Copyright, licensing, and digital rights management are some of the more complex issues any future all-digital research library must face.  Others have tackled this issue in treatises and textbooks.  What follows is an over-simplified discussion of copyright and licensing and how it relates to the feasibility of an all-digital library.

First, copyright.  According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “What does copyright protect? Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”   The actual copyright law is 392 pages, so suffice it to say copyright is the law that protects the creator of a copyrighted work, allowing the creator to profit from their creation.  Cornell University has a chart that outlines which materials fall under copyright protection and which do not:   This chart also serves as an example of Creative Commons Licensing.

Licensing works in conjunction with copyright.  An easy way for a creator to license their creation while maintaining their copyright  is with the use of a Creative Commons license.  Creative Commons, founded in 2001, provides free licenses for copyrighted works.  These licenses authorize use of the copyrighted work within the constraints of the license.  The website provides the details of these licenses:   Using these licenses allows work to be used in the public domain, yet reserves all the legal rights of
the copyright holder.

Digital rights management actually refers to a category of software used to enforce copyright restrictions.  Essentially, digital rights management software uses fundamental electronic safeguards to protect copyrighted works from illegal copying.  This is the software that allows a user to view an ebook from a library catalog, but prevents the user from copy-and-pasting the ebook into a Word document.

Copyright holders will fight to the death – and beyond – for the right to make money off their work, and Congress has obliged by authorizing copyrights to be extended for up to 70 years after the death of the creator. (U.S. Copyright Law, page 121)   This allows copyright owners and their estates to collect money on the copyright, but the extreme restrictions and heavy fines for violation of copyrights has worked against the creators:  their works are not enriching the public domain. If  “Unconstrained access to past works helps determine the richness of future works,” (Bailey, p. 116) then these copyright holders are essentially cutting off their nose to spite their face. If the price to use the original work is too high, nothing will be built from it.

Print and electronic media differ in their copyright uses.  If I buy a paperback book, I can read it and then loan it out to my friends.  I can read it out loud to a group.  I can leave it in a chair at the airport and hope that someone else will pick it up to enjoy.

This is not the case with electronic media.  Once a song, book, or movie is downloaded, only the person who purchased the download may use it. If the library purchases an ebook, how do they legally provide access to that ebook?  This is a critical issue for an all-digital library, because the fines for breaking an electronic copyright are extremely high.  Thus far, the problem has been resolved by paying for licensing through publishers and aggregators, but these continuing fees can also dramatically increase the budget of a library.

In order for an all-digital library to truly exist, research materials will have to be shared in an open access or creative commons environment. Academics have largely adapted to open access publishing for their research:  they expect to receive research for free, although they are willing to buy their own copy for future reference. “It [published academic research] is given away to publishers, (and thereby colleagues and the general public) for peer recognition and as a contribution to the advancement of knowledge for the public good. It is perhaps because academics-as-authors give their works away freely, that they expect to do the same with others’ works as users.”  (Gadd, E., Oppenheim, C., and Probets, S., p. 15).

Given the current climate of filing multi-million dollar lawsuits against college students for sharing music, it may seem that an open access environment is an impossible dream.  However, evidence suggests that the larger product markets are changing.  It is possible to make money from copyrights in conjunction with allowing free access to creative works.

Take Lil’ Wayne, for example.  If you are “of a certain age,” you may not know who (or what?) Lil’ Wayne is, but the current generation of college students are very familiar with his work.  Lil’ Wayne became one of the best-selling musical artists of 2008 by giving away his music for free.  Those of us over the age of 40 remember bootleg cassettes, those much copied (and terrible quality) versions of cassettes created by someone bold enough to sneak a tape recorder into a rock concert.  Mixtapes are the current generation’s bootlegs, right down to the dubious quality.  Lil’ Wayne flooded the underground music market with mixtapes (the musical equivalent of the draft version of a research report).   By flooding the street market with music that people wanted to hear, Lil Wayne created a market for himself.   He learned which songs were requested at clubs and which were not.  When he finally did release his commercial album, it immediately shot up the charts, earning the artist a great deal of money and a Grammy award.

At some level, creating sales out of offering publications for free is simply a numbers game.  National Academies Press offers many of their books online, complete free. In “The Deep Niche,” Michael Jensen describes how one 10-year old title, freely available on the web, received 11,500 visits in 2006. Those visits resulted in $255 in sales from print and digital copies for the small publishing company.

Copyright, licensing, and digital rights management are critical issues for an all-digital library.  In the current environment, it appears that copyright law and digital rights management software combined would not allow such a library to be developed.   However, as open access publishing and licensing concepts seep from the academic and street environments into the business and legal world, the availability of complete open access may simply be a matter of time.

Works Cited:

Bailey, Charles W.  Strong copyright + DRM + Weak Net neutrality = Digital Dystopia? Information Technology and Libraries.  Sept. 2006.  P. 116 – 127.

