Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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This project estimated the cost of access to information in print, microfiche, and digital format. The results include
The average cost of producing a 216-page book in digital format from microfiche is $258.82 (C$) plus any copyright fees. The annual cost of storage and access is $39.20 per book. In theory, these costs can be shared by the number of libraries and patrons that access the digital copy over the Internet significantly lowering the costs per library.
The average cost of producing a book on microfiche is $333.11. Given the number of number of copies sold by CIHM, the cost per library is between $9.69 and $13.56 per book. The annual cost of storage and access in a university library microtext room is $0.16 per book.
The cost of a book in print format is the purchase price of the book. The annual cost of storage and access is $5.89 in a rare book library.
These cost estimates show that digitization of texts can provide significant savings if shared by a sufficient number of subscribing organizations. Networked access to digitized texts also provides several economic benefits to users including (1) increasing the availability of these texts to patrons of organizations with access to the Internet, (2) decreasing the opportunity cost of patrons' time spent accessing digital copies rather than traveling to libraries to use print or microfiche copies, and (3) providing electronically searchable texts making it easier for users to find items of interest. These increased benefits should result in a significant increase in use of the digital information relative to use of the print or microfiche copies.
Previous studies have estimated the marginal costs of production, acquisition, and storage of books, microfiche, and digital copies of texts. This study included all costs associated with the production, cataloging, and sales of texts in microfiche or digital format. Therefore, the estimates of the cost per book in print, microfiche, or digital format are average cost estimates based on digitizing over 3,300 titles and 650,000 images. Individual libraries engaging in small digitization or microfiche projects may have lower costs per text but the final product may not be of a quality needed for national or international sales. Large-scale projects that include cataloging and sales of several thousand texts are likely to experience a similar cost structure as estimated in this study.
The remaining paradox of digital information is finding the correct financial strategy to collect sufficient revenues to pay for the benefits of digitization. Digital information provides greater access to information at a lower cost. However funding the production, archiving, and access to the information requires creative financing including value-based pricing of information as well as the solicitation of grants and donations.
Information production and access comes at a cost. An accurate measurement of the full economic costs of different methods of information delivery is essential in determining the most cost-effective method. This study has shown the costs of three methods of access; print, microfiche, and digitization of microfiche. The cost of digital information is lower on a cost-per-library or per-patron basis so long as a sufficient number of libraries are interested in subscribing to the database.
In general, the lower cost of digital production will continue to result in more information products appearing in digital format on the Internet. The increase in the number of digital products will further contribute to the information overload of patrons and librarians. Information consumers are confronted with too many journals, databases, and research sources for the limited amount of time and attention they can give to any one source. Given a limited amount of time for information consumption, patrons will search for information of higher quality for use of their time. Any new digital product must have an assurance of quality in order to convince patrons and librarians that there is value in spending time consuming it. Manuscripts of historical significance, such as the ECO Project, produced by trusted organizations, such as CIHM, provide libraries and patrons with an assurance of quality.