Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Drexel is probably farther along in the transition to an all-electronic journal collection than most, if not all, academic libraries in the United States. A late 1997/1998 survey of ARL and non-ARL academic libraries found that just 29 and 33.5 percent, respectively, had cancelled print journals in favor of electronic access in the previous 12 months (Shemberg and Grossman, 1999). Fifty-one percent of the ARL libraries and 40 percent of the non-ARL libraries had not cancelled print subscriptions in favor of electronic and declared that they will not in the future. Their reluctance was attributed to the enormous change required in academia to relinquish print.
This has not been a problem for Drexel. Faculty and students have embraced the transition almost universally. Organizational readiness, important in any successful organizational change, has been critical to the ability of the Drexel Library to move so rapidly to a new model. The most important factors have been: (1) a highly computer-literate faculty and student body; (2) programmatic emphases in science, technology and business, areas where publishers have been quickest to provide e-journals; (3) the existence of a high-speed ubiquitous network; (4) general dissatisfaction with the print journal collection; (5) a supportive administration that provided a significant increase in funding; (6) a strong and growing distance education program and (7) a large number of academic institutions in the Philadelphia area, including the nearby University of Pennsylvania, with substantial libraries that are available to Drexel faculty and students
This description of the Drexel experience should be useful to others because our transition is indicative of what most academic libraries will eventually experience. There are accredited academic institutions that are functioning with completely digital libraries, i.e., they never had a print library. Examples are Jones International University (2000) and the University of Phoenix (2000). Other libraries have created large electronic journal collections—e.g., the University of California system (California Digital Library, 2000) and most, if not all, large research libraries—but they are maintaining large print collections concurrently. The approach Drexel is implementing—substituting electronic for print—will be the typical scenario in most academic libraries because it will be necessary to make electronic collections affordable.
Preliminary cost comparisons for processing print versus electronic journals indicate that the electronic collection is substantially more expensive to maintain. We estimated staff costs by allocating percentages of individual staff members' time to the various tasks and projects described in this paper using the functional cost analysis approach of Abels, Kantor, and Saracevic (1996). The amount of time spent per task was determined by interviewing staff and supervisors to analyze the impact for each area and by reviewing library statistics and other records. Then, we computed the annual cost in salaries using indiviual rates of pay. The result indicated that the substantial costs in maintaining an electronic journal collection more than offset the savings from eliminating the clerical chores associated with maintaining a print journal collection. While fewer staff are needed the new staff are more skilled, and therefore more highly compensated. Likely, as the electronic journal publishing industry and related service industries mature, the change process will become easier, and thereby less costly, for libraries.
Drexel's per-title subscription costs are lower for electronic journals. While this is a function of our selection process and the particular "deals" we have been able to obtain, we suspect that the majority of academic libraries will have the same experience, particularly if they purchase a large number of titles through aggregator collections. Since use is much higher for e-journals the cost benefit is even greater. We plan further analysis to refine our calculations of operational costs, as well as subscriptions costs that include factors such as backfiles and use data, in order to come up with good estimates of "real" per-title costs that include all factors of operational costs, and subscriptions costs that include all factors.
There are many areas where improvements made by publishers and vendors could decrease the library workload. Of particular value would be
better information about the existence of electronic journals and their characteristics,
standards for presentation of use data by vendors,
easier methods of providing access to electronic journals, either through cataloging or in list form, and
an assured solution to archiving.
As the entire electronic publishing system matures, we anticipate that these improvements will come.