Maine Libraries Lend Each Other a Hand

Bowdoin Library (Illustration credit: Abby McBride)

Illustration credit: Abby McBride

The Bowdoin College Library is taking innovative measures to keep its print collection alive and well—no easy task in an age of infinite digital resources and all-too-limited shelf space. The library is one of eight large libraries across the state that have teamed up to manage their collections collaboratively, in a project called the Maine Shared Collections Strategy.

“We’re analyzing our combined holdings and developing a plan to manage, store, and preserve the titles that are valuable to our communities,” said Judith Montgomery, Acting Librarian at the Bowdoin Library.

Under this plan, each library will be responsible for retaining specific books for statewide use. The coalition is also investigating print-on-demand services, through large digital libraries such as Hathi Trust. “We want to ensure that our scholars and readers have timely access to the print materials they need, while at the same time helping our libraries address critical space issues,” Montgomery said.

Kickstarted in June 2011 by a three-year grant of $821,065 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the project has been gaining national visibility, including a recent article in the Library Journal. The endeavor is distinctive in several regards, including its emphasis on monographs—or single-subject works—rather than journals alone. It’s also unusual for how many different types of libraries are on board: besides Bowdoin, the lineup includes two other private colleges, two universities, a state library, and the public libraries of Portland and Bangor.

Although the melding of academic and public library management is new, Maine is a tried-and-true testing ground for collaboration. Maine libraries have worked together extensively in the past, with Bowdoin, Colby, and Bates boasting a history of library teamwork dating back to the 1970s. This latest collaborative project takes advantage of existing infrastructure, including a statewide catalog called MaineCat and a robust network of resource sharing.

The coalition plans to develop a sustainable business model and share its findings with other libraries. “Through collaboration we can provide much better and broader services for our readers,” Montgomery said. “Our hope is that this idea can be pushed out as a model to use on a large scale, within the state and across the country.”

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