Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Staying connected: does the cost equal value?
From the old national union catalogs to our current bibliographic utilities, libraries and librarians have continually attempted to share resources and maximize the amount of information provided to users. The ability to actually locate resources has also been a major factor in how libraries – especially those with limited budgets – build their collections. Resource sharing permits our profession to focus on purchasing the most relevant material available, or the titles that cannot be borrowed elsewhere.
What has changed over the past few decades is the methods by which we share, provide, and access information. The Internet, CD-ROMs, and other electronic resources provide access previously unknown to not only new resources, but also to materials that have been a part of our collections for years. While many libraries have owned indices to newspapers – most of which are in our collections on microfilm – newer forms of access prove to provide deeper, more thorough access. An example, for the libraries fortunate enough to afford a subscription, is Proquest Historical Newspapers (www.il.proquest.com/proquest/features/feature-04/default.shtml) which provides on-line searching and access to the backfiles of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other significant newspapers in a fast, convenient way. When compared to results from paper indices, the results from Proquest are often better, and from the search results the searcher can click on a link to a digitized image of the cited article.
But as with all innovations, there is a cost. Databases, such as Proquest, are expensive. As such, libraries with smaller budgets, or libraries in which usage would be low, can neither afford nor justify providing a product such as this. We constantly struggle between providing the best services, and fiscal responsibility. Even larger research libraries that have traditionally attempted to collect comprehensively have had to make the hard choices of what to provide, and at what cost. There is always going to be a desired product, service, or title that is just not possible to own or have access to.
The rising cost of serials is a familiar theme, and by now, one that has become an old saw in the industry. It is a real problem … but is there a solution? The biggest issue with anything electronic is access. Should the cost of any particular resource become out of reach, what happens to access upon cancellation? Often it disappears, and the years of loyal subscribership and expense leave you with nothing to show for it. The lessons we are learning in dealing with serial costs, however, need to be applied to all electronic subscriptions.
Some of the databases and services we purchase do not always seem to justify the cost, even though they provide detailed information, a comprehensive scope, and have unparalleled convenience. Depending upon the actual material needed by a library, I suspect many institutions – especially smaller ones – could forgo a subscription to have electronic access to current books in print, especially when the subscription in some cases could equal, or be greater than, the actual book budget. Add into this mix that information on books in print would likely be of most use to a library’s acquisitions department, and not the average patron, the trade off becomes even trickier.
The goal is always to provide the library customer with the information they are seeking in the most cost effective and efficient method. This can not always be done. But, to be sure, libraries are a business, or at least, need to be run as such to ensure survival. Is there one answer or method to what products should be purchased or to determining the value of electronic resources … no. While many libraries are similar, no two are exactly alike. A product that is invaluable to one institution will be entirely expendable to another. What is common to all libraries is that each resource needs to be under yearly review to determine if the benefit is worth the cost.
Kent C. Boese