Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by Heather Weltin, HathiTrust; Alison Wohlers, California Digital Library (CDL); and Amy Wood, Center for Research Libraries (CRL), who are coordinators for the CDL, CRL, & HathiTrust Shared Print Collaboration (more commonly called the “CCH Collaboration”).

Authors’ Note: This is the second in our two-part series highlighting the need for shared print, as a community of membership programs working in parallel to a common goal of long term preservation and access to print resources, to evolve in order to become a more cohesive and sustainable national effort. The first part highlighted barriers to the sustainability of shared print; here, we propose strategic organizational changes to build a more effective and sustainable shared print system.

Applying Katherine Skinner’s list of seven barriers to progress for academy-owned and academy-led infrastructure, Shared Print down the Rabbit Hole highlighted our view that current efforts to collaboratively build shared print collections on a national or possible cross-national scale are unsustainable. With significant leadership, programmatic, and alliance changes underway, we have a golden moment to revitalize our effort to become sustainable. In her post, Skinner invites readers to expand on her list by recognizing additional barriers to progress. In this post, we add an eighth barrier: we often build inflexible organizations and fixed networks that are internally focused and siloed from each other and the larger scholarly ecosystem. We propose a solution to better align effort with outcomes to ensure the “faster we run, the farther we go”.

illustration of Alice going through the mirror and coming out the other side
Illustrations by John Tenniel

The eighth barrier: Inflexible organizations that are internally focused and siloed from the larger scholarly ecosystem

As we highlighted in our previous post, shared print has self-organized as an unsustainable network of programs working in parallel toward the common goal of ensuring the preservation and accessibility of print monographs and serials for future scholars. The result, as reported in the 2015 assessment provided at the Preserving American’s Print Resources (PAPR) II summit showed that despite measurable progress of retained serial titles (the format focus of the summit), shared print retention as a multi-national effort represented a fraction of the full corpus of print holdings, and retention across programs lacked intention. We have still not moved far past the 2015 PAPR II Summit assessment findings that holdings were concentrated in a few subject areas, coverage across fields of concentration was uneven, and duplication of individual titles across programs was unsystematic because we lacked intentional collection coordination across programs.

There have been attempts at collection coordination across programs, libraries, and special interest groups. For example, CRL attempted to build programs targeting law and agriculture resources and newspaper collections. The Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST) promoted its collection analysis tools and workflow to provide consistency of approach and outcomes across programs. There have been attempts to engage Institutions with specialized missions to steward collections with targeted focus, such as the Linda Hall Library’s science and technology collections and the national libraries. But our definitions of shared print programs and the collective collection, which generally require formal agreements among many libraries, lack a runway for shared print libraries and programs to get involved.

To build that runway and to make shared print more sustainable, we need to build flexible organizations, linked less by formal agreement and more by an exchange of services, data, and resources across organizations and across functional expertise. They should operate in a system that encourages co-evolution of all organizations and that fosters a variety of networks and expertise — an ecosystem that goes beyond peer network cooperation and formal agreements. Taking this sort of approach to our work will help shared print programs and their collaborators make consistent, intentional progress in a sustainable way.

The ecosystem

Step 1: What an ecosystem is

In The Myths and Realities of Business Ecosystems, the authors characterize an ecosystem as

“. . . multi-entity, made up of groups of companies not belonging to a single organization. They involve networks of shifting, semipermanent relationships, linked by flows of data, services and [resources].” Building on this definition, we see an ecosystem, at its heart, as a complex, multi-entity system whose participants interact in various ways to meet shared goals and co-evolve to maintain its strength.

Our nascent shared print ecosystem includes the wide spectrum of entities already in our individual networks and partnerships. These entities include researchers, managers, administrators, technology suppliers from commercial and semi-commercial organizations, grantmaking organizations, and librarians with functional expertise across the collections lifecycle. Relationships among these entities are sometimes collaborative, supplying something the other needs; and sometimes competitive, taking different approaches to solving a problem. They work best if each entity develops its own capabilities based on the application of its core mission and expertise to perceived needs and opportunities arising within the ecosystem.

