The transition to the electronic format is bringing with it changes in library operations that will afford reductions in libraries’ long-term financial commitments to nonsubscription costs. This is good news for the many libraries that are well along into this transition and would find it difficult to step back. This finding may also be useful to libraries that have been more reluctant to move toward this new format. Each year, a library that has transitioned to the electronic format for periodicals may have the opportunity to avoid immediate costs and long-term financial commitments as high as several hundred thousand dollars.
We have documented the likelihood that nonsubscription costs as they currently exist will decline for libraries as a result of the transition to electronic periodicals. The process differences make electronic costs lower than those of print. Certain efficiencies for electronic processes have probably not yet been developed, and electronic nonsubscription costs might therefore be expected to decline in certain ways. On the other hand, our data do not fully account for a number of effects of the transition. Numbers of periodical titles may increase dramatically at libraries. Cost shifts between libraries and publishers may continue. And, as noted in the section on Periodicals Operations and How They Are Changing, there is an absence of work associated with the long-term archiving of the electronic periodical content. Cost provisions for archiving will eventually be necessary.
For the print format, several characteristics have combined to help ensure the long-term archiving of periodicals at many, if not all, of the libraries participating in this study. First, once a bound volume is accessioned to the collection, it is rarely intentionally deaccessioned. Second, adequate storage space with satisfactory environmental conditions is provided to house the collection, including the periodic expansions of that space. Finally, at several of the libraries in this study, some amount of preservation-program costs are devoted to periodicals collections, including conservation, reformatting, and rebinding. Costs associated with these policies present themselves throughout the data on the print format.
For the electronic format, no appropriation of staff time or institutional expenditures has yet been made for the equivalent costs. Today, no archiving solution is in place for electronic materials, although efforts are being devoted toward developing possible solutions.41 While opportunities for tackling this problem may be difficult to identify, this study’s focus on the relative costs of the two formats may offer a point of entry. We have documented the extensive and costly efforts undertaken by libraries to ensure the long-term preservation of and access to their print periodicals collections. If the library community is to continue to ensure the long-term availability of the resources that it provides, some provision must be made.42 Just as all manner of nonsubscription expenses have been (or will be) reallocated from the print format to the electronic format, so the cost of long-term preservation and access must also be reallocated, and our findings suggest that a source exists for such reallocations.
Because every library has traditionally incurred certain costs associated with the long-term preservation of and access to print periodicals, each will have funds that can potentially be reallocated. For example, even a relatively small academic library will not, for the electronic format, need to construct expanded space for periodicals, bind current issues, reshelve materials after use, or maintain items on shelves. Each library that benefits from electronic periodicals could therefore contribute to the cost of long-term preservation and access. If an archiving solution is preventing a given library from making the format transition more fully, it would appear to make sense for that library to be willing to reallocate funds toward the costs of the solution. If all libraries that benefit make contributions in this key area of work, the costs for any given institution would thereby be lowered.
While the archiving solution is yet to be put into place, some observers have expressed the belief that the format yields “savings” to which they might like to lay claim. Some publishers are making the case that savings resulting from the transition should somehow be returned to them in the form of rising prices. They have undoubtedly assumed new costs associated with electronic publishing, including the possibility of cost shifts within the system from libraries. Should publishers ultimately contribute toward the cost of developing an archiving solution, this would be another cost shift. Similarly, some provosts might argue that savings should be returned to the general fund rather than be redirected within the library. However, these perceptions of savings ignore the absent archiving solution coupled with the historic responsibility of the academic library to ensure the long-term preservation of and access to scholarly resources. Libraries should carefully consider the implications of reappropriations deriving from the format transition.
As the format transition continues and reappropriations take place, long-term preservation and access must not become lost in the mix. Moreover, the format transition itself has been hindered at least somewhat by the lack of broadly accepted archiving solutions for the electronic format. While the perfect system of archiving solutions is not yet in hand, a number of initiatives are under way-in the university, governmental, and not-for-profit spheres-any of which will require supporting resources. Many libraries are waiting for an opportunity to participate in an appropriate archiving solution. But perceived library “savings” in the short term must not crowd out the library community’s ability to ensure the availability of such archiving solutions in the coming months and years. If appropriate solutions are developed and funds made available to support them, the transition to the new format will be much smoother, and the long-term preservation of and access to these resources can be ensured.
41 Libraries have only recently begun to request licensing terms that provide for long-term access to electronic resources after the subscription period ends. Long-term access is often guaranteed by the terms of the license, but through an indeterminate mechanism and for an unknown price. Most frequently, this licensing term is expressed as the opportunity to receive tapes, CDs, or other media on which data have been copied. However, subscribing libraries rarely make provision for the installation and servicing of these data or, more generally, for the preservation practices and safeguards this new medium requires. The location and custody of electronic periodicals today almost always remain with the publisher. A number of important projects are under way. The LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe) project at Stanford University, the partnership between the National Library of the Netherlands and Elsevier, and the initiatives at the Library of Congress are particularly noteworthy.
42 We are assuming that costs of archiving will be borne at least in part by libraries, because that appears to be the emerging model (witness, for example, LOCKSS and the National Library of the Netherlands/Elsevier). But the principles discussed in this section would also hold true in a “publisher pays” model, under which publishers would presumably pay the costs by increasing their prices at least commensurately and libraries would be expected to allocate monies in that direction.