How hidden costs can occur when disclosing digital archival collections and my top tips on how to prevent these unwanted charges.
The importance of visibility and discoverability
In the mind’s eye, library collections conjure images of row upon row of books, from the latest novels to valuable, leather-bound first editions and irreplaceable historic publications yellowing with age. So-called special collections, including primary source material and archives of particular historical value, have always been harder to access due to their rarity, high value or fragility.
Physical resources will always be important, but in today’s online world, visibility and discoverability are most important and publishers are increasingly digitising analogue collections of texts, images and audio-visuals held in libraries to make them available for scholars and students.
Digital access: balancing the books
Publishers know all too well that digital access offers great advantages and capitalise on the accessibility of their digitised collections by charging libraries for the content itself as a one-off cost, rather than a yearly subscription. However, they then often charge again for continued access to that content on their own delivery platforms through yearly ‘platform’ or ‘hosting fees’.
A recent Jisc survey of senior librarians and collection managers reveals that 42% of the 67 institutions that took part spent on average up to 100K or more over the last 5 years on one-off purchases from publishers; platform fees ranged from up to £5,000 to over £15,000 per year, and the majority of institutions felt that the platform/hosting fees they were charged were not very good value for money.
These digital collections are typically bought by research libraries and teaching focused higher education institutions (HEIs) as one-off perpetual purchases, but there’s a catch: most licences don’t state that the fees will increase over time and HEIs find they often do so erratically. Institutions may be unable to gain access to content, even after forking out for a digital collection, without incurring extra costs. Having to pay unexpected ongoing fees puts strain on stretched resources.
The survey also reveals widespread discontent with the lack of transparency around these charges. As one of the respondents put it:
“Some hosting fees seem set at a reasonable nominal rate while others can charge thousands while offering little in the way of updates to the resource. The business reasons for the charges are often not made clear.”
Another problem is multiple access charging. HEI libraries are charged per collection, which means those with more than one collection on the same publisher’s platform can be charged several times.
Of course, libraries could consider refusing to use certain platforms, but it’s hard to justify cancelling access to a collection that has cost significant money. And they have already paid the one-off cost for acquiring the collections in the first place, so that investment would be lost.
Another area of concern relates to charges made by publishers to enable data-driven research of these collections. Publishers are supposed to enable text and data mining (TDM) but again they will often apply charges to provide access to data sets institutions have already purchased.
HEIs are keen that their academics and student can undertake such research, but there are significant challenges to be overcome before the sector can fully embrace this due to there being no standard approach to how TDM is facilitated. The majority of HEIs who access such data sets for text and data mining activities say they experienced associated fees.
One respondent commented:
“We have been charged by one publisher for data to be sent to us on a hard drive in order for a user to carry out TDM on a newspaper archive which we had already purchased.”
An added problem is that libraries are not always aware of the level of TDM activity that takes place in their institution, as requests for data sets to publishers are often made by researchers directly to the publishers, thus by-passing the library. According to the survey, 89% of respondents have either never conducted data mining on their collections, or do not know if this has taken place.
If libraries don’t have full visibility of the requirements for TDM in their institutions, they can’t support researchers adequately.
Driving down costs with our group purchasing scheme
In response to members’ concerns and to support institutions with the purchasing of digital collections, Jisc has set up a new service, the digital archival collections group purchasing scheme, which has transparent pricing and drives down costs.
Higher education institutions collectively benefit from lower prices for digital collections based on the simple market principle: the more products that are purchased from a publisher, the lower the price for those participating. There is no need to negotiate as prices have been Jisc banded to allow all members to participate, and there are no recurrent platform fees. To date participating institutions have saved over £600,000 on the list price of the products offered.
We're working with our members on a set of principles that will help guide purchase agreement negotiations for digitised collections. We have put together the top six things to consider when negotiating such a deal.