Collaborative Collections and Shared Print: Libraries Working Together for a Better Future

In 2022, most libraries face the same two significant realities: decreasing budgets and finite space. Librarians are tasked with providing diverse populations of library users with the information resources they need and want (for ex., books, journals, scores, manuscripts, etc.) within a physical space that gets more crowded with each successive year.

It is not surprising, then, that discussions around collaborative collections and shared print have been on the rise for the past several years.

Books being digitized
Gerd Altmann via

What are Collaborative Collections and Shared Print?

In the simplest sense, a collaborative collection is “the combined holdings of a group of libraries.”1 These collections do not just provide a list of all of the holdings of the participating libraries, but rather truly work to combine the collections. As this is done, any duplicate resources are reduced from the collection and as libraries consider future resource purchases the collaborative collection must first be consulted to make sure there are no duplicates. Having a collaborative collection can increase the scale of one’s collection while leaving items such as the status of ownership, collection access, and what resources are shown in the collection to those managing it.2

While some of these collaborative collections focus on online resources, there has been a rise in the amount of shared print programs as well. Through these programs, libraries work together to create a collection of their print resources in a physical or digitized format thus allowing patrons to access monographs, serials, and periodicals from multiple libraries. Shared print programs have a focus on “access and preservation, and an emphasis on partnerships and shared collection management.”3 The move toward shared print programs has helped to drive the growth of collaborative collections as the benefits of sharing collections have become more evident. 

Catholic University has seen these benefits first hand through our involvement in the Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC). We work together with several other partner universities in the area to maintain a collaborative collection of over 22 million items that can be found at libraries throughout the area as well as at a shared storage facility in Maryland. With this, Catholic University patrons can borrow print resources from any of our partner universities to have them delivered directly to campus through the Consortium Loan Service (CLS). The Coordinated Collections Committee (CCC) of the WRLC, composed of librarians from nine academic institutions, collaboratively acquire and share some print and e-resources, at a substantial financial savings for each individual library. Consequently, each individual library has more discretion to purchase and share unique and specialized publications.

Washington Research Library Consortium
Washington Research Library Consortium

The Benefits 

The biggest benefit of collaborative collections for libraries and patrons alike is the increased access to resources. As these collections are created and duplicate works are weeded out, individual library collections become rather distinct from one another. The collaborative collection is then built to contain a well rounded collection with diverse and unique works within it.4 This optimizes the access to resources that patrons receive while allowing the library to then spend money on contributing more unique resources to the collaborative collection rather than spending money on resources that one of their partner libraries may already have.

The freedom that individual libraries retain within these collaborative collections is another benefit. Libraries working within one of these collections will follow standards for collection development and organization to best work with its partner libraries, but the libraries are still able to make decisions on how their individual resources are organized and retained within their physical space and are thus able to curate them to their specific community. Being able to keep individual communities in mind while still working within a collaborative collection and managing the collection as a group, really highlights the “shared goal of preservation and access” that these collections were created with.5 

Growth of Collaborative Collections

As collaborative collections and shared print initiatives continue to develop, librarians are excited by the possibilities for sharing resources more broadly, diversifying collections, and reaching users around the world. The Internet Archive, the Rosemont Shared Print Alliance, and HathiTrust have introduced innovative initiatives that are leading the way in exploring the potential for shared collections.

Catholic University is in the process of becoming a member of HathiTrust. HathiTrust is a collaboration of academic and research institutions that offers over a million digitized titles. It is fully funded by its member institutions so it is able to stay focused on the goals of preservation and access. It includes the digitally preserved collections of over 200 libraries and has made 40 percent of the collection available to the public which is the “broadest access legally possible” due to copyright constraints.6 HathiTrust can be fully integrated into a member library’s systems allowing patrons and library staff to take advantage of its offerings. It also offers tools for text analysis such as worksets and a separate analytics site to accomplish objectives such as text mining. Users are then able to benefit from this highly diverse collection and access titles online easily while libraries are able to preserve their print collections to allow users to engage with them for the foreseeable future.


In the Future

Going forward, collaborative collections and shared print are likely to become increasingly more popular and seen within many library’s systems. Libraries are continuing to develop innovative processes to compliment these collections and allow patrons greater access. Controlled digital lending (CDL), circulating a temporary digital copy of a print book while removing the physical copy from circulation, is one such process that has become an emerging trend.7 With the rise of such collections and lending processes, patrons will be able to access more works than ever before while libraries will be able to preserve and more widely share their collections. Libraries will be tasked with developing best practices for such collections and emerging processes but the work put in now will benefit libraries and patrons for years to come.


  1. Lavoie, B., Dempsey, L., & Malpas, C. (2020). Reflections on collective collections. College & Research Libraries, 81(6).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Fulkerson, N., & Weltin, H. (2021). Old texts, new networks: HathiTrust and the future of shared print. In L. McAllister and S. Laster (Eds.), Transforming print: Collection development and management for our connected future (pp. 69). Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
  4. See note 1 above.
  5. Fulkerson & Weltin, 2021, p. 67.
  6. Ibid., p. 71.
  7. Association of Research Libraries. (2020, July 1). Association of research libraries signs statement in support of controlled digital lending.
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