Christga, R., ‘Tha Carter III’ Takes Lil Wayne Platinum.  All things considered, July 8, 2009. Accessed 4/21/09.
Gadd, E., Oppenheim, C. & Probets, S. RoMEO Studies 3 – How academics expect to use open-access research papers. 2003. Department of Information Science, Loughborough University, Loughborough, LE11 3TU. Accessed 3/29/09.

Hirtle, Peter B. Cornell Copyright Information Center. Accessed 4/21/09.  How Lil Wayne Markets Himself and Why He’s Successful.  Publish date unknown. Accessed 4/21/09.

Jensen, M.  The Deep Niche. The Journal of Electronic Publishing.  Ann Arbor, MI: Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan, University Library. vol. 10, no. 2, Spring 2007. Accessed 4/21/09. [LMS: Fixed broken link]

United States Copyright Law. Accessed 4/20/09.

United States Copyright Office. Frequently Asked Questions: (accessed 4/20/09).


“You simply don’t have to build a traditional library these days,” California State University Chancellor Barry Munitz told Newsweek in explaining why the new Cal State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) would not have a physical library.  The year: 1995.

Flash forward to December of 2008, when CSUMB celebrated the opening of its new 136,000-square-foot  library building.  The facility meets the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED silver standard and features “skybox study rooms,” an information literacy center, a writing center, auditoriums, and a café.  What happened to the vision of the virtual library?

Lucero Design, CSUMB Library

Lucero Design, CSUMB Library

Dubbed the “21st Campus (of the CSU system) for the 21st century,” CSUMB opened in 1995 on a former army base and aimed to serve about 10,000 on-site students and an additional 10,000 distance learners.  CSUMB’s Vision Statement emphasizes applying technology to education and embracing the future: “The university will invest in preparation for the future through integrated and experimental use of technologies as resources to people, catalysts for learning, and providers of increased access and enriched quality learning.” But administrators backed off from the idea of a virtual library, determining that many materials, particularly books, were available only in print and that the library is as much a place as a collection.

Nevertheless, the CSUMB library did prefer electronic over print delivery of information and focused on delivering “just in time” rather than “just in case” collections.  As John Ober wrote in an essay from 2000, “While many libraries feel that electronic resources are an ever more valuable supplement to print, CSUMB feels that print resources supplement electronic access, and that they probably will become a less important supplement as time goes by.”  Usage data from the 1990s showed that CSUMB students used electronic resources more than students at other campuses; while 72% of student library usage at CSUMB focused on online sessions and 19% on book circulation, the numbers were almost reversed at other CSU campuses across the state, where 71% of usage was for book circulation and 26% for online sessions.  (I’m not sure how “usage” is measured.)  One of the challenges faced by the library in the 1990s was ensuring self-sufficiency as users contended with a variety of search interfaces and content silos.  CSUMB also dealt with uncertainty about pricing models for digital information, ameliorated somewhat through its participation in the CSU purchasing consortium.  ILL costs and agreements posed another problem, as CSUMB was a net borrowing library and needed to negotiate fair agreements with lenders.

pollyalida, Study area

pollyalida, Study area

Until the new building opened at the end of the 2008, CSUMB’s library was located in an inadequate space, “half of a small former military building.” Now CSUMB exemplifies the idea of library as place, providing social spaces where people can learn, collaborate, and get help with their research.  In its web site promoting the new facility, the CSUMB Library addresses the limitations of the initial vision of virtuality: “its startup model must be modified to incorporate more print material, as access to electronic books is highly limited. While textbooks may ultimately be successful in an electronic format, the non-reference books suitable for academic libraries will not be replaced by a new format for some time to come.” CSUMB Library suggests that a significant print collection aids in recruitment of students, complements the idea of “library as place,” and is necessary for graduate programs.  In its vision of the library as “learning commons,” CSUMB emphasizes information literacy training, strong references services, and good technical support.

Now CSUMB Library positions itself as a hybrid library, which provides access to materials in multiple formats.   As library director Bill Robnett stated in an interview:

A lot of people ask me, why is a library so different now? Well in fact it isn’t. If you think about it, most technologies-and print is a perfectly fine technology-don’t replace one another. So we have the power of computing, and all our databases, and the World Wide Web, and Google, etcetera, at our fingertips when we sit at a computer. But you’ve also got the other technologies. You’ve got print sources, you’ve got media sources, you’ve got microfilm sources. So a library now is as much as it always has been, and more. The more comes from when you have such power at your fingertips to either find the print material and utilize it effectively, or find online resources and utilize those resources effectively.

Is the hybrid model forever–or for now?  In the 2009 edition of Provocative Statements, the Taiga Forum  predicts that “Within the next 5 years…libraries will have abandoned the hybrid model to focus exclusively on electronic collections, with limited investments in managing shared print archives.”  Moreover, “library buildings will no longer house collections and will become campus community centers that function as part of the student services sector.”  Fifteen years ago, the administration at CSUMB might have agreed.  Now the CSUMB Library insists on the continued need for print collections and promotes the library as a community center.

Work Cited:

John Ober, “Library Services at California State University, Monterey Bay,” in Building libraries for the 21st century : the shape of information, ed. Terry. Webb (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000), 122-137.

