Research on Libraries and Librarianship in 2000

Digital Libraries

A conference on "The Economics and Usage of Digital Library Collections" was held in Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 23 and 24, 2000, sponsored by the Program for Research on the Information Economy and the University Library at the University of Michigan. It provided an opportunity for an international group of librarians, publishers, and economists to consider the economics and usage of digital libraries. The conference also marked the conclusion of the Pricing Electronic Access to Knowledge (PEAK) project, a four-year study of digital collection pricing models and user behavior sponsored by the University of Michigan. There were 16 presentations, covering pricing and distribution models, economic analyses, user behavior studies, and the impact of digital library operations on traditional library operations. The full text of most of the papers is available, along with more information about the speakers and projects, on the conference Web site, Results of two major research studies were presented at this conference. The PEAK project was an 18-month field experiment conducted by the two sponsors of the March 2000 conference with additional funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the National Science Foundation.

The PEAK project had two major components: It was an experiment to study the effectiveness of various pricing and product schemes for electronic access to scholarly literature, and it was also a production service to deliver Elsevier journals to the University of Michigan community and selected other institutions. Through PEAK, approximately 1,200 journals published by Elsevier Science from 1996 to June 1999 were made available in digital form to 12 institutions.

Research findings support the idea that users want collections of articles rather than collections of journals. The finding also supports the 80/20 rule, in that 80 percent of the use came from 20 percent of the articles. Also reported on at the March 2000 conference was the Columbia Online Books Project, a longitudinal study that sought to understand both user reactions to online books in the scholarly world and the cost profiles of print and online books. The study found that scholars appreciated the opportunity to use the online format to locate a book and to browse it, but that they sought a print copy for extended reading. The study also determined that incremental costs of online books are small for publishers, and that libraries' life-cycle costs are lower for online books than for print books.

In the summer of 2000 Columbia University announced a second study to evaluate what has now become EPIC (Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia), a partnership between the libraries, the Academic Information Systems (AcIS) technicians, and Columbia University Press to produce digital products. Under a $530,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, EPIC will track and evaluate the use and costs of projects over the next three years and in doing so create a model for evaluation of online publications that may prove helpful to others developing similar projects. The EPIC project evaluation will help the creators of online publications to better understand how the use of digital publications affects the research and teaching patterns of scholars and students both qualitatively and quantitatively. It will also help them better understand the financial viability of projects and assist in developing long-term financial models for completed projects. For more information on EPIC or digital projects at Columbia, see the EPIC Web site at

Another Mellon grant announced in 2000 will fund a related project involving another university library. The University of Pennsylvania and Oxford University Press (OUP) are joining forces to develop and publish digital books. With a $218,000 grant from Mellon, Penn will mount every new OUP title in all fields of history for the next five years. The project will examine and evaluate the interaction of students and faculty with a certain corpus of books online; the cost and mechanics of digital book production and distribution; the impact of digital book availability on the demand and market for print materials and possible new publisher services such as print-on-demand; and the potential of electronic full-text monographs to advance scholarship, within history and related areas of the humanities.

In the opening phase of the project, the library will establish baseline indicators of patron expectations and behavior with respect to accessing and using books online. As the collection reaches a critical mass, server logs will provide information about use, and the library will conduct surveys and focus group sessions to measure interest in the project and satisfaction with its products. Penn will make a detailed assessment of project outcomes with help from Malcolm Getz, an economist and former university librarian at Vanderbilt University. While access to the full text of Digital Books Project materials is restricted to the Penn community, the public is invited to visit the Web site ( for views of the entire contents of three books that are being used as samples.

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