Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Digital texts in a networked environment hold the promise of lower-cost access to information by a greater number of users than print texts. Projects such as The Making of America, Project MUSE, JSTOR, and the Early Canadiana Online project investigated in this study offer access to digital texts over the Internet to millions of potential users. These digital projects also offer the promise of lower costs by avoiding the cost of printing and shipping multiple copies of a text for patrons. In theory, once the fixed costs of digitization are incurred, the marginal cost of providing an additional electronic copy is zero.
The potential benefits of digital access are considerable. Patrons who previously traveled to a repository of rare books or a microfiche room at a research library can instead access historical information from their desktops. This dramatically decreases the time and effort patrons spend traveling to the source of the information. This also increases the potential benefits to new patrons who can now access historical texts that previously were only available at sites too distant for them to consider. The economic question is whether the cost of digitization is lower than this stream of future benefits.
This study examines the economics of digital, microfiche, and print access for the Early Canadiana Online project. The costs for these three methods of access include the costs of archiving and providing access to original print materials, microfiche copies of these materials, and digital copy accessible over the Internet. This study examines the production and storage costs and opportunity costs to patrons for digital access to the Early Canadiana online collection.
Data collected and analysed for this study will be important in determining the level of investment for future digitization projects of historical materials. Other studies at Cornell University (Kenney, 1997), Yale University (Conway, 1996), and Columbia University (Kantor et al., this volume) investigated the costs of online texts. The study at Columbia University described in this text examines the cost of using publisher-provided electronic files to produce text in HTML format. The studies at Cornell University and Yale University, like this study, examine the cost of digitizing print or microfiche. The Cornell and Yale studies measure the marginal costs per image of primarily in-house scanning. This study includes all costs associated with the production, cataloging, and sales of texts in microfiche or digital format. The cost estimates in this study are considerably higher than the marginal cost estimates in previous studies but are a more accurate estimate of the full costs of the production of microfiche or digital projects from start to finish.
This study also investigates the benefits of digitization. The primary benefit of these digital projects is the return to patrons from accessing these materials. Once digitized, stored, and made accessible over a campus network or the Internet, the materials are more easily accessible to more patrons. Patrons who previously had to travel to a library with the original or microfiche copies of the materials can now view them online from home or the office. Analysis of the data collected on use of the digital images, microfiche, and original texts will be helpful in predicting the use and benefits of other digital projects of historical materials. This will enable researchers to determine the return to investment of future digital projects.
The remainder of the paper is organized as follows; first, an economic model of digital access which includes a stakeholder analysis is examined. This provides a general framework for analyzing the costs of print, microfiche, and digital access. Second, a cost analysis of the Early Canadiana Project is presented. This cost analysis includes estimates of the cost of print, microfiche, and digital access; an analysis of the economies of scale for digitization studies; and an analysis of the institution and user cost of access to digital information.