Throughout the history of higher education, library collections have been an important source of competitive advantage. This is natural given that collections support determined what kind of academic work was possible at an institution. But it also flowed from the nature of collection building, which consists of expensive piecework of the most demanding sort. It’s not surprising that prestige accrued to the institutions that committed themselves to this work long ago.
Enter the age of commodity collections, where vast bodies of scholarship, current and historic, are available to virtually any institution. Large scale digital monograph projects such as HathiTrust, Google Books, Project Gutenberg, EEBO, and ECO are rapidly erasing the decades-long advantage of older institutions in painstaking book selection. E-journal packages and their backfiles are doing the same for article literatures. The competitive advantage due to collections diminishes daily before our eyes.