Step 2: Why we need to operate as an ecosystem

Operating as an ecosystem moves us away from the zero sum thinking of local versus network, which continues to confound the scholarly ecosystem. It can address our tendencies for shared print program organizational inflexibility and silo-ization which underpin many of the barriers explored in Shared Print down the Rabbit Hole, and are the essence of the eighth barrier we’ve identified.

To counteract the concerns that local versus network collections raise, we activate various organizational structures (trusted networks), characteristics (peer groups of library size or type), or tools (interinstitutional agreements) to manage the risk of collaboration. As Brian Lavoie highlights in Library Collaboration as a Strategic Choice: Evaluating Options for Acquiring Capacity, “An important part of the collective action problem is the trade-off between optimizing local benefits versus group benefits. A group of libraries may agree that collectively managing down print is a good strategy, yet individual libraries will not want to alienate local faculty by reducing the on-site print collection.”

While valuable, networks alone are not enough, particularly when we self-select with peers. We need to foster diversity of actors and expertise. With its focus on multi-entity participation, shared goals, co-evolution, networks of shifting relationships, and links of data, service and resource flows, an ecosystem approach would enable libraries to build collective action around print collections. Libraries have relationships with a variety of vendors, funding organizations, and allied organizations that need to be activated within the ecosystem. Collaborations among shared print programs alone cannot successfully develop and provide all of the technology and services needed to steward a national or possible cross-national shared print collection — even if they adapt their mission, governance, and funding models to changes in the environment.

In an ecosystem approach we amplify integration, shared resources, and complex dependencies, while building in mechanisms and solutions that support flexibility and change. Skinner noted that “solutions will have to include incentives for alignment and disincentives for duplication of work.” Instead of investing our hours in convincing libraries to join a third or tenth collaborative project, we should turn our attention to interconnecting collaborations so that a full range of specialized services and resources are available, but participation and maintenance are simpler for individual libraries and staff.

Now could be a golden moment for shared print to take an ecosystem approach. Shared print has had open, collaborative tools for collection decision-making — PAPR and JRNL and CCH collection comparison tool — and community-directed platforms and tools such as ReShare and Folio are considering features and functionality to support shared print, as well as applications for general collection decision-making. Also, the national shared print alliances, which had each focused on a single format, are merging to collaboratively consider the needs of both serials and monograph collections. This is our moment to ensure that these technologies, and the collaborations that are created around stewarding print collections, are not simply adding to the multiplicity of cooperative silos that currently exist. Instead, an ecosystem approach allows us to harness shifting relationships and networks to create a dynamic economy, where maintenance of core services co-exist with innovation incubating around the edges.

Step 3: How to build an ecosystem

A roadmap to adoption we call the three pillars framework — purpose, organizing structure and strategy — can allow us to reorganize, reimagine, and reinvigorate our stewardship of print collections.


The purpose of shared print programs has been nearly universal: to ensure the long-term retention and accessibility of print materials for future researchers. They have built relationships, technological systems, data standards, and services around this goal.

To build a sustainable shared print effort and thriving ecosystem, we need to go beyond that purpose and redefine the role of shared print within the larger scholarly ecosystem. We need to increase the value of the network-level print collections by developing services for these collections that are demonstrably better than what already exists. Within the current shared print purpose of long-term preservation and access, the value of items to the library remains unknown beyond the first year after the shared print commitment is made. In the first year after an item is moved to another facility, library administrators can document the value of a one-time gain in space. After that, volumes moved to a shared print collection depreciate rapidly in value to the previously owning library unless the relationship of that item to the scholarly ecosystem can be intentionally improved.

The collective tolerance of decision-makers for investing significant resources in retaining collections of potential rather than immediate value is decreasing. The solution is to encourage a diversity of organizations to design services that increase or release the value of the print we steward. As long as print continues to be published, there will be opportunities to link authors, ideas, and publishing aesthetic trends as well as libraries and users. Transforming print collections at academic libraries identifies ways in which print collections can serve as learning tools, literacy aids, and opportunities for using print in new ways collections that aren’t on the fast track to digitization. The library community needs to investigate even more ways to innovate with print.

