Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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1.3 Understanding the transformation
Research libraries are experiencing rapid, simultaneous shifts in constraints, needs, and power balances. Institutions develop slowly in response to such powerful, durable social forces, and rapid adaptation to changing forces is unlikely. Thus, during any period of intense change, institutional adaptations may appear to be falling behind, and there will be many false steps. We can potentially lower the social cost of rapid—and thus, wrenching—institutional transformations by understanding the interactions between the stakeholders and the process of change in those interactions.
The interactions between human stakeholders in an institution are loosely-coupled interfaces in a complex social system. That is, a signal on one side of an interaction typically elicits a response from the other side, but the mapping between signal and response is imperfect: a given signal may elicit a range of different responses at different times and locations.
As an example of one such loosely-coupled interface common in the research library, consider the practice of interlibrary loans which is used to share access to collections. If a user at one library wished to read a print-on-paper document held in the collection of a different library, she could request that the distant library deliver the document for local use. Because the distant library owns the copy of the document in question and an unrestricted right to let users read that particular copy, the library can deliver the physical document without involving the publisher.
Sometimes, however, the distant library would prefer to deliver a facsimile of the document to the user, so as to retain its copy for its own users, or to reduce the risk of loss or damage. Typically, a publisher holds the copyright on the document, and thus the user-library interaction (the request for a facsimile) could invoke an interaction between library and publisher: "can we make a copy to deliver to the requesting user?" Because this interaction between library and publisher is likely to occur many times, libraries and publishers have reached pre-arranged agreements (claiming fair use exemptions or relying on agreed upon guidelines). Such agreements—the result of an interaction between at least two interested parties—specify the terms and conditions under which the library may create a facsimile and deliver it to the requesting user.
These are only two of the results that the originating signal—the user's interlibrary loan request—might invoke. The results might differ for the user in various ways; for example, if the original document is delivered, the user normally will be required to return it within a fixed period; if a facsimile is delivered, the user typically retains the copy. Another variation is that in some cases a requested facsimile might be created by the distant, owning library, whereas in other cases the requesting library might purchase a facsimile from a document delivery service (another interaction between two stakeholders); in such cases the conditions for the user (for example, whether the document must be returned or whether a fee is assessed) might be different. Thus, the interlibrary loan process is a loosely-coupled interface between two stakeholders (user and library): the request might or might not invoke further interactions between other stakeholders, and the response to the request might take on a variety of forms.
With the development of networks and digital collections the interlibrary loan process faces substantial pressure to change. In the print-on-paper world a loan might be delivered in several days to several weeks. In a networked digital world users put much higher priority on quick, even immediate delivery. Libraries are likely to find that the costs of digital reproduction and networked delivery are much lower than print-on-paper costs, and thus want to implement electronic delivery in response to the loan request. However, because electronic delivery typically requires the making of an electronic copy, this response is likely to invoke a new interaction between library and publisher: "can we make a digital copy and electronically deliver it to the requesting user?" The results of these ancillary interactions may be, and often have been, quite different than the request for permission to deliver print-on-paper facsimiles in response to interlibrary loan requests. The publisher may impose different terms and conditions, or may even refuse permission for electronic interlibrary loans.
What does this example suggest in terms of the interplay that ensues between stakeholders? As we noted, the library and publishers typically have to deal with many interlibrary loan requests, and thus have generally found it efficient to establish pre-arranged agreements that cover most such requests. This routine speeds the process and lowers the transaction costs. As research libraries increasingly rely on digital collections, pressure for electronic interlibrary loans will become frequent, and thus considerable time and transaction costs will be saved if libraries and publishers can work out new pre-arranged agreements to cover these situations. However, the changes in technological costs and capabilities, and the concomitant changes in the interests of the stakeholders, mean that agreements to cover print-on-paper interlibrary loans may not be satisfactory to all stakeholders, and a period of trial, error and negotiation may be necessary. The sooner participants understand the ways in which the constraints, costs and interests of stakeholders have changed, the sooner and better they can adapt the institution by agreeing on new standardized agreements covering electronic interlibrary loans.
The emergence of digital collections as an instance of institutional transformation guides us to look for particular types of problems that arise as the institution adapts to the information technology revolution. We have selected the contributions to this volume to focus on two questions we think will be central.