Open access publishing is slowly gaining a foothold in scholarly publishing.  The availability of scholarly publications for research through open access publishing is critical to the feasibility of an all digital research library.

In 2007 President George W. Bush signed a bill allowing the National Institute of Health to publish research as open access documents.  The NIH Public Access Policy implements Division G, Title II, Section 218 of PL 110-161 (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008) states:

SEC. 218. The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law.

Some members of Congress are trying to stop this policy from spreading to other federal agencies, with backing from the publishing lobby.   H.R. 801 was introduced by Representative John Conyers on February 3, 2009. Called the “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act,” this bill seeks to stop public access publishing from spreading to other Federal agencies.  This bill, or a similar version, has been introduced in previous sessions of Congress, but has been overshadowed by larger problems.  However, Representative Conyers, who oversees the House Judiciary Committee, has recently abolished the subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Policy.  It is believed that Rep. Conyers made this move in an effort to pass H.R. 801 this session.

Peter Suber believes that the success of the NIH Public Access Policy will provide key evidence to support the defeat of H.R. 801.  Currently, the NIH publishes 80,000 papers per year to advance research in every area of biomedicine. Even the most reluctant publishers will be forced to adapt to open access or fail if they wish to remain relevant.  Peter Suber foresees a lawsuit from the publishing industry lobby based on copyright protection, but predicts that this will fail.  The publishing industry will soon reach a tipping point in favor of open access publishing.

Mr. Suber also believes the current economic recession will play a role in reaching this tipping point, and not simply by rendering H.R. 801 as unimportant.  He states, “If TA publishers found OA journal business models unattractive a few years ago, one reason was that subscription models still looked better.  But the balance of attraction has to change as the odds of survival under a subscription model decline…and today at least three [OA] publishers are reporting profits, including BMC…which is based in expensive London.” (¶14, SPARC newsletter).

Even the most prestigious universities are not immune from financial pressures in the current economy. Every budget item is weighed and scrutinized, and in this economic climate, paying for access to subscription databases and  publishing contracts is relegated to the lower levels of the priority list.   On March 20, 2009, M.I.T. announced that ALL faculty research would be published in a free online repository.   The press release mentions that although other universities, like Harvard and Stanford, publish research from select departments as open access documents, MIT would set a higher standard by publishing research from every department in its online repository.

Mr. Suber tempers expectations that complete open access will be reached in 2009, much less 2010.  “[M]aking predictions based on what appears to be wise rather than what appears to be unavoidable, or treating reasons as causes, is most likely to pay off when the relevant players are informed and rational.”  (¶23, SPARC newsletter).  Indeed, those who oppose open access publishing surely believe that they are ones who are “informed and rational.”

As the quantity and quality of open access publications improve, so too will the likelihood that an all digital library will come into fruition.

Works cited:

Fair Copyright in Research Works Act.  Accessed March 29, 2009.

Plotkin, Natasha.  MIT Will Publish All Faculty Articles Free In Online Repository
The Tech.  Online Edition. Volume 129, Issue 14.  Published: March 20, 2009.   Article accessed March 29, 2009.

Suber, Peter.  Predictions for Open Access, 2009.  SPARC Open Access Newsletter, Issue #218.  December 2, 2008. Accessed March 30, 2009.

Website, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Accessed March 29, 2009.

UC Merced Library bills itself as “Not what other research libraries are, what they will be.” This library is designed to be a model for future libraries. Traditional libraries may be envious of its sleek design and model for operations: 65% of the budget is used for collections development, and only 35% goes toward operations. The staff is purposefully slim, utilizing library assistants and student workers to help keep the operations budget down. The staff is available to answer questions in person, and via text, chat, e-mail, and phone.

The library staff has been energetic in their outreach efforts, conducting many classes to teach the customers how to use the library resources. From August 2007 – July 2008, over 100 classes in library instruction were taught to over 3000 participants. Given that there are 2,718 students on campus, and 898 faculty, if each participant attended only one class, then the library staff taught a class to virtually every student and faculty on campus. While that “if” is unlikely, it should be acknowledged that this level of outreach is outstanding.

The library collections are a mix of digital and print. It is interesting that the library collection features 70,000 books, but 150,000 eBooks. Online journals, databases, and online course readings also feature prominently in the collection. UC Merced Library has also assumed a leading role in digitizing personal collections. For example, “[t]he Library used a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services to create hundreds of digitized images of unique works of Japanese art belonging to the Ruth and Sherman Lee Institute for Japanese Art at the Clark Center in Hanford, California. High quality images of these artworks, enhanced with searchable metadata, are (or will soon be) available to anyone with an internet connection.”

The library itself features collaborative workspaces with comfortable sofas, private rooms with whiteboards and office furniture, and a quiet reading area on the fourth floor. The entire library has wireless and wired network access. The building is a modern glass and metal design with clean lines and windows for walls. The pictures on the website are beautiful; the library appears to be the antithesis of cement libraries with dark corners and dusty stacks. The library was also awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold Certification, which means the building is as energy-efficient and economical as it is beautiful.

