Geneva Henry on the Future of the Print Record

Each of the panelists on our roundtable will present a few opening remarks before we turn to discussion. I’ve asked them each for a teaser, which I’ll post over the next several days. Next up, Geneva Henry, University Librarian and vice-provost for libraries at George Washington University.

The increased availability of digital scholarly resources coupled with a perception that libraries are throwing away print volumes has led to a belief among some humanities scholars that the print record is no longer a priority for preservation. Not so! The challenge with print is the physical space it requires at a time when there are real constraints on university real estate and budgets. The economics of limited space, ongoing cleaning of the stacks, and accreditation pressures for increased student seating in libraries require well thought-out retention policies. Many libraries have, therefore, established off-site or below-grade efficient storage for materials that have not circulated for many years. As these facilities also reach capacity, decisions must be made about how much to retain. Decisions to deaccession any resource are difficult, time consuming and expensive. The easiest decision is to keep everything. Librarians hold true to their mission to preserve the human record, thus great pains are taken whenever a single library makes a decision to no longer keep its own copy of a resource. It’s not a decision simply about circulation, but also about other factors such as the number of copies held regionally, nationally and globally. For many libraries, the primary decision that is first made is which resources will we commit to retain forever. With more and more shared collections and improved records of holdings, retention decisions are increasingly well-informed, with assurances that the human record will be preserved. A greater challenge that is now arising is tracking lost books and books “retained” by faculty in their offices for the length of their tenure (and beyond). Looking for a book that should be available? You might want to check your colleague’s office.

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