In this era of post truth and fake news, access to primary sources of history is becoming more and more important. Making this information accessible costs lots of time and money, but there are novel ways to do it.
Libraries preserve vast amounts of original papers, books and artifacts that have shaped the way we think about the world. From ancient manuscripts to the more recent calculations on the discovery of black holes, they document our understanding of the world around us.
To keep step with the rise of the information-led society, and the requirements of researchers, teachers and learners, libraries have had to find ways to disclose this information digitally while coping with shrinking budgets. Now, because of the pandemic, librarians are preparing for another wave of cuts – while demand for high quality digital content becomes more important than ever.
How then can university libraries afford to digitise more of their collections?
Large institutions tend to work with publishers to digitise their often unique or rare collections. The underpinning financial model helps universities with substantial and high-profile collections unlock their materials through digitisation and capitalise on it through royalties from sales. However, the trade-off is that the resulting digital products are not openly available to all.
Publishers take on the cost of digitisation, and related costs in the packaging of the final product, and in return they sell the new digital collections to libraries. The library whose collection is digitised will typically get free access to digital copies from their own material, but other universities have to pay expensive fees1 to purchase these primary source archives.
Alternatively, libraries may invest in the digitisation of their collections themselves, but this can be quite costly, or apply for external grants to make their materials openly available for all, which can be very time-consuming and not always successful. Libraries seem to be caught between “mission and money”, on the one hand the desire to make their collections more widely available through digitisation and on the other hand being subjected to financial pressures.
Mission of institutions
To bring together the best of these two models, Jisc has worked with publisher Wiley on a new model and a new history of science digital collection. Once complete, this collection will contain one million pages of documents drawn from the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) and complementary materials from the University of Leicester, Oxford, Leeds and Liverpool, University College London, King’s College London, the University of London, the University of Glasgow and the Mathematical Associaction, all of whom were invited to put forward their collections for digitisation.
Content comes from collections big and small. For example, Liverpool University has only submitted 5,000 items for inclusion in the project while King’s College London over 200,000 pages. Content contributors will gain free access to the full final collection. Under the normal publisher model, such smaller collection holders would be less likely to feature in a commercial product and content contributors would not always have free access to the whole final collection.
Jisc’s co-investment in this new digital archive has ensured that all UK libraries have free perpetual access to the final product, they could put forward their collections for inclusion and all content will become openly available after 10 years from publication, when all exclusive content licences expire. Jisc can recoup its investment through rest of the world sales so that it can channel it in future digital content products.
However, we need to assess sustainable approaches in the round- not just from a financial viewpoint. According to a report - evidencing the impact and value of digital collections - from Research Libraries UK (pdf), institutions are increasingly looking for new ways to meet their impact goals as well as investigate how they can evidence impact resulting from relevant services and activities.
In these extraordinary times, a great opportunity for academic libraries and archives arises: to show in practice the positive impact and value that digital collections and resources can have on the broader society, its health, wellbeing, and progress.
The Jisc-Wiley collection, British Association for the Advancement of Science (Collections on the History of Science: 1830-1970) was created as a way to connect the brilliant minds of the past with the researchers shaping the future. Once the collection is in use, we will be able to measure the value of this resource in terms of its reach, use and impact.
All Jisc members can sign up for the collection through the Jisc licence subscriptions manager and get a preview of its content by taking part in the free event Old world science, new world science: 150 years of British history of science collections in the UK, on Thursday 19 November at 15.00.
- 1 Library collections; navigating the payment for access minefield - Jisc blog by Peter Findlay, September 2019 - https://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/library-collections-navigating-the-payment-f...