Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Patrons of Early Canadiana Online
With the creation of Early Canadiana Online, patrons have three possible methods for accessing this information: digital, fiche, or original copy. Patrons incur a cost of access depending on their choice of method of access. These costs can be divided into fixed and variable costs. Variable costs are costs incurred each time information is reproduced or retrieved. Fixed costs are costs incurred regardless of the number of items retrieved.
A patron's choice of access will depend on which method provides lower total costs. A patron viewing images from a single text may have lower fixed and marginal costs in using the print than in using the fiche or digital formats. Accessing the print may require only travel to the library, selection of the text, and turning the pages. There are no learning costs or costs of expensive machines or network connections specifically related to using a print item. Accessing the fiche may require travel, selection, and determining how to use the fiche. Accessing the digital format requires the use or purchase of a computer with a network connection as well as determining how to search and use the digital collection.
Microfiche or digital access is more likely to have a lower total cost when more than a single text is used. While multiple texts may be found in the same library, the fiche collection may contain items not found in a library's print collection. Accessing print items from another library would require the patron to incur an additional cost of traveling to a second library. Learning how to use the microfiche collection is likely to have a lower total cost than traveling to more than one library in order to use the needed items in print form. Likewise, digital access may provide access to more images at a lower total cost than fiche or print.
Figure 15.1 illustrates total patron costs for access to information in the three formats. Figure 15.1 assumes that the fixed cost of digital access is greater than the fixed cost of fiche, which is greater than the fixed cost of print. Figure 15.1 also assumes the number of images available in digital form is greater than the number available in fiche at one library, which is greater than the number of print images available at one library.
The break-even points represent the levels of use at which two methods of access have the same total cost. Initially a patron will have a lower total cost from print texts. As use of images increases and the library's print collection is exhausted, a patron must incur the additional fixed costs of traveling to another library. At this point the total cost of fiche access is lower than the total cost of print access. As use continues to increase, the total cost of digital access becomes lower than the total cost of fiche and print access.
If Figure 15.1 accurately reflects the fixed and variable costs of access then high-frequency users who require more access to more digital images are more likely to use digital assets. These users incur a high total cost of access to the digital copy but gain greater access to more information. Patrons desiring only a few images from a single text are more likely to look at the original, print copy if it is available in their library. Mid-level users are more likely to use the fiche.
However, what may be an inaccurate assumption in Figure 15.1 is that digital access has higher fixed costs and equal marginal costs to fiche or print. The fixed costs of digital access include the learning costs patrons unfamiliar with digital copy must spend, as well as the costs of having access including a personal computer with network access. Once these costs are incurred patrons may have a fixed cost of digital access less than the fixed costs of fiche or print access. Patrons can also avoid the fixed costs of traveling to the library if they have at-home or office access to the network. The marginal costs of digital access may also be less than print or fiche. Patrons familiar with digital access are less likely to print materials, instead saving electronic copy on a disk or drive. If the marginal cost and fixed costs for digital access are lower than for print and fiche then digital access will have a lower cost at all levels of access and patrons will only access the information online.