Have you created Smart Previews of the photos in the 2015 catalog?
When I organize from a "travel" catalog while on the road I often find I need to see more than the tiny thumbnail, so now I create Smart Previews and make sure those travel with the catalog.
Normally, I simply "Import from another catalog" and import from the travel catalog, when I return to my main computer and Lightroom imports the catalog changes accordingly.
Maybe someone else has a different method?
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Export- and import-as-catalog may get you to where you want to be.
Depending on the type of edits/maintenance you are doing, putting the catalog and images all on an external drive may work better.
I exported the catalog of year 2015 and 2016. I put them each on hard drives. I'm planning to edit and do prints of some of the photos. When I bring it back into my main catalog in September, perhaps I should just overwrite the files when I merge them back together?
What if you want to delete files, and make those deletions permanent? I guess you can't really do it that way with smart previews?
So lightroom will automatically overwrite existing smart previews with the changes that you've made?
The expected thing to do after an export-as-catalog is an eventual import-from-catalog. Of course, that would all depend on the reason for doing the export-as-catalog in the first place.