Because this library concept is still fairly new, it will be interesting to see how it develops, particularly with the economy in California facing steep budget cuts. Will the library thrive with their budgeting design? If the University is forced to cut their budget, where will it be trimmed: the digital collection development, print books, database licensing? Or perhaps the current budget is perfect for maintaining quality service to its patrons without sacrificing anything in the collection. After the library has been in operation for a while, does the library see a need to add to the staff, and if so, would they continue to add library assistants or degreed librarians?

As a model for future libraries, it would be interesting to review customer satisfaction surveys from UC Merced. The results of those surveys would certainly point the way toward whether an all-digital library is feasible.

Sources Cited:

Ithaka ( conducted surveys in 2000, 2003, and 2006 to better understand “how new technologies are impacting faculty attitudes and behaviors.” (Housewright and Schonfeld, p. 4). These studies attempt to teach the academic library community what services the faculty likes, and how to add value to existing services so that the library remains a focal point for campus research.

As should be expected on a large campus with diverse research areas, each department has a different view of the library. Ithaka found that “[m]ore than 80% of humanities faculty think that the librarians’ role remains just as important, but less than 60% of scientists support that opinion – social scientists fall in the middle, at around 70%…” (Housewright and Schonfeld, p. 5) Faculty attitudes toward the usefulness of librarians can be further broken down by discipline. “While about 80% of sociology faculty feel that the role of librarians is of continuing importance on their campus, only about 30% of economists….agreed with this view.” (Housewright and Schonfeld, p. 4). In general, the scientific disciplines ranked librarians and the library’s electronic catalog below other electronic discovery tools as their first choice for locating resources.

Across the board, faculty members expected to depend less upon the library as their first choice for research, as they increase their dependence upon other electronic discovery tools. Paradoxically, librarians expect to become more important as the first choice for research because they know how much work goes into acquiring these electronic databases for the university. If the faculty can’t actually see the librarians working behind the scenes on database licensing and electronic collection development, how can the faculty understand that librarians still provide value in an electronic environment? This report suggests that libraries step up their marketing efforts on campus in order to increase awareness of the library’s role in providing electronic research tools for the university. Texas A&M has successfully used marketing as a means to increase the use of the library’s virtual reference services.

How are academic libraries adapting to these changing attitudes? Some libraries are attempting to license as many databases as the budget allows.  However, the research in Ithaka’s report suggests that libraries should approach their licensing efforts strategically, taking into consideration which departments of the university are ready to make the switch to all digital resources, and which disciplines still prefer to read from print journals. This is particularly important so that libraries do not change to all digital resources in an attempt to save money and shelf space; they may end up wasting their budgets on resources that a good portion of the faculty will not use. In any situation, rushing people into changes they are unwilling to make is not a productive strategy. 

Ithaka’s report focuses mostly on existing electronic resources in the form of databases. However, libraries are also active in the creation of digital collections through digital preservation. Preserving historical research articles, artifacts, and photo collections can help a library create a unique profile and attract a variety of researchers.  For example, the University of North Texas maintains the Portal to Texas History ( on its library site. This digital collection benefits North Texas as a whole by attracting researchers of all stripes to the North Texas Library Website.  If libraries maintain a close relationship with faculty as they develop and create a personal digital collection for the university, everyone will win. The library will have a unique collection that the faculty, students, and outside researchers will treasure.

Active collaboration between campus libraries and campus faculty will help raise the profile of librarians, and increase the faculties’ understanding of the role librarians play in acquiring electronic resources. Librarians must not passively assume “everyone knows” that libraries provide these resources. If librarians actively work with faculty members during the print-to-digital transition through workshops, faculty interviews, and regular surveys, librarians will be able to maintain a prominent role on campus whether or not their library is all print, all digital, or somewhere in between.

Source Publications:

Housewright, Ross and Schonfeld, Roger. “Ithaka’s 2006 Studies of Key Stakeholders in the digital Transformation in Higher Education.” Ithaka: Publications. 18 Aug 2008. Ithaka. 22 Feb 2009 <;.

MacDonald, Karen, vanDuinkerken, Wyoma and Stephens, Jane. “It’s All in the Marketing: The Impact of a Virtual Reference Marketing Campaign at Texas A&M University.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 47(2008): 375 – 385.

If you were opening a new research library and wanted to offer only digital collections, would that even be feasible?  Is enough material available in electronic formats to support research and teaching needs?   If you only needed to provide access to journals, perhaps you could go digital, since most journals are available online or moving that way.   According to a 2007 ARL report, “Approximately 60% of the universe of some 20,000 active peer-reviewed journals is available in electronic form” (Johnson and Luther 2007, 1). Moreover, 70% of libraries’ subscriptions in 2006 were to ejournals or ejournals plus print (Johnson & Luther 8).  Users seem to prefer ejournals; a University of California study found that online journals were used 10 times more than print journals (Johnson and Luther 2007, 1).  Although we are in an “extended transition zone” from print to digital, Johnson and Luther’s study predicts that over the next 5-10 years printed journals will decline, and ultimately 95% of journals will be electronic.

