The current surge of consortia interest and projects in SPMR (shared print monograph repository) springs from various circumstances and assumptions going into SPMR projects that feature some bias and conflict. Consortium transactions such as the MOU (memorandum of understanding) are intended to manage conflict but participants “tend to hear what they want to hear”. As a result, various realizations have emerged – even at the early stages – and more adaptive prospects for SPMR are dawning.
The SPMR motivations derive from space re-allocation in libraries, from the long apparent low use of print collections and their copy redundancies and the high cost of print retention and traditional item weeding. SPMR project motivations also include the inevitability of independent library actions and the hope that cooperative response could be more efficient.
There is an expectation that technologies of data monitoring and systems analysis can manage cross-library metrics and cross-institution communication, agreement and management. SPMR projects are also buffered by shared print serials experience and an underlying assumption that the bridge to screen library services and screen reading has been decisively crossed.
Even with the momentum toward SPMR, some surprises, unintended consequence and additional realizations have popped-up. It turns out that data scales more easily than communication and decision-making. As a result, a use-driven agenda based on the notorious low use of print cannot, by itself, drive action or compel massive disposal. More optimal political framing suggests that a RETENTION policy rather than a DISPOSAL policy should be the SPMR priority objective. Behind any “last copy” collection assembly is a more fundamental objective to let no print title disappear forever.
Another realization is that consortium member independence is as accentuated as member constraint regardless of any over-ride of MOUs. Intensified data collecting, extractions and interpretations may prove interesting but they are not necessarily actionable results. Moreover such data is retrospective and use, thus far, can only be based on print circulation. Haunting the whole SPMR movement is prospective implication of title equivalent screen circulations and their use objectives. In this context faculty agendas will also factor and these have not yet intruded fully into SPMR planning. Faculty influence may again focus attention on retention selection rather than disposal selection.
Finally, an unintended consequence may also be dawning. This is that residual shared monographic collections, once administered as consumable “general” collections, will now be transformed into “special collections”. These “secondary works” will now become “primary sources” for authentication and augmentation of their own screen titles. The full functionality of the SPMR collections is not yet fully emerged or accommodated.
Prospects for SPMR are many including eventual tethering of print and screen use and service data into joint surveillance. There is also inkling that SPMR objectives of cooperative collections can also be achieved by cooperative print acquisition going forward. Avoidance of duplicate copy purchase is an ingredient. Another step toward complementary print/screen book transmission would be two-way Hathi linkage, providing screen image link to the access point for the print copy and a bar code print copy link to screen image.
Finally, SPMR collections will face consortium maintenance, monitoring and life cycle management; longer-term sustainability factors will emerge. Emerging also is an inherent integrated cross-library collection of collections with all the classical concerns of library services.
It feels to me that the transition, long doubted, from shared print serials to shared print monographs has suddenly occurred. Can other sweeps into archives, analog magnetic and cinema be far behind? And what of cooperative coffee bar supplies? I also question the intimidation of space crowding and, so far, the response of individual libraries to the need to vacate shelf areas has proven highly variable. When is “empty space” a serious goal anyway? Finally, risks of massive disposal will emerge, and are, emerging. Perhaps “low to non-existing” use of print copies will prove one of those “interesting, but not actionable” data points. Low use can just as well indicate use yet to come. Since when has material culture needed validation of current use?
I also always feel that simplistic binaries are lurking and that they are infiltrating SPMR agendas. We should always pause and look between the binaries.
Why assume that print book affordances are the same as screen books? After all, audio book affordances are not. Print and screen book circulation of a title should be examined as an interdependent transaction. It may eventually occur that book transmission is resilient across all delivery systems and format displays; it has always been so before. And while I am speaking from a lofty dais, as far as that goes, the current enthusiasm for SPMR projects can feel like data wranglers reinventing ILL (inter library loaning).
I suspect that we may have more leverage in debate of an existential threat to preservation rather than any threat to collections integrity. To begin with I shy from partnering with stinking bibliographers and hopelessly conflicted faculty. I also feel that we don’t need to participate in any binary debate of paper vs. screen books; our position should be that the different formats afford complementary, not competitive, components of book transmission.
As for the threat of massive disposal of monographic print, it would require massive disposal to even make a dent across any consortium. Such physical disposal still lacks practical methods, consortia wide buy-in, and full institutional oversight. Traditional weeding can never provide affordable mass disposal and, short of warfare, such massive disposal has not been tried in recent research library history. I suspect that massive disposal will require a similar persistent process somewhat the same as collection building. The current enthusiasm for cooperative “last copy” repository may also ultimately hinge not on member disposal policy but on member retention policy and that inversion of agenda still lurks in the future.
Lets pick another contest and advocate for the continuing functionality of preservation services. Our leverage on that topic is at least more authoritative. The counter forces in this debate are not those of the supremacist digital reading revolution, but only the metric mavens of library administration. We have already made strategic moves to encompass real infrastructure functions beyond book repair. These newly encircled duties include exhibit production, digital image capture and file addressing, digitization project management and, most recently, digital repository protocols.
We need more staff and more capacity, not less, but we need to make the case for preservation as essential to higher education and research library continuity. Here I suggest that we not argue for any of the arid agenda of protective custody or even collection sustainability into the future. I think the key concept is resilience or the capacity to bounce back from sudden changes and displacements of conventions. I like resilience because it does not presume prognostication. Resilience characterizes responses in nature. Ecological resilience is our best hope for planetary survival and we should adapt such a potent method to preservation.
Let the whiners and fretters argue for endangered patrimony; we can support that agenda as a side-bar. We should position preservation work for what it is; a hopeful resilience and vigilance working toward an ever richer culture and more lively book transmission.