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    Cost of Access to Digital Information

    The cost of access to digital information is very difficult to quantify. Access to digital information includes the personal computer, network connection, and space used by the patron. Since these are all fixed costs of access that a patron or library must incur regardless of what information is accessed, the marginal cost of accessing any image or database is zero.

    We can attempt to quantify the average cost per use to the library of providing access to digital information. This is shown in Table 15.8.

    Table 15.8: Average Annual Cost of Access to Digital Images
    Cost Cost per internal use Cost per use
    construction, utilities & maintenance $186,274.25 $0.01 $0.00
    Salaries $114,000.00 $0.01 $0.00
    equipment & salaries $398,000.00 $0.03 $0.01
    TOTAL $698,274.25 $0.04 $0.01

    Table 15.8 includes the cost of computers within the library, staff to maintain the server and network, and the cost of space for each computer. Cost per use is shown in terms of internal use and all uses of library databases regardless of the source. Internal use is defined as the number of unique and significant hits to the library server which originate from within the library (0.3 million per week). Use is the number of hits regardless of source (1.2 million per week). Regardless of which definition of use is applied, access to digital documents comes at a very low average cost per use. This is significantly lower than the average cost per use for microfiche or rare books.

    Table 15.8 also illustrates the importance of understanding the difference between total, average and marginal costs. Table 15.8, like previous tables, shows the total and average costs per use. The total cost of providing electronic access within a university library is significant, but the high level of use of terminals within the library result in a very low average cost per use. The marginal or additional cost for each patron's use is zero. All costs in Table 15.8 are fixed costs, incurred regardless of whether a patron uses a terminal or not. Investments in information technology within university libraries can be expensive although digital documents in a networked environment come at a zero marginal cost of distribution.