With demands on budgets and space at a premium, libraries need to make sure that their research collections are effectively used and managed. But how do they make informed decisions about the retention, conservation, and disposal of materials?

Thanks to funding from the Discovery programme, we’re working with RLUK and the White Rose Consortium to develop and test a new web-based service through the Copac Collections Management Tool project.  Our first project began in January 2011, and involved the iterative development and testing of a prototype web-based collection management support service, based on the Copac database. This incorporated a variety of tools to support library staff in collection management activity. The development of a range of use cases provided a focus for the production and assessment of functionality, and this work is detailed in our reports.  Overall we have found that the participating libraries have been enthusiastic about the potential value of the service and so our development work is continuing through a second phase of activity concluding in July 2012

Photo of stack of books

Developing a Prototype

Libraries are continually faced with difficult decisions about what materials to keep, what to remove and what to conserve. At the moment, identifying whether items are rare, or indeed unique, within the UK is a time-consuming and expensive manual process. Our goal is to look at how Copac can make a real difference for collections managers. By making Copac data work harder and building the prototype on top of its extensive database, the collections management tool can provide valuable information from the catalogues of the UK’s major research libraries alongside rare collections held in museums, scholarly societies and university special collections.

We’re developing a beta version of a service that uses a variety of tools to support library staff in their collection management and development decisions. Using data visualization techniques, we want to help libraries to quickly identify the locations of items, and batches of items across the UK. For example, maps and graphs are used to show where items are held across the country, and how many items exist within specific libraries.

We also hope that this project takes us one step closer to building the foundations for a national approach to collections management, offering the potential for collaboration and sharing of materials between institutions across the UK, and protecting access to the UK’s rich research collections into the future.

Real Benefits for the Community

Through collaboration and ongoing user testing, we’re aiming to make a tool that offers real world benefits to libraries, and integrates fully into existing workflows. Over the last few months, we’ve been developing the interface and testing the tool with our partner libraries at the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York, and initial impressions have been very positive – including feedback gathered from a workshop we ran in December with attendees from across the UK. Our testers are already seeing how the tool can support their work.

The use cases we are developing identify just some of the ways that the tool can benefit libraries:

  • Identify rare and unique items when withdrawing items from the shelves, by making the process of checking for last copies easy and straightforward. Relevant information can be made available to staff on the ground with minimal effort, saving both time and money.
  • Make informed decisions about which items to conserve by giving staff instant access to information and identifying the preservation status of materials nationwide. Fixing ‘at risk’ items can be expensive and time-consuming, and this tool can help libraries to prioritize which items are given attention.
  • Assess the strength of a library collection by seeing how their collections fit into the national picture.

Looking forward to a national shared service

This innovative re-use of the existing Copac database, offers a real opportunity to make a difference, and help libraries to make informed decisions at a time of increasing financial constraints.  Over the next six months we’ll be looking at how it might be feasible to transform the prototype into a live service that we can make available to the broader community, and as part of our work addresses the question of potential business models to support such a service. We want to build upon the work we’ve already done and, in the long term, we hope that this approach will facilitate regional and national approaches to collaborative collection development, and lead to the development of a more consistent approach to collection management at a national level.

Proposed CCM Tools Strategy Document

Copac Collections Management Tools Proposed Strategy: The purpose behind developing this strategy is to look beyond the current development project and to inform the sustainability planning for a prospective service that could deliver collection management tools to UK academic libraries and facilitate a broader vision: the development of a national research collection.