Organizing structure

The very characteristics of an ecosystem — multi-entity, diversity of capabilities, shifting networks, and co-evolution — highlight the type of organizations that are engaged in it, the ways those organizations interact with each other, and the larger scholarly ecosystem. In The Myths and Realities of Business Ecosystems, the authors identify key characteristics of organizations that make up a thriving ecosystem. They need to be dynamic, collaborative, willing to relinquish full control, finding value in the interactions within the ecosystem, embracing and generating unanticipated shifts and focuses beyond their own internal organization.

To achieve a sustainable organizing structure, shared print programs and libraries investing in them need to be flexible and adaptive to changes, and to emphasize mutually beneficial services or exchanges of resources. The participants in a shared print ecosystem understand and use formal and informal networks. So, rather than creating metadata standards and infrastructure for retained material limited to our shared print networks as ways of strengthening internal relationships, we need to build additional networks with entities of compatible capabilities across the lifecycle to realize our purpose. Welcoming participation by functional experts like those in ALA’s RUSA STARS (Sharing and Transforming Access to Resources) or Cooperative Online Serials Program (CONSER) — respectively, resource sharing and metadata — enables shared print managers to focus on the needs unique to their position.

In an ecosystem, by relying on our formal and informal networks to build capacity, the shared print community can simultaneously incubate initiatives and innovation, while sustainably maintaining our core services. We can also use those networks to dissolve innovation attempts that are less than successful and use up scarce resources. We don’t just innovate. We act, with shared purpose, when abandonment or pivoting is necessary to ensure a thriving ecosystem.


Our strategy for increasing the value proposition of shared print collections has to evolve. Shared print’s strategic focus has been to support the retention of collections as the prerequisite to digitization. We have lacked tangible plans, aligned to retention decisions, for developing innovative services to increase the value of the collective collection. Value of the shared print copy was assumed to passively increase over time, as redundant copies held throughout the network were discarded and the shared print copy remained for the focus of use. However, for circulating collections, rarity itself does not increase the value to the researcher. Improving the value of print items for researchers requires reliable access, and metadata and tools to help researchers connect ideas, authors, and social and historical context with other items within collection networks. It also requires broadening networks of collections by exposing diversity of perspectives and organizational commitment to the full stewardship collection items.

We have to change the relationship of print collections to the larger scholarly ecosystem by redrawing our boundaries from siloed shared print collections with a focus on loss mitigation to tapping into the unrealized potential of shared print collections for the future of libraries. We have to “align [our] work processes and collaborate towards a central value proposition . . . to find integral solutions and stimulate lifecycle thinking.” This means finding ways to connect withexperts, including scholars, university leadership, and library leadership, across the collections lifecycle to engage with shared print collections as core not just for researcher use but also for fueling improvements in librarianship. We need to use these collections to understand trends of use, to develop innovative services, to link collection networks, and to build trust throughout the ecosystem.

Some examples of how librarians and organizations have worked to increase the value of print collections can be found in Transforming Print: Collection Development and Management. They include digitization for access to or discovery of information hidden by inadequate metadata; user-centered arrangement of collections for browsing and serendipitous discovery; and intentional collection development to address inequities of practice. These are worthy efforts, particularly at the local level, but we need to take what we learned from them and apply them at scale in ways that are particular to the purpose of shared print, and build on the unique capabilities developed within the shared print ecosystem to benefit the larger scholarly ecosystem. This is our collective challenge.


Success in shared print is a process, not a goal: a goal implies an end, and shared print programs and initiatives are focused on continued access. This focus on continuing access and preventing loss underscores the need for the organizations and networks that steward the collections to evolve. Taking an ecosystem approach, in which a diversity of organizations cooperate in exchanging services, data and resources, share information, and respond to the needs of the larger scholarly ecosystem rather than remain siloed shared print programs, enables us to take on the challenge of stewarding print collections at a national-level.

We will know our process of achieving success is on track when we, a diverse group of interlocking organizations, increase the value of shared print collections for the larger scholarly ecosystem. By providing benefits around print that are demonstrably better than what has existed, our golden moment will be realized.