Thursday, April 19, 2007

The UK Research Reserve - protecting the UK's research collection

The UK Research Reserve was initiated by the Consortium of Research Libraries (CURL) and the British Library in 2005, with their commissioning of the CHEMS Consultancy to investigate the possibility of a collaborative store for little-used printed materials.

Nicola Wright of Imperial College, the Project Manager for the first stage of the UKRR, gave an overview of progress so far in her briefing session for the conference.

The concept behind the project is deceptively simple. Libraries are running out of space. Certain categories of printed material (mostly journals) take up prime position in most research libraries but are now little used as their online counterparts have taken over as the medium of choice for researchers. Therefore why not discard the printed versions, retaining only sufficient copies to satisfy issues of preservation and access for future researchers, then do much more interesting things with the space that is released? The official description of the UKRR is that it is a "collaborative, co-ordinated & sustainable approach to securing the long term retention, storage and access to low use printed research materials".

However, the devil is in the detail. Much of the work that will go into the project focusses on de-duplicating material to the point that there is one copy stored in the British Library's document supply collection at Boston Spa and two further copies within Higher Education Libraries somewhere (anywhere) in the UK. This will have to happen without inadvertantly discarding the last copy of a title, volume or issue.

The British Library will be the principle point of access to the collection, through its existing document supply services. According to the CHEMS Report, the BL has about 80% of the journal titles/volumes held collectively across UK HE, so will actively take in material that is being discarded by universities, where it is needed to fill gaps in its collection. Participating libraries will be able pay an annual flat fee for continued access to all of the materials within the UKRR. It is anticipated that this facility will be available to all HE libraries, regardless of whether they send printed material into the collection or not. It is intended that the UKRR will be integrated into the BL's collection as a whole in the long run, so will eventually be accessible to any researcher through standard docdel services.

There are quite a few challenges inherent in the process of establishing the UKRR. These include:
  • Persuading academics and researchers to part with printed material to which they feel emotionally attached.
  • Collecting enough accurate data about holdings to be able to make informed decisions about what to discard and what to keep. Typically the journal holdings listed on library catalogues are out of date (volumes or issues have been lost, vandalised, or withdrawn earlier and the catalogue not amended) and do not offer the required level of granularity ("incomplete" instead of "lacking Vol 2, issue 1"), therefore a huge amount of shelf-checking has to be carried out. In addition to holdings information, the length of the title runs will have to be measured in order to plan space.
  • Deciding which institution draws the short straw and gets to keep the residual copies in perpetuity, and ensuring that this decision is recorded somewhere useful so that the volumes are not withdrawn somewhere down the line. SCONUL (Society of College, National and University Libraries) will act as the clearing house for these decisions and policies.
  • Making sure that all of the changes in holdings that are going on during the de-duplication process are made clear in university, union and BL catalogues in a timely fashion. This will be crucial, as several institutions will be de-duplicating simultaneously and will be cross-checking holdings against one another and the BL.

This sounds like a huge undertaking, and makes me feel rather glad that my home institution decided not to take part in the project for now. I wholeheartedly wish everyone involved (the initial project partners in the HE sector are Birmingham, Cardiff, Imperial College, Liverpool, St Andrews and Southampton University Libraries) the very best of luck! If all goes well during the initial stage - which runs until June 2008 - the processes and policies developed will be rolled out to all UK research libraries, including special and society collections and national libraries as well as those in Higher Eduation.

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