With monographs, the shift from print to digital gets more complex.  Once the Google Books settlement takes effect, research libraries can subscribe to digitized, full-text versions of out-of-print books, but currently relatively few newly published scholarly ebooks are available through ebook aggregators.   A recent study by Jason Price and John McDonald of Claremont Colleges investigated whether a research library could pursue “paperless acquisition” for recently published books.  Price and McDonald compared purchases of print books made by 5 research libraries in 2006 and 2007 to the catalogs of 4 major aggregators of ebooks for libraries (EBrary, NetLibrary, EBookLibrary, and MyILibrary). They found that around 70% of the libraries’ 2006 & 2007 print acquisitions were not available through the leading ebook aggregators.  According to their preliminary analysis, there is a mismatch between the content that some publishers (such as Routledge and Oxford UP) make available through ebook aggregators and what libraries purchase; also, some university presses do not yet appear to be making their publications available as ebooks.  In some disciplines (art, music, romance literatures), over 80% of library purchases are not available electronically, while in other disciplines (economics) only 53% are not available as ebooks.  (I would bet that the exorbitant cost of licensing artworks holds back the publication of art history ebooks, even though a shift to digital may be one solution to the publishing crisis in art history.)  Price and McDonald’s findings seem to jibe with a 2006 JISC report, which concluded that “the availability of ‘core reading list’ material (that is those monographs and textbooks that are central to most academic programmes, and which are intended to be widely and intensively used by students), has been slow to develop. There are a number of reasons for this, of which the most important is probably that publishers have been reluctant to make available fully electronic versions of popular texts for fear of losing hard copy sales” (Higher Education Consultancy Group 2006).

Price and McDonald point to another significant problem with the current ebook model: Digital Rights Management, or DRM, limits the usability of ebooks.  You can do a lot with a print book: photocopy or scan as many pages as you like, scrawl in the margins, highlight passages, bookmark pages, skip around, read it in the bathtub, give it to someone else, make art out of it, etc.   Due to limitations imposed by some DRM regimes, readers of ebooks may find that they only can print a limited number of pages, have to navigate awkwardly through the book, cannot take notes or bookmark pages, and cannot give the book to someone else.  Note that these limitations are not technological; some ebook platforms allow for printing, annotating, the incorporation of multimedia content, sophisticated searching, and more. (JISC provides a handy chart for comparing ebook platforms.)  Some ebook publishers, such as Pan MacMillan, are loosening up on DRM and allowing, for instance, people to read ebooks on their iPhones  and other publishers and aggregators seem to be exploring the possibility as well (Lonsdale and Armstrong 2008).  (See The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age for a smart take on DRM.)  Then there are problems with reading on a screen—sure, many people will read articles, emails, Twitter feeds, etc. on a screen, but most seem to prefer to read long-form pieces in print, or at least on a more compact device than a desktop or laptop.  As someone from the ebook publisher Safari noted, Safari is “used much more for practical learning where someone has a very definite problem to solve or a research topic – they spend on average about 30 minutes, so it’s not for immersive reading.”(Lonsdale and Armstrong 2008)   Ebooks face significant obstacles in terms of data standards, portability from one system to another, intellectual propery policies, publishing models, cultural resistance, and the development of appropriate e-readers and other devices (although the Kindle has reportedly been selling quite well, partly due, I suspect, to Oprah’s endorsement).

Yet there are strong indications that ebooks will play a significant role in research libraries, perhaps in the next 5 years.  According to the IDPF, ebook sales in November 2008 increased 108% from the same period in 2007.   Mark Nelson, who studies ebooks for ECAR, claims that technical obstacles and IP concerns will likely be resolved within the next 5 years, and cultural obstacles will recede as new, digitally-savvy students enter college.  As Nelson argues, “While we are already seeing the beginning of a shift to e-books on many campuses, higher education has probably up to five years to prepare for significant e-book adoption on campus—at least in the area of course materials, such as textbooks” (Nelson 2008).  OK, but what about library books? A study by Primary Research Group found that library spending on ebooks increased 36% between 2006 and 2007 and that 69% of research libraries plan to increase spending over the next two years.  In a 2008 Library Journal article, Carol Tenopir declared that “Ebooks Arrive,” pointing to users’ preference for electronic reference books and textbooks as well as publishers’ marketing of new collections of scholarly ebooks.

