Maine libraries are searching for innovative ways to deal with the many challenges they are facing today, such as lack of space and budget cuts, which have affected their ability to store legacy print collections.

Growing evidence shows that many print materials were never checked out after being purchased. In addition, large-scale print digitization projects are making many low-use titles available online. Maine’s robust interlibrary loan system means that patrons have fast and easy access to materials stored in other Maine libraries. This allows libraries to discard material they can get from other reliable sources. However, the discarding process needs to be coordinated in a way to ensure that copies of the material are still accessible in Maine.

In 2010, nine Maine library partners — the Bangor and Portland public libraries, the Maine State Library, the University of Maine, the University of Southern Maine, Maine InfoNet and Bates, Colby and Bowdoin colleges — submitted a grant application to the national Institute of Museum and Library Services to create the Maine Shared Collections Strategy.

The institute approved the grant and released $821,065 to fund the Maine Shared Collections Strategy. The partners also contribute matching cost-sharing funds. The grant is administered through the University of Maine and is overseen by a project team that represents the respective library constituencies.

The Maine Shared Collection Strategy’s goals are:

  1. to develop a strategy for a statewide, multi-type library program for managing, storing and preserving print collections among public and private institutions to achieve greater efficiencies and extend the power of every dollar invested in collections and library facilities;
  2. to expand access to existing digital book collections by developing print-on-demand and e-book on-demand services to support long-term management of a shared print collection and the integration of digital resources with print collections;
  3. to formalize organizational agreements, establish a budget and develop policies essential to the management of shared print and digital collections.

To meet these goals, we will analyze the libraries’ print collections to identify title overlap, unique titles and the subject strengths of each institution. Using library circulation statistics, we will analyze the usage of items in the collections. Based on factors such as subject strengths, storage space, online availability and usage statistics, we will agree which material libraries will commit to retain and preserve.

Partners will implement e-book on-demand and print-on-demand services via library catalogs and membership in digital cooperatives such as the HathiTrust Digital Library. We will ensure that the Maine Shared Collections Strategy extends beyond both the grant period and expands beyond the original nine partners.

With this in mind, we will define a sustainable business model that includes a financial model, governance structure and a memorandum of understanding for sharing the responsibility of long-term stewardship of print collections. Finally, the partners will promote the findings of the Maine Shared Collections Strategy through presentations at conferences, the initiative’s website, and Twitter.

Although there are a growing number of shared print projects, the Maine Shared Collections Strategy differs from these projects in several ways.

First, there is emphasis on retention and preservation of materials, particularly items uniquely held and especially those concerning Maine. Most similar projects focus on removal and weeding. A result of Maine Shared Collections Strategy decisions will be that other libraries can weed their collections safe in the knowledge that the material will be preserved within Maine and remain accessible to their patrons.

Second, there is a unique history of trust among Maine libraries developed over decades of successful collaboration.

Third, the Maine Shared Collections Strategy has a primary focus on print monographs, since most projects thus far have concentrated on journals.

Fourth, although most similar projects concentrate solely on academic library collections, the Maine Shared Collections Strategy includes public libraries.

Finally, the Maine Shared Collections Strategy includes examination and consideration of “digital surrogates” for specific items to ensure better access for patrons and make space savings.

Matthew Revitt is program manager of the Maine Shared Collections Strategy. He previously worked as an independent records and information management consultant in Maine. This column first appeared in Maine Policy Review, published by the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, and can be found at