Retention Criteria

Shared print programs develop criteria for which titles their member libraries will be asked to retain on behalf of the program. Most commonly, this criteria is developed following a careful analysis of the participating libraries’ print collections. This section of the toolkit will describe some of the common criteria monograph shared print programs have used and provide links to example retention models.


While member needs and the program’s retention philosophy will impact their retention choices, there are 4 common retention objectives:


  1. At least one copy of every in-scope title is retained in the group as a safety-net to proactively ensure that the last copy of a title is not withdrawn from the group.

  2. Retain all in-scope titles uniquely held within the group to ensure that unique content is not inadvertently lost from the collective collection.

  3. Retain all titles scarcely-held regionally or nationally to take into account the wider library collection universe and ensure this content is protected for future use.

  4. Retain more copies of frequently used material to ensure sufficient copies are available to satisfy likely future demand. To account for changes in usage trends some programs include a date of last usage in their criteria.


Note, programs differ greatly in how they define what is scarcely held and frequently used (see below for example retention criteria).


Some programs have chosen to include these other retention criteria:


  • Retaining extra copies of older materials, which are more likely to be in poor condition. This retention rule was used first in the Eastern Academic Scholars’ Trust (EAST) Cohort 2 group and was a direct result of the EAST validation study showing that older materials are much more likely to be in poor condition.

  • Retaining extra copies of “Local interest titles”, on subjects related to state or regional history or local literary works. The Maine Shared Collections Cooperative (MSCC) in their Phase 1 retention criteria included a rule to keep more copies of their local interest titles.

  • Only retaining legacy titles, those published and/or added to library’s collections prior to a specific year. This criterion is used because participating libraries don’t feel comfortable making retention decisions on titles that most other libraries are yet to acquire and for which there is insufficient circulation history. The ConnectNY, MSCC, EAST, and Tri-University Group of Libraries (TUG), and SCLEC programs have all used publication cutoff dates to exclude newer titles from their retention scopes.

  • Excluding from retention consideration titles considered “ephemeral” in nature, material such as textbook, guides, manuals, and some fiction which gets quickly dated and are therefore not appropriate for long-term retention. MSCC produced a list of publishers and keywords to remove the works of certain publishers of textbooks, guides and reference material from retention consideration. This list has since been adopted and updated by EAST.

  • Retaining any edition of the title to account for potential unique edition features. Programs like EAST, MSCC, and USMAI have all decided to retain any editions of a title that meets their retention criteria. In the case of classic fiction this can result in multiple commitments to the same title manifestation.


Retention models can be modified over time as a shared print program adds new members. For instance EAST has worked with newer members to "top up" titles which should, according to the original retention model, have more copies retained than is currently the case. EAST then asks the new members to "top up" these under-retained titles. Also, in response to feedback from its newer public library members MSCC adapted their retention rules to raise the circulation threshold for when titles are retained.


Not all programs have a formal set of retention criteria. For instance in the ReCAP program each partner chooses what content to submit to the program and have stored at their storage facilities, but material added to the shared collection must be available to borrow for all ReCAP partners, be easily discoverable to other partners and their patrons, and the partners must be willing to retain the material for as long as ReCAP exists. But there are no limits to formats or subjects. Alternatively, in Phase 1 of the HathiTrust Shared Print Program participating libraries were provided with a list of volumes that correspond to titles in the HathiTrust digital library and asked to make voluntary commitment on titles they would retain on behalf of the program.

Retention Allocation

Having agreed which specific titles should be retained, the program next needs to agree how retention responsibility should be allocated across the group. Commonly programs attempt to allocate commitments as equitably as possible, based on local collection sizes, so that all participating libraries are seen to be contributing equally to protecting the print scholarly record. That said, the profile of some library’s collections (e.g. large numbers of rare titles) may always result in certain libraries retaining above average numbers of titles, regardless of the retention criteria used. Some libraries may also indicate from the outset a willingness to retain higher numbers of titles in specific subject areas, based on local strengths and/or overall willingness to retain a disportionately higher number of titles, which may bring down the retention numbers for other participants. However, programs should carefully consider the sustainability of over-relying on specific libraries for retention.


Geographic distribution of retention commitments, while a common point of discussion among shared print programs, is not something that most programs feel is necessary. Most regional programs are supported by a robust resources sharing infrastructure. However, the North American-wide HathiTrust Shared Print Program in Phase 2 of their program did allocate retention responsibility across the U.S. Census regions. Considerations around climate change may alter this thinking as libraries consider their carbon footprint and also risks associated with storing items in geographical locations at a higher risk from the effects of natural disasters. Also, as shared print programs develop more of an understanding of how "at risk" certain titles are, programs may wish to better ensure at least one copy of a title that is in good enough condition to circulate is available within a program. This has implications not only for the allocation strategy but also for the retention model.


It’s important for individual libraries to comb through the results of analysis and retention decisions carefully and more than once because when making choices at such a large scale, small differences can become large numbers of items, and library data is complicated. Generally, programs will share lists of their items to retain before they are formally asked to sign off on their retention proposals. Some programs will have policies and procedures for libraries to follow if they subsequently identify material they feel shouldn’t have been allocated a commitment (see MSCC Policy on Retention Commitment Changes, HathiTrust Reallocation of Commitments, and EAST Reallocation Process).

Retention Period

Shared print programs will typically set a minimum retention period for how long member libraries are expected to retain the materials they agreed to keep on behalf of the program. Most programs have chosen to go with either 15 or 25 year retention periods. The retention period should meet the local needs of the members and act as a long-term assurance that, while the content is protected, members are not required to retain materials indefinitely. The opportunity to review retention periods and commitments to ensure they are still appropriate is built into most shared print program memorandum of understandings

Collection Analysis Tools

It should also be noted that the retention criteria used by programs and the ability to allocate retention responsibility are both impacted by the functional limitations of the collection analysis tools available to them. A comparison of the functionality in GreenGlass and Gold Rush tools can be found on the EAST program’s website. See also the Collection Analysis Tools and Vendors page.

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Last Updated September 2021