In any case, by 2020, it’s likely that most published resources will be in a digital format—and that ebook readers and other reading interfaces will have evolved to the point where readers are perfectly comfortable using them.  According to a study cited by Lynn Brindley of the British Library,  “by the year 2020, 40% of UK research monographs will be available in electronic format only, while a further 50% will be produced in both print and digital” (The British Library).  Yet the Report of the C-LIB Subcommittee on Digital Information Technologies in the Research Library Environment at Stanford claims that “it will require at least two generations of faculty renewal—something like 50 years—before electronic media take precedence over paper support in some fields of inquiry.”  While these two perspectives are not incompatible—fields can continue to rely on print books long after digital publication begins to dominate—I wonder what the Stanford group’s assertion is based on.  As a book-lover and book historian, I certainly acknowledge the importance of the book as a physical object.  As books begin moving online, it’s important for libraries to preserve multiple copies of the physical works (and heck, maybe the digital too), perhaps through a network of regional collaborations.  But I’m skeptical that in 2058 researchers will rely on print for non-archival research.  Sure, scholarly culture is slow to change, and it may take as long as a generation—but most people adapted quickly to ejournals, word processing applications, and cellphones.  Why not ebooks—provided that appropriate works are available, the interface is user-friendly and enables both immersion and interaction, the cost of purchase or subscription is reasonable, IP issues are worked out, etc?  While a research library in 2009 could not depend primarily on electronic publications for its collections (except perhaps for special libraries in fields such as law and medicine),  I’m willing to bet that by 2058 it could.

Works Cited

C-LIB Subcommittee on Digital Information Technologies in the Research Library Environment at Stanford. 2008. Report of the C-LIB Subcommittee on Digital Information Technologies
in the Research Library Environment at Stanford. Stanford University, September 8.

Higher Education Consultancy Group. 2006. A Feasibility Study on the Acquisition of e-Books by HE Libraries and the Role of JISC . .

Johnson, Rick, and Judy Luther. 2007. The E-only Tipping Point for Journals: What’s Ahead in the Print-to-Electronic Transition Zone. ARL.

Lonsdale, Ray, and Chris Armstrong. 2008. Aggre-culture: what do e-book aggregators offer? Library and Information Update, April.

Nelson, Mark. 2008. E-Books in Higher Education: Nearing the End of the Era of Hype? EDUCAUSE Review 43, no. 2 (April).

The British Library. British Library predicts ‘switch to digital by 2020’.

Is Google Books a research tool (a super duper index) or a library?  Kevin Kelly raises this question in his comment the “Google Books Exchange” between Paul Duguid and Patrick Leary, and it became a framing question for 2008 MLA session on The Library of Google: Researching Scanned Books. During the panel, I discussed how I’m using Google Books in a project to remix my 2002 dissertation on bachelorhood and American culture as a work of digital scholarship.  (See my Powerpoint slides for the details.)  Out of the crowd of about 35 or 40 attendees, all but one raised their hands when I asked if they thought that Google Books was, on balance, good for humanities scholarship.  But some significant reservations emerged during the follow-up discussion.  A descriptive bibliographer emphasized the importance of consulting the print volume for bibliographic details such as illustrations, paper quality, etc.  Several English professors indicated that they use Google Books to indentify relevant materials, but then consult the print, presuambly because they trust it more and want to see the complete physical volume.  One attendee worried that her library would no longer get books for her via interlibrary loan, but instead refer her to Google Books; another expressed fear that libraries are shifting away from physical collections.  A scholar who works on the history of reading noted that the ability to find research sources rapidly may be diluting the quality of scholarship, as contemporary researchers make unfounded assumptions that just because they can use Google Books to detect connections between two works means that the connections are real, that one writer read the other.   Another scholar noted that Google Books is not fully available outside of the US, limiting collaboration with international scholars.  At the same time, though, the audience was enthusiastic about the ability to search across millions of books for words and phrases.  Although the discussion was certainly not an authoritative study of humanists’ attitudes towards Google Books, I do think it was indicative of both the enthusiasm that they have towards it as a research tool and their fears that it may supplant the research library.

Following is a paper that outlines our research project into a primarily digital research library.  It was presented at the  Books Online workshop, part of CIKM 2008.

Recent mass digitization efforts such as Google Books [1] and the Open Content Alliance [2] are creating online collections that can rival those of many traditional research libraries, particularly for public domain books in English. While some protest this effort, the fact remains that digital content is becoming increasingly available and will be used by scholars worldwide. The migration to digital-only content has already progressed significantly with scholarly journals. While a relatively small number of journals are published solely in print, most now provide only electronic access, or electronic plus print.  This has shifted the way research is done in the scientific community, where researchers rely primarily on journal articles and very little on monographs. As long as the researcher’s institution subscribes to a journal, access is available anywhere through the Internet. With the increasing availability of monographs online as a result of mass digitization efforts, it is now possible to begin assessing the possibility of relying only on digital access for research in all disciplines, not just those who rely primarily on journals.
Use of electronic texts produced through mass digitization efforts will require the development of new tools, licenses, usage policies, presentation approaches, preservation strategies and methods of validation. The resulting impact to scholarship is likely to be significant, with new research methods emerging from a primarily digital research environment. Cultural, economic and technical changes will continue to emerge as more traditional resources migrate to digital.

How, then, does one begin planning for this new landscape? Established research institutions that have served the research and teaching needs of their communities with well-honed processes and large print collections can look at these changes in an experimental way, assuming a gradual shift over some unknown period of time.  If, however, you were starting a new university and had to make decisions today about how to build your resources to support your teaching and research, could you assume a primarily digital environment? What are the economic implications? How is the curriculum affected? What are your critical infrastructure needs and dependencies? How is research now accommodated if faculty and students are not required to seek resources in a common location staffed with people to help with resource discovery?  This is a critical decision that requires looking to the future for what will likely exist, but also meeting immediate needs for establishing a respected research institution.  The Asian University for Women (AUW) [3] is facing this decision at the present, thus providing the motivation for this research. [Note, 12/18/08: Leadership at AUW has changed since this paper was written, so our research is no longer focused specifically on the needs of this university, but the questions sketched out below remain relevant.]