The first is who will pay to create and sustain digital materials? The information technology revolution has made large-scale digital collections technically feasible, and many of the stakeholders have increasingly demanded digital collections. The creation of materials to include in such collections is a necessary first step, and despite the reduction in the costs of some key inputs, the digital production process is costly. Therefore, who will pay? Various stakeholder interactions in a print-on-paper research library world involve financial transfers to pay for creation services. For example, some authors pay page charges to print publishers, and libraries pay to purchase printed books and to subscribe to printed journals. Among the stakeholders (authors, publishers, libraries, readers, and perhaps others), who will pay for digital material production? The constraints and needs (and perhaps power relationships) have been changed by information technology, and thus we should expect that the financial interactions between stakeholders will also change as the institution adapts. Perhaps we will see more author payments (recommended by some open access journals), or more charitable foundation support for digital publishing (JSTOR was started by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Public Library of Science has initiated production with a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation). Perhaps funding will continue to flow primarily from libraries and individual readers, but the structure of payments is likely to change because of the differences in functionality between electronic and paper publications.
The model of institutional transformation leads us to a second question: How will readers use digital collections? Will users go to physical libraries and interact face-to-face with librarians, or communicate electronically and access documents from their desktops or wireless PDAs? How will user mobility affect the roles of libraries? Will usage increase for stakeholders who had less convenient access to print documents (e.g., students and faculty at smaller colleges, or scientists in developing countries)? Will users do more browsing using electronic search tools and less full-document reading? How will the relative usage of a document's several information features change? For example, when it is easier to find and search documents, will there be more demand for specific elements, such as the data tables or bibliography, and less for the text?
We organized the remaining chapters around these two fundamental questions. In the first section we present several chapters on a major field research project that simultaneously addressed collection building, publisher pricing models, library collection decisions, and usage: the PEAK (Pricing Electronic Access to Knowledge) project. It was our work on this project at the University of Michigan that led us to invite other authors to join us to create a volume that encompasses publishing economics and usage during this era of the digital transformation of libraries. The two organizing questions above were also the framing context for PEAK: Who will pay for digital materials? How will they be used?
In the second section the authors address digital publishing. They focus on publishing costs and the distribution of those costs to various stakeholders in the institution. In the third section we collect several essays on experiences in building and using digital collections. The authors emphasize user needs and the effect that digital collection usage has on building and maintaining the collections. Many of these chapters report on a specific project at a particular time, but they all shed light on the dynamics of stakeholder interactions and the role of these interactions in shaping the transformation of the encompassing institutions.
There are several lessons that are driven home by their common emergence in the chapters of this book. Regarding payment for materials, a variety of economic interactions exist in the social institution of research libraries. In the past century, most of the flow of resources has been to publishers from users (individuals and libraries) through subscriptions or society membership fees. The studies in this book demonstrate that a variety of alternative mechanisms are feasible in theory and in practice, and that there are reasons to expect some transformation of these economic interactions in response to the digital revolution. The PEAK project focused on interactions between users and publishers, but experimentally tested on-demand document delivery and found that a small but non-trivial number of scholars were willing to purchase immediate access to articles using a credit card. PEAK also tested a novel, generalized subscription scheme that is only feasible in a digital, networked collection. Other chapters consider quite different configurations of the institution, including proposals and projects based on the open paradigm, and models in which author fees to publishers primarily finance the publication functions.
Regarding the ways in which digital collections are used, several chapters show that readers want and will use older scholarly material, not just new publications. Several successful projects have focused on creating digital collections of archival material. In the case of unique collections, accessibility has greatly increased because users no longer need to physically travel to the collection. Perhaps more surprising has been the dramatic levels of usage for older scholarly publications made available by JSTOR. These publications to a large extent are available in print in the users' local research libraries. When made available over the network and digitally searchable, however, usage far exceeds all estimates of usage for the print-on-paper collections of scholarly journal back issues.
We also have three chapters that report on user and librarian experiences in traditional university and corporate libraries that made early investments in large-scale digital collection projects. One of the most striking findings is that the interactions between librarian and user are changing; users need different types of services from information professionals, in many cases delivered through different types of interactions. Thus, the human production systems embedded in the institution of research libraries must adapt to the technological changes, just as the collections themselves—and the economic models that support them—must adapt.
We are still in the early stages of the digital transformation of libraries, and more broadly, the social institutions of information creation, distribution, and retrieval. In this book we present the reflections and findings of leading scholars and practitioners who have been in the front lines of the transformation. We think the evidence is compelling that successful adaptation to the forces of change require an understanding of stakeholder interactions as the many participants in the institution negotiate and navigate the details of the transformation.