Wednesday, June 9, 2010

On the Cost of Keeping a Book

This article purports to respond to the claimed objection of many librarians to the cost of storing digital materials. The article proposes instead that the cost of a print collection is much larger than supposed and furnishes an argument in those terms for a migration to digital materials.

The method used in the paper is reminiscent of a professor I had in library school who stated that after years of work in the profession she had determined that administration was the place to be because this unit made things happen. It did so by having command of the budget, and the way to use a budget most effectively, she said, was to figure out how to price everything. If it moved it had a cost; if it didn't move it also had a cost. In reviewing costs for a print collection, the report makes the point that is becoming commonplace in discussions of collections that preservation (low cost) through high density storage is inversely related to access. If you preserve something, it is cheaper but less available. Should you decide to circulate an item in remote storage, the cost is greater than if the item had been kept in a collection. So a gray area of expense is figuring out some means of determining the circulation of items so as to store them appropriately. Incidentally, Brian Schottlaender, UL at San Diego, addressing the Irvine assembly, cited one study that claimed that having 11 print copies of an item in existence was the optimum number for balancing accessibility and permanence....

The report goes over costs of maintenance, cleaning of facilities, and staff as a function of facility size. There are also involved financial calculations such as the claim that an item that costs $3.00 per year to store in current dollars, costs $100 to store in perpetuity because of current federal interest rates.... The various calculations require a better head than mine to understand in the time frame available. As a subjective impression, the discussion has the same glib erudition one sees in videos of various executives hauled before the public to explain why their management was way off base and their assumptions dead wrong. However, the citations of various studies in support appears to be in order. It's a substantial document worthy of consideration.

Courant, Paul N., and Matthew "Buzzy" Nielsen. "On the Cost of Keeping a Book." Washington D.C.: Council on Library and Information Resources, 2010.

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