AUW is intended to serve the community of rural, economically disadvantaged, and/or refugee women in South and Southeast Asia and the Middle East. It will open as a university in September 2009, fully intending to be a leading institution of higher education that provides a world-class education. AUW will occupy a unique niche in the higher education community, offering both graduate and undergraduate curricula to this previously underserved population.
AUW is located in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Unlike well-established research universities in developed nations, there are limited scholarly resources readily available to AUW students and faculty to support their work. Building traditional library collections to support the liberal arts and sciences would be costly, but not having those collections will likely mean AUW will not be positioned to succeed in fulfilling its mission. Building a sufficient infrastructure to support digital resources will also be costly, but perhaps more forward-looking. A better understanding of the costs and benefits, considering both the tangible and intangible aspects of each, is needed for a well-informed and prudent decision.

We have identified a number of issues that arise when considering the question, “Is it feasible to consider establishing a primarily digital research library to fulfill the teaching and research mission of a new university?” The research is just now beginning; we are in the process of identifying the key issues that will drive our investigation. We can examine the issues from four broad perspectives: technical, economic, policy and social. It is very clear, however, that this multifaceted research agenda has a very broad scope, which will result in ongoing research over several years. As we begin identifying the core issues, we will carefully navigate each at a less-than-exhaustive level, synthesizing research undertaken by others into specific issues such as the usability of e-books and licensing considerations.
3.1    Technical Issues
From a technical perspective, the following preliminary issues present themselves:
Providing access to electronic materials. How should AUW provide access to electronic resources—through an ILS (Integrated Library System) or some other means? How will AUW ensure the long-term availability of electronic resources?
Suitability of discovery tools for searching and browsing. What work is being done in this area with mass digitization resources in mind? What level of sophistication can be expected in the short term, medium term and longer range? What are the key impediments to significant advancements?

Availability of research tools to support use of digital texts. To what extent will annotation tools support tagging, highlighting, creation of marginal notes, etc.? Do the annotations persist over time and can they be easily shared? Are citation tools readily available and easily integrated into publishing/word processing packages?  Can text mining and visualization tools be implemented to enable sophisticated analysis of large textual collections?

Availability of e-readers that can accommodate research needs. Are online books as useful as their print versions? Can researchers “flip” through multiple books while doing research? How easily can multiple monographs be compared to each other? Are displays eye-friendly? Can e-readers store a sufficient quantity of resources to meet the scholar’s needs? Is navigation sufficient? All tools identified above integrated?
Quantity of digitized resources. Are enough scholarly resources available in digital formats to support scholarship—particularly books not yet in the public domain?   Can institutions get access to these collections through subscriptions or other means?
Quality of digitized resources. Has the resource been captured at sufficient quality for scholarly use? Is it complete? If it is text, is it fully searchable? What is the quality of its associated metadata?
Digital preservation. Is there a preservation plan in place with the host of the resource? Is there a persistent identifier associated with the resource that ensures it will always be available? Will the format migrate as technology changes? Are there duplicate copies of the resource at distributed locations? Is the integrity of the digital copy verifiable?
Validation of digitized resources. Can a scholar easily validate the resource so that it can be used as a trusted surrogate of the original printed source?
Infrastructure. Can the power infrastructure sustain all-digital resources? Can portable devices (e.g. e-readers) support prolonged use? Can network connectivity be guaranteed 24/7? Are power and networking available in the countries where access to the resources depends on them? Will faculty, students and staff have the hardware they need to use e-resources?
The list of technical issues could fill many pages; they are the primary drivers for the current research now emerging from the mass digitization activities.  We now turn our attention to the other equally critical and significant issues that are not being as aggressively pursued at present, yet pose equal if not greater challenges to truly enabling a primarily all-digital research library.
3.2    Economic Issues
If we could establish that it is technically feasible to establish a primarily digital research library, the practical concerns of affordability would likely be a strong determinant of how dependent on digital resources a library would decide to be. Subscription rates for scientific journals, which are now mostly all electronic, provide an example of the impact of cost in building rich collections. Few research libraries can afford to subscribe to all the scientific titles their faculty may wish to access. The following issues are a starting point for considering economic costs and benefits:

Support for a primarily digital basic infrastructure.
What is the cost of building a campus that will support access to digital resources? Is power available and affordable? Is networking available and affordable? What will the increased cooling requirements be? What are the savings of not building a library that will hold a substantial print collection to support the research of the university? What are the costs associated with servers and storage that must be refreshed on a 3 – 5 year lifecycle?  What library facilities (such as service points, training classrooms, or collaborative areas) will need to be provided?  Can institutions get access to print materials not available electronically through Interlibrary Loan?
Staffing considerations. How do staffing costs compare for supporting the greatly increased IT resources over print resources? What new functions will need to be supported? Is it possible to outsource services when a central library of traditional resources is no longer provided? Do the personnel costs for digital skills significantly outweigh the personnel costs of traditional librarian personnel? Is the expertise needed to support a primarily all-digital environment available?
Licensing fees. How will the cost of licensing access to digital resources compare to the cost of acquiring those same resources in print form? Will licensing fees over time be cost-prohibitive? Will print resources change their pricing models with increased digital resources?

