OCLC, a global library cooperative, and Research Libraries UK (RLUK), a consortium of major research libraries in the UK and Ireland, today announced the publication of a new report that provides a first-of-its-kind perspective on the scope, depth, and duplication present across RLUK library collections, and highlights the opportunities and challenges of managing these collections as a shared asset.

The report, Strength in Numbers: The Research Libraries UK (RLUK) Collective Collection, extends a growing body of evidence that highlights the importance of a system-wide perspective in supporting cooperative management of institutional assets like library collections.

The report describes the salient features of the RLUK collective collection – the combined collections of the RLUK member libraries – with a special emphasis on print book holdings. The findings from the report will inform strategic planning within the RLUK membership in regard to deeper cooperation around long-term collection management – particularly with regards to preservation and storage, the potential role of digital alternatives for print materials, and how library space can be used most effectively.

Findings detailed in the report include:

  • The RLUK collective collection encompasses 29.4 million distinct publications of all types, including 20.9 million distinct print book publications.
  • Print books in RLUK member collections reflect a rich global diversity, with 467 languages and 254 countries of publication represented.
  • Rareness is common in the RLUK collective collection, with relatively small levels of overlap across RLUK member collections adding scope and depth to the collective resource.
  • Nearly 460,000 distinct subjects are associated with the print book publications in the RLUK collective collection, with a variety of particular subject strengths distributed across the RLUK membership.
  • The RLUK collective collection is both similar to and distinct from the collective collection of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL): for example, a significant portion (42 percent) of the RLUK print book collection overlaps with the ARL collection, but an even larger portion (58 percent) does not.

Universities are increasingly seeking above-campus solutions to shared operating needs. Research libraries that support universities and other higher education institutions are likewise moving towards cooperative management models to increase efficiency and enable the ongoing evolution of library services. The findings in the report reflect OCLC Research’s unique data and analytical capacities, as well as the institutional expertise and perspective of the RLUK members.

Lorcan Dempsey, Chief Strategist and Vice President of Membership and Research at OCLC, notes: “WorldCat was central to this project; its 374 million bibliographic records and 2.4 billion library holdings helped us to quickly develop an overview of the size and characteristics of RLUK’s collective collection, and place it in the context of peer consortia and the global library system. This undertaking would have been impossible without the worldwide library community’s contributions to WorldCat.”

“The sheer breadth and scope of RLUK collections are remarkable – we hold print books in almost every language and from every country conceivable, over the entire history of printing,” commented David Prosser, Executive Director of RLUK. “Even with holdings of this magnitude, there is less duplication of content amongst RLUK members than might be supposed. Continuing to protect the collections that have been curated over centuries – and preserving access to these materials – is of course vital, and the report highlights the potential importance of international collaboration to help achieve this.”

John MacColl, Chair of RLUK, added: “This research has been invaluable in helping us to gain a better understanding of our total print collection, and will enable us to work better together both domestically and internationally to ensure the collection is managed effectively across RLUK members. It also presents some exciting opportunities to explore further the preservation and storage of print books, and to repurpose spaces – providing more attractive and feature-rich study environments.”

Read the OCLC report

Read the OCLC report


About RLUK

RLUK is a consortium of 37 of the major research libraries in the UK and Ireland, whose purpose is to shape the research library agenda and contribute to the wider knowledge economy through innovative projects and services that add value and impact to the process of research and researcher-training. RLUK’s mission is to work with its members and partners, nationally and internationally, to shape and to realise the vision of the modern research library.


About OCLC

OCLC is a nonprofit global library cooperative providing shared technology services, original research and community programs so that libraries can better fuel learning, research and innovation. Through OCLC, member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat, the most comprehensive global network of data about library collections and services. Libraries gain efficiencies through OCLC’s WorldShare, a complete set of library management applications and services built on an open, cloud-based platform. It is through collaboration and sharing of the world’s collected knowledge that libraries can help people find answers they need to solve problems. Together as OCLC, member libraries, staff and partners make breakthroughs possible.