.’ But inside the library community, this is a bit scary. For the 322 libraries analyzed, two percent represents 2.76 million monographs at risk.”

Well, if two percent is a big deal to people like you and me—catalogers who care about preserving the cultural record—six percent is a potential disaster.

Read how shared serials retention commitments help build & preserve the collective collection in #OCLCnext. Click To Tweet

Helping libraries make, keep, and share their serial retention commitments is incredibly important. That’s partly because it helps groups and consortia efficiently create shared print projects. But our recent research has shown that around 6% of serials are owned by five or fewer libraries.

That represents a serious potential loss to the world’s collected knowledge every time a library deaccessions serials materials silently.

We need to hear what you’re doing!

Participating in shared print activities through WorldCat provides benefits at the local, group, and global levels. You’ll be able to open up physical space for other, more impactful uses. Your group or consortia will maintain access to the materials they need, even if they’re rare and not used as often. And all libraries, everywhere, will have a better sense of what they can remove, share, or retain.

To find out more on this important subject, you can read original research on the “Collective Collection,” and get more general information about OCLC shared print activities and services.

There’s also a growing number of users who connect through the OCLC GreenGlass and Shared Print community. If you haven’t already, request access to the OCLC Community Center to participate. If you already use the Community Center and your library has a full cataloging subscription or uses GreenGlass, you should see the GreenGlass and Shared Print community once you log in.

Maybe you’re more of a Sherlock Holmes than I am and enjoy working hard at solving puzzles. But when it comes to good cataloging practices—and preserving knowledge for the future—I prefer to keep my mysteries inside the books—not about them.