“Collective collections” are the combined library collections of multiple institutions. They may exist as a physical aggregation of materials at a single location; they may exist through a service layer that integrates distinct collections into a single resource. Or they may be only notional: a hypothetical combination that can be mined for intelligence to inform institutional and collaborative decision-making. Collective collections can be assembled at any scale, from two institutions to the global library system as a whole. In the latter case, of course, we can only approximate – no single data source represents the holdings of all libraries everywhere. Fortunately, the more than 200 million records and 1.7 billion holdings contained in the WorldCat database provide us with an approximation of the global library resource that is sufficient to explore many interesting questions.
A project currently underway in OCLC Research is exploring the concept of a national presence in the global library resource. A national presence can be characterized from a number of perspectives, including the distinctive features of the country’s library collections; the output of the country’s publishing houses; works authored by the country’s citizens; and the corpus of materials that, regardless of origin, are “about” some aspect of that country. All of these facets, taken together, form a picture of how a country’s profile is manifested in library collections around the world. The project uses Scotland as a case study to illustrate the concept of a national presence in the global library resource, but the goal is to develop patterns of analysis that can be applied without significant modification to any country.
The project is investigating three major themes:
- National Research Collection: the project examines the notion of a “national research collection” – the combined library collections of a nation’s higher education and research-oriented institutions – and how it aligns with the global library resource. The analysis focuses on the collective collection of the four ancient Scottish universities (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and St. Andrews) as well as the National Library of Scotland. The purpose is to uncover the distinctive features of this collective research collection vis-à-vis groups of peer institutions in the library system (e.g., the collective holdings of ARL institutions), as well as the library system as a whole (as represented by WorldCat).
- National Presence in the Global Library Resource: this aspect of the project shifts focus from the contents of Scottish library collections to the presence of Scotland-related materials in library collections around the world. The analysis focuses on materials published in Scotland, created by Scottish authors, or primarily about some aspect of Scotland. Key questions include the size of the Scottish national presence in the global library resource, as well as the characteristics of the materials comprising this presence.
- Diffusion of a National Presence within the Global Library Resource: given the materials identified as comprising a national presence, WorldCat holdings data can be used to track their pattern of diffusion throughout the global library resource. From this, many interesting questions can be explored: the locations of extensive collections of Scotland-related materials outside Scotland; comparisons of the diffusion of Scotland-related materials with the diffusion of the “Scottish diaspora”; and global collecting activity as a means of identifying “core” (i.e., particularly influential) Scottish works.
Analysis of a national presence in the global library resource is relevant to a range of library decision-making needs, including collection development strategies, prioritization of digitization activities, “gap analysis” for national library collections, as well as other applications. A key source of value in all of these potential uses is the ability to consider the features of a national presence against the broader context of the global library resource. The capacity to frame collections and services within a system-wide perspective is a tool of growing importance for library-related analysis and decision-making.
Note: Thanks to colleagues at the Universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and St. Andrews, and the National Library of Scotland, for their ongoing participation in this work. Special thanks to our much-missed colleague John MacColl, who, in his former role as an OCLC Research program officer, was instrumental in designing and guiding this project. We look forward to his continued participation in the project in his new role as University Librarian and Director of Library Services at the University of St. Andrews!