Cloud-sourcing research collections: Managing print in the mass-digitized library environment

16 Mar 2011

The emergence of a mass-digitized book corpus has the potential to transform the academic library enterprise, enabling an optimization of legacy print collections that will substantially increase the efficiency of library operations

and facilitate a redirection of library resources in support of a renovated library service portfolio.

Executive Summary
The Cloud Library project was jointly designed and executed by OCLC Research, the HathiTrust, New York University’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, and the Research Collections Access & Preservation (ReCAP) consortium, with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The objective of the project was to examine the feasibility of outsourcing management of low-use print books held in academic libraries to shared service providers, including large-scale print and digital repositories.

The following overarching hypothesis provided a framework for our investigation:
• The emergence of a mass-digitized book corpus has the potential to transform the academic library enterprise, enabling an optimization of legacy print collections that will substantially increase the efficiency of library operations and facilitate a redirection of library resources in support of a renovated library service portfolio.

From this, a number of research questions emerged:
• What is the scope of the mass-digitized book corpus in the HathiTrust Digital Libray and to what degree does it replicate print collections held in academic research libraries?
• Can public domain content in the HathiTrust Digital Library provide a suitable surrogate for low-use print collections in academic libraries?
• Is there sufficient duplication between shared print storage repositories and the HathiTrust Digital Library to permit a significant number of academic libraries to optimize and reduce total spending on local print management operations?
• What operational gains might be obtained through a selective externalization of collection management activities?

Based on a year-long study of data from the HathiTrust, ReCAP, and WorldCat, we concluded that our central hypothesis was successfully confirmed: there is sufficient material in the mass-digitized library collection managed by the HathiTrust to duplicate a sizeable (and growing) portion of virtually any academic library in the United States, and there is adequate duplication between the shared digital repository and large-scale print storage facilities to enable a great number of academic libraries to reconsider their local print management operations.

Significantly, we also found that the combination of a relatively small number of potential shared print providers, including the Library of Congress, was sufficient to achieve more than 70% coverage of the digitized book collection, suggesting that shared service may not require a very large network of providers.

Analysis of the distribution of subject matter and library holdings represented in the HathiTrust Digital Library and shared print repositories further confirmed that the digital corpus is largely representative of the collective academic library collection, suggesting a broad potential market for service. A further positive finding was that monographic titles in the humanities constitute the greatest part of the mass-digitized resource, which may indicate that some relatively under-resourced disciplines will begin to benefit from a digital transformation that has already powered enormous innovation in the sciences. As detailed below, we also found that substantial library space savings and cost avoidance could be achieved if academic institutions outsourced management of redundant low-use inventory to shared service providers.

Our findings also revealed some important obstacles and limitations to implementing changed print management practices in the current library operating environment. The following are among the most important constraints we identified:
• The proportion of public domain content in the HathiTrust Digital Library is relatively small (approximately 16% of titles in June 2010) and typically represents material that is not widely held in the library system; as a result, the number of libraries that might hope to reduce local print management costs for these titles through negotiated agreements with the HathiTrust and shared print providers is quite low. Moreover, the age and subject distribution of titles in the public domain is not representative of academic research collections as a whole. In sum, the public domain corpus as currently defined by U.S. copyright law cannot be considered a viable surrogate for any academic print collection.

• While significant duplication was found between the HathiTrust Digital Library and multiple large-scale library storage collections, it was apparent that no single print storage repository could offer coverage sufficient to enable significant space savings or cost avoidance for a given client library. Put another way, effective shared print storage solutions will depend upon a network of providers who will need to optimize holdings as a collective resource.

• The absence of a robust discovery and delivery service based on collective print storage holdings is an impediment to changed print management strategies, especially for digitized titles in copyright.

It is our strong conviction, based on the above findings, that academic libraries in the United States (and elsewhere) should mobilize the resources and leadership necessary to implement a bridge strategy that will maximize the return on years of investment in library print collections while acknowledging the rapid shift toward online provisioning and consumption of information. Even, and perhaps especially, in advance of any legal outcome on the Google Book Search settlement, academic libraries have a unique opportunity to reconfigure print supply chains to ensure continued library relevance in the print supply chain. In the absence of a licensing option, online access to most of the digitized retrospective literature will be severely constrained.

Demand for print versions of digitized books will continue to exist and libraries will be motivated to meet it, but they will need to do so in more cost-effective ways. In the absence of fully available online editions, full-text indexing of digitized in-copyright material provides a means of moderating and tuning demand for print versions and should facilitate the transfer of an increasing part of the print inventory to high-density warehouses. Viewed in this light, shared print storage repositories could enable a significant and positive shift in library resources toward a more distinctive and institutionally relevant service portfolio.

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