The Total Cost of Stewardship Tool Suite

“Total cost of stewardship” by OCLC Research, from Total Cost of Stewardship: Responsible Collection Building in Archives and Special Collections (, CC BY 4.0

I recently shared our excitement about a new publication from OCLC Research, Total Cost of Stewardship: Responsible Collection Building in Archives and Special Collections. The publication itself is not just a report, it is body of materials that includes a report, an annotated bibliography of sources relevant to the ideas shared in the report, and a suite of practical tools that you can adapt and implement at your own institution. Today I’d like to share details about the tool suite, and some resources and upcoming opportunities for advice and support for implementing the tools in your own institution.

Central to all of the work is the idea of Total Cost of Stewardship, which we define as: All of the costs associated with building, managing, and caring for collections so they can be used by and useful to the public. Underlying the definition is the understanding that research libraries and cultural heritage institutions hold their archives and special collections in trust for the public, that we uphold a professional value of providing broad and equitable access to rare and unique collections, and the idea that for our collections to be truly valuable, they must be available for use.

Total Cost of Stewardship Framework

In the report, we propose a Total Cost of Stewardship framework, a holistic approach to understanding the resources needed to responsibly acquire and steward archives and special collections. The framework aims to bring together collection management and collection development considerations; and support communication between colleagues in curatorial, administrative, and technical services roles; and ultimately to help you make informed, shared collection building decisions. There are four elements to the framework:

  • Document Collecting Priorities: this element assures everyone what you want to collect
  • Determine Stewardship Capacity: this element advocates a clear assessment of the time, skills, and monetary resources you have available to allocate to collection needs
  • Gather and Share Information: this element supports activities to gather and share information about the impact an acquisition will have on repository staff and operations
  • Make Decisions Together: this element focuses on the ability to make decisions together that bring together a shared understanding about the value a collection might bring and the resources that will be necessary to realize that value
Diagram of the Total Cost of Stewardship Framework
“Total cost of stewardship framework” by OCLC Research, from Total Cost of Stewardship: Responsible Collection Building in Archives and Special Collections (, CC BY 4.0

The Tool Suite

The Total Cost of Stewardship Tool Suite is intended to operationalize this framework. The tools support assessment of the cost and capacity impact of any potential acquisition, consistent discussion of potential value of an acquisition, and communication across roles to share information and responsibility in the collection building process. You can see in this graphic that we’ve listed specific tools that correspond with each element of the framework.

We have produced two kinds of tools:

  • Cost Estimation tools, to facilitate estimation of the tangible costs of addressing collection needs. The Quick Cost Estimator uses existing time estimation models and turns them into actionable spreadsheet, you can use it to get a quick estimate of the time required to catalog or process materials in archives and special collections. The Operational Impact Estimator allows you to lay out institutional staffing and budgetary capacity for collection stewardship activities, and then assess how work on a specific collection or potential acquisition might impact that capacity.
  • Communication tools, to facilitate discussion of both tangible (labor, supply, and other costs) and intangible (research value, community and other relationships, etc) factors that are weighed in collection decisions. They include templates for a Collection Development Policy; an Operational Impact Report, which assesses and outlines the cost, time, labor, skills, and other resources that will need to be dedicated to a collection to steward it effectively and responsibly; an Acquisition Proposal; a Processing Plan; and a Digitization Project Proposal.

All of the tools are intended to be flexible and broadly applicable to many collecting institutions. To support this, we provide a detailed manual for the cost estimation tools and a usage guide for the communication tools that includes guidance for considerations for each template and offers links to examples from different institutions for similar kinds of tools. The templates are maximal in nature and include many factors that may or may not be relevant in different collecting institutions. You will likely want to tailor them to fit your institutional needs, resources, priorities, and workflows.

Support for Using the Tool Suite

We hope that people will adapt the tools for use in their own institutions. We are offering up a number of resources to support you in exploring, adapting, and implementing the tools.

Office Hours: We are hosting four open, virtual office hour sessions over the next few weeks. These will be unstructured time for you to ask any questions and get advice on using and implementing any of the tools in the tool suite. Two of the sessions are open to RLP members only, and two are open to everyone, as indicated below. Please share with colleagues and join us!

  • Thursday, May 6: 8-9am PDT/11am-noon EDT/4-5pm BST. Open to RLP members only *Most convenient time for UK* register here
  • Thursday, May 6: 1-2pm PDT/4-5pm EDT. Open to all register here
  • Tuesday, May 11: 11am-noon PDT/2-3pm EDT. Open to RLP members only register here
  • Wednesday, May 12: 4-5pm PDT/7-8pm EDT/ Thursday May 13 9-10am AEST. Open to all *Most convenient time for Australia and New Zealand* register here

Tutorial Videos: We have created video tutorials for all the tools in the tool suite, which can be viewed at your convenience. 

  • Quick Cost Estimator – includes an overview, step by step instructions, and a walk through of a sample collection.
  • Operational Impact Estimator – includes an overview, step by step instructions, and a walk through of a sample collection. 
  • Communication Tools – includes an overview of each tool and considerations for implementation. 

Webinar: View our recent webinar which introduces the Total Cost of Stewardship framework, gives a brief overview of the tool suite, and offers insight on how they might be implemented and adapted to various institutional contexts, including concrete examples of how these tools have been used at Emory University’s Rose Library. 

Twitter Chat: Join our Twitter chat on May 20 at noon-1pm PDT / 3-4pm EDT / 8-9pm BST #oclc_tcos. Look for a post with more details about questions and how to participate here soon!