Close this search box.
Close this search box.

APPENDIX VI: Comparative Costs for Book Treatments



Some materials that are microfilmed may subsequently be boxed. Objects that are bound may later be mass deacidified, and selective objects treated by a conservator this year may be digitized ten years hence. However, we do not generally think of various preservation and digitization options as being logically applied to the same materials in a library or an archives. By the same token, digitization and preservation activities cannot logically be substituted for one another. For example, digitization is not seen as a substitute for deacidification or conservation. The digitization technology, aimed at improving access to information, is not generally applied to the same materials that are saved in their original format through mass deacidification or conservation. Nor are the materials selected for deacidification the same materials that would normally be candidates for reformatting either through microfilming (due to advanced embrittlement of the paper) or through digitization (to promote much broader public access). Given these caveats, the relative costs of such activities continue to be of interest to persons engaged in managing library collections and archival materials and in making short-range and long-term plans for preservation and access to media and the information it contains.


For Binding/Boxing and for Mass Deacidification, unit costs are rounded off to the nearest dollar; for each of the other activities in the chart, comparative unit costs are rounded up or down to the nearest increment of $5.00. For the first six functions, costs include contract, supply, staff and related administrative costs at LC. The second category for digitization, described below in the context of the RLG DigiNews article under “Enhanced Digitization,” includes averaged costs for these activities at LC and the National Archives, as well as project costs from other digitization projects and from published sources.


Hands-on conservation treatment, preventive conservation measures, and specialized housings are generally provided for materials that are both at risk and a high priority to an institution, as well as for rare and intrinsically valuable materials among permanent research collections. Given the wide variety of formats, media, and treatment challenges represented in rare books, it is facile to attempt to present a cost that purports to represent the “average” expenses incurred for professional conservation treatment of a single, representative book. Nevertheless, the $430-per-book “Conservation” cost given here represents the average, in-house, Library of Congress cost for treating rare books between 1998 and 2000 in the Book and Paper Section of the Preservation Directorate’s Conservation Division. The costs, which generally ranged from $275 to $720 per volume during that period, were derived by dividing the total number of rare books treated into the aggregate costs for conservation materials, permanent and temporary staff salaries and benefits, and, when appropriate for special rare book treatment projects, the costs incurred by hiring additional conservators as part-time contractors to supplement LC staff resources.

Mass Deacidification

Deacidification is an economical approach to keeping books and unbound paper-based materials alive and available in usable form. The Library uses this technology to save important, endangered materials that are central to its mission, treating acidic and slightly brittle items from the general and special collections and the Law Library that must be preserved. Current LC per-book deacidification cost is $13.40; adding $1.85/book for selection, book charging, packing, transportation, quality control, and reshelving, the total cost is $15.25/book.

Preservation Facsimile

The exact reproduction of a printed volume, including illustrated matter. This was formerly called “Preservation Photocopying”; but thecharacterization has been changed because image capture is now usually accomplished by digital scanning of the original. Printouts on preservation- quality paper are bound according to library standards. The cost for a 300-page book represented here includes aggregated costs for scanning, covering material and binding, labeling, insertion of tattle (security) tag, and associated administrative expenses such as invoicing.


Two approaches to digitization serve preservation and access goals. Base level digitization offers a method of reformatting at-risk materials like brittle books. Enhanced digitization offers improved access to materials that have high informational and/or visual value such as significant manuscript or graphic collections including, for example, folklore artifacts, grey-scale images, exhibit-quality photographs, pamphlets, broadsides, scripts, music scores, or the correspondence of famous officials, writers, composers, or scientists. The cost of enhanced digitization may be justified for special collection and non-book materials for which research demand is high.

Base Level Digitization: For digitization of at-risk materials, the LC Preservation Directorate requires high-quality master image files that allow for a broad range of processing and display options; economical digitizing methods including both on-site and off-site capture of disbound materials; machine-readable, minimally-encoded text generated by fully automated processes of Optical Character Recognition and mark-up; and basic bibliographic description. On-site capture is essential for rare materials that must be dealt with in-house-i.e. materials that will not be sent off-site for reformatting. This model provides a baseline of digital images and text onto which “value-added” enhancements (such as the essays, finding aids, and the kinds of exhibits done for American Memory collections) can later be added. These minimum requirements, without “value-added” enhancements or elaborate bibliographic data, contribute to lower per-page costs. The average cost for digitizing a book page, including scanning, metadata creation, automated generation of OCR and minimally-encoded text, and associated activities, including identifying and preparing materials, quality control, and project management, is $5.32. For a brief, 300-page book, this works out to $1,600.00.

Enhanced Digitization: Costs represent an “adjusted average” derived from two rounds of LC/Ameritech projects, NARA’s Electronic Access Project, and various other projects and published sources. (See Steven Puglia, “The Costs of Digital Imaging Projects,” RLG DigiNews, Vol. 3, No. 5, pp.1-6, Oct. 15, 1999.) The cost is derived from a broad range of digitizing models, which include low-, medium-, and high-quality digital images; item-level bibliographic description for various types of materials; and “value-added” enhancements such as essays, finding aids, or exhibits. Costs of creating machine-readable texts with complex SGML-encoding are not included. The average cost for digitizing a book page, including scanning, metadata creation, creation of enhancements, and other associated activities such as identifying and preparing materials, quality control, and project management, is given as $8.35 in Table 2 of the DigiNews article referenced above. For a brief, 300-page book, this works out to $2,500.00.

As confirmation of this rough $2,500.00 cost estimate for digitizing a small book, see also: Mark Y. Herring, “10 Reasons Why the Internet Is No Substitute for a Library,” in American Libraries, Vol. 32. No. 4 (April 2001), pp. 76-78. The author describes Questia Media, Inc.’s recent expenditure of $125 million, digitizing 50,000 books that are now available electronically. Again, this comes out to roughly $2,500.00 per book. Note: As with the “base line” and “enhanced digitization” costs given above, this does not include the expense of maintaining digital versions over time.

Skip to content