More Than Just Pretty Pictures: A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Digital Library Holdings


Since 1995, the Library of Virginia, working with VTLS, Inc., has implemented an extensive Digital Library Project now providing web-based access to more than 2.2 million digital images of original documents, maps, photographs, etc. and more than 60 new databases and finding aids. Most of the documents that were digitized were previously inaccessible to remote users, and were costly to provide to onsite patrons. Although the initial cost of creating digital images and associated indexes, databases, and finding aids can be high, presenting them online offers greater opportunities for distributed uses, with a subsequent lower unit cost per use. This paper presents a model of the differential in cost to provide the original or hard copy document to a patron, both remotely or on-site vs. the initial and ongoing costs of developing and mounting the digital version of the document on the Internet. The paper also discusses how online access can affect research and scholarly communication.

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