A Sea Change (4): The Means to the End

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Ten years ago CRL began to evolve from an organization that primarily built and maintained shared collections to one that ensures long-term access to shared resources. Since then the continued migration of knowledge and information to the digital realm has combined with a measurable deterioration in the supply chain for tangible (print and microform) materials from world regions, to challenge our ability to support research on those regions. Moreover, last April’s forum @Risk: Stewardship, Due Diligence, and the Future of Print deepened our sense of the growing threat to the survival and accessibility of print collections in North American libraries. These developments require that CRL now accelerate its transformation and bring its operations to greater scale.

CRL's Agenda for Shared Print, 2017 - 2026 outlines our strategy for supporting stewardship and accessibility of print serials in North America over the next ten years. And through analysis and licensing of digital resources we have positioned CRL well to promote a shared digital future of long-term access to born-digital information for CRL libraries.  We must now put those activities on a permanent financial footing. 

The CRL budget for FY 2018, to be presented for adoption at CRL’s Council of Voting Members Meeting on April 21, will have major consequences for the enterprise. In the last ten years CRL has made a significant new investment in services determined to be of high value to members and consistent with CRL’s historic mission: digitization of primary source collections, evaluation and licensing of electronic resources; and tools for collection analysis such as the PAPR Registry and ICON database. That investment also enabled us to provide access to a vastly expanded library of STE serials and primary law and government publications.

CRL made those new investments while continuing to maintain the growth of its print and microform collections. Unfortunately, the cost of living in both worlds is preventing CRL from achieving the necessary scale in either. Therefore the proposed budget for FY 2018 reflects a winding down of some longstanding CRL activities like subscriptions to a number of current journals. The budget instead places greater emphasis on member-driven services, delivering materials specifically identified by scholars and specialists at CRL libraries, rather than continuing just-in-case acquisition of materials whose use is dwindling or that have been supplanted by online resources. The budget also reflects greater investment in ensuring access to critical global data and the survival of at-risk primary source materials from all world regions.    

The changes are detailed in the guide to the CRL budget posted for the annual meeting. It is important to note that even with these reductions CRL’s total annual investment in collections and collection-related resources – its core value to the membership – will be far greater than it was five years ago. CRL’s commitment to the integrity and accessibility of critical documentation and evidence remains undiminished, but its ability to fulfill its mission will be strengthened. The end is the same but the means are different.


Bernard F. Reilly
President (2001-2019)
Center for Research Libraries