Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Individual economic factors
User Costs. What are some of the forces affecting individuals? First, there are costs of two kinds, capital and continuing. The capital costs are the cost of equipment needed to be able to use the digital library or online books, and the cost of acquiring the needed skills. Since, in the setting of our project, there is no transfer of funds from users to the library associated with use events, the continuing costs are (a) the cost of connecting to the library and (b) the mental costs or efforts associated with use. Not a lot is known about these costs to the user, at this point. However, in the transition from page-based books to the HTML format that we chose, we sense that certain kinds of mental landmarks that readers have developed over years of working with print on paper are removed. It seems likely that this results in additional mental cost to the users.
User Benefits. There are also benefits to the users. First among these, of course, is ubiquity of access. Also, our system provided a search capability. In addition, the book-marking system (supported through the browser) permits users to store pointers to important locations within an extended text. Our system did not directly support annotations, but obviously annotations can be established in the users' own computers. Finally, using a system like this provides the intangible benefit of being up-to-date relative to one's peers.
Beyond all this, having and using a digital library provides symbolic utility. Symbolic utility is a concept introduced by the philosopher Robert Nozick to represent the utility assigned to something good to have or to do, even if it doesn't necessarily "work" (Nozick, 1993, p. 226). In this case, members of the Columbia community may have felt proud about contributing early to the development of digital library systems.
Given the nature and variety of benefits, it seems probable that they outweigh the costs to individual users.