South Asia Cooperative Collection Development Workshops

April 24th, 2014  |  Published in Cooperative Collection Development, Distributed Print Collecting

South Asia Cooperative Collection Development Workshops
James Simon, Center for Research Libraries
Mary Rader, University of Texas at Austin


Major theme(s) addressed:

Cooperative Collection Development
Distributed Print Collecting

Context / background of project

Collecting for South Asian studies faces similar challenges as other international and area studies groups. Foremost among the collection development pressures are a) a burgeoning print publication environment in the region, paired with b) static acquisition budgets. This has resulted in relatively flat collecting levels by academic libraries even as the scope of available publications has grown significantly over time.

Since 1962 the Library of Congress has maintained offices abroad to acquire, catalog, preserve, and distribute library and research materials from countries where such materials are essentially unavailable through conventional acquisitions methods. There are approximately 35 major academic institutions that collect materials from South Asia through the Library of Congress Cooperative Acquisitions Programs (LC-CAP) in New Delhi, India and Islamabad, Pakistan. This poses a threat to a diversified North American collection, as well an opportunity to identify areas of collaboration among participants utilizing a common vendor.

Responding to the imperative to collaborate, since 2010 South Asian Studies librarians have been hosting annual workshops to collectively identify and explore opportunities for cooperation and to put the resultant ideas into action. Recognizing the ubiquity of our common vendor, and the clear pressures to maintain efficiencies in selection, acquisition and description workflows, initial 2010 and 2011 workshops involved adjustments to monographic approval plans and serial subscriptions maintained by LC-CAP. The 2012 workshop saw participants declaring a wide-range of niche collecting interests based on institutional strengths and librarians’ knowledge while the 2013 workshop encouraged reflection upon how we communicate the successes, value, and impact of our collective work, both within our own cooperative structure as well as externally to faculty, administrators, and the library community.

Approaches to topic

The following preliminary assessments were undertaken to identify areas of collaboration:

  • Bibliographer survey to identify the major contours of collection priorities and institutional needs, compared to bibliographer expertise and local collection methods.
  • Analysis of OCLC data on monograph and serial collections across participants, assessed by country and language of publication.
  • Cross-tabulation of profiles / serial title subscriptions for LC-CAP participants.
  • Comparison of interlibrary loan and retention policies of participant institutions, to ensure access to dispersed resources.

Innovative Approaches (“Best Practices”)

For each workshop, organizers conduct open discussions of institutional priorities and needs, concerns of institutions, and potential roadblocks to success.

Participation is voluntary, with the caveat that institutions wishing to participate are expected to commit fully to the assigned exercises (“no lurkers”). Participants are required to achieve “buy-in” from their collection officer to ensure institutional commitment.

Commitments resulting from the cooperative activity are “cost neutral.” Commitments do not presuppose greater investment by institutions, but rather reallocation of resources to achieve diversity.

Rather than rehearsing off-cited debates over the “middle ground” of “core” collections, participants in the first two “South Asia Cooperative Collection Development Workshops” were encouraged to focus their attention on both the “lesser covered” and the “already well covered” subjects (in the case of monographs) or titles (in the case of serials) when considering collaboratively-focused alterations to their collection plans.

The workshops are designed to be flexible, lightweight, and iterative. Participants are expected to routinely report on changes to commitments, notable successes or setbacks.

Outcomes/lessons learned

Through the workshops, over $18,000 worth of annual monographic acquisitions funding was redirected and almost 600 serial subscriptions were altered, both activities which have reduced redundancy and increased diversity in the North American collection of South Asian material. In order to continue exploring collective opportunities while allowing new selection decisions to mature, subsequent workshops focused less heavily on LCCAP/vendor-dominated decision-making and more on local support for the overarching public good.

Rather than focusing on “transformative” change, the workshops seek to address “small but meaningful” shifts in the North American collection, relying on grassroots initiatives to inform and shape the diversity of our collective collection.

More information

2010 Workshop Report [monographic distribution]

2011 Workshop Report [serial distribution]

2012 Workshop Report [library specialization]

2013 Workshop Report [assessment and communication]



  • Bronwen Bledsoe, South Asia Curator, Cornell University
  • Mary Rader, Global Studies Coordinator / South Asia Librarian, University of Texas Libraries
  • James Simon, Director, Global Resources Network, Center for Research Libraries

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