A collective perspective on print books in the US and Canada

According to a new study just released by the Pew Research Center, print books are still the most popular format for American readers. That’s good news, because according to a new OCLC Research position paper, US – and Canadian – libraries have a lot of them. More than 59 million distinct publications, based on nearly a billion print book holdings, in fact. That ought to keep everyone busy!

In The US and Canadian Collective Print Book Collection: A 2019 Snapshot, OCLC Research provides an overview of the collective print book holdings – as represented in WorldCat – of US and Canadian libraries. The paper also includes an updated version of our familiar illustration of US and Canadian “mega-regional” print book collections. Overall, the paper traces the contours of US and Canadian collective print book holdings at two scales: a “grand scale” combining the holdings of all US and Canadian libraries into a single collective collection, and a smaller regional scale that focuses on geographically-clustered print book holdings as collective collections.

A key finding from the paper is that the US and Canadian collective print book collection is growing more “dilute”: that is, growth in the number of distinct print book publications exceeds growth in total print book holdings, which means that the average number of holdings per print book publication is falling. This suggests that duplication, or overlap, across local print book collections may be lessening.

Collective collections are an important frame for collection analysis, and increasingly, the operational scale for services like shared print management, group-scale discovery, and resource sharing. OCLC Research has produced an extensive (and ongoing) program of work on collective collections, of which this position paper is the latest contribution. Be sure to also check out the recently published OCLC Research report Operationalizing the BIG Collective Collection: A Case Study of Consolidation vs Autonomy. Prepared in collaboration with the Big Ten Academic Alliance Library Initiatives, the report offers recommendations on how this consortium of academic libraries can expand the coordination of their collective collection.   

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