End-user cost burden
. What is the cost to faculty and students for acquiring devices and software necessary to access and use digital resources? What additional training costs will be incurred in learning how to use new technologies required for doing research in a primarily all-digital environment? What additional costs are incurred with print materials when students and faculty must acquire resources not available through their institution?

Preservation costs.
How do the costs of digital preservation and traditional preservation compare?
3.3    Policy Issues
Policy issues are the greatest unknowns in assessing the feasibility of a primarily all-digital research library. The mass digitization projects have yet to address these key concerns. Technology and economics aside, without the appropriate permissions and policies in place to address necessary access, the option of fully digital resource dependency will not even be possible. The following are basic policy considerations:

Licensing options.
Will it be possible to license works that have been digitized as part of the mass digitization efforts by commercial vendors that are not available via open access? Will educational institutions be given any special consideration in licensing? Will licensing be reliable for providing long-term access?

What will institutions, faculty and students be held liable for with respect to use of digital resources? What measures will be in place to protect uses of derivative works and partial uses of materials for teaching and research purposes?
Library services in support of digital resources. What new services will be needed to support a primarily digital research library? Will services be provided to address curation and preservation concerns of scientific datasets? What in-house services are needed/not needed when the resources are primarily digital?
Copyright. Will newer copyright models (e.g. Creative Commons licenses) create greater or more restrictive access to digital resources? How will faculty and students be educated about rights associated with digital resources?
Policy issues are likely to garner increased attention as the mass digitization efforts reach maturity.
3.4    Social Issues
Social and cultural issues are considered together under what we are addressing as the social concerns associated with moving to a primarily all-digital research library. There is currently a significant difference in acceptance of digital resources for scholarly use among disciplines. Humanities faculty, where reliance on monographs for research is strongest, have been, on the whole, the most reluctant to adopt digital resources for use in research. The following issues highlight social considerations that will impact the decision of how feasible a primarily digital research library is to achieve:
Trust. Will faculty and students trust digital surrogates as well as born digital scholarly resources? Will validation technologies be sufficiently robust to meet the demands of the scholarly community?

Recruitment and retention.
Will there be an impact on the ability to recruit and retain prominent faculty and top students if the library is primarily digital? Will certain disciplines raise more objections?
Developing students’ skills and credibility as researchers. Would the preparation of students for research positions in the future be compromised if the research library was/was not primarily digital?  How will the reliance on digital resources affect how students learn and what kind of research they can undertake?
Collaborative research. Will a primarily digital research library impact the level of collaboration with colleagues working on similar research worldwide?
Methods of conducting research. If resources are primarily digital, does the way research is conducted change? How does this impact the integration of research into the curriculum? Will the reliance on digital resources lead researchers to produce more digital scholarship?
Many of the social and cultural issues will be addressed in the long term as the products of mass digitization work their way into research and classroom environments.
In listing this preliminary set of issues, we are making the following assumptions about what does or will exist:
•    Students and faculty will possess computers, e-book readers and other technologies that enable access to digital resources.
•    The institution is responsible for providing a reliable infrastructure.
•    Access to most digital resources will require licenses.
•    E-book publications will continue to grow in coming years.
•    Mass digitization efforts will not cease.


Our research builds on preliminary studies conducted by the co-authors.  In a study of “The Impact of Digital Resources on Humanities Research,” which focused on scholars of American literature and culture, Spiro and Segal found that humanities researchers generally value electronic collections for offering more convenient access to research materials, but that they are reluctant to cite e-resources and often regard print as being more authoritative [4].  To get a rough sense how many research materials in the humanities are available in a digital format, Spiro searched for electronic versions of the nearly 300 works–primary and secondary, monographic and journal–cited in her 2002 dissertation on American literature [5].  She found that while 98% of secondary (post-1923) monographs have been digitized (and are typically made available through Google Books as limited preview, snippet view, or no preview), only 24% are available in full-text, most commonly through subscription services such as NetLibrary and Questia.  In contrast, 76% of primary monographs and over 88% of primary and secondary periodicals are available as full-text.
Spiro also evaluated the quality of a sample of digitized texts cited in her dissertation, examining the quality of the scanning, OCR and metadata as well as the terms of use, convenience and reputation [6].  Her preliminary conclusions indicate that while subscription-based thematic research collections such as Early American Fiction typically offer better image quality and conversion of text, the Open Content Alliance provides more comprehensive access to public domain research materials and is probably of sufficient quality for most scholarly uses.  Geneva Henry identifies some of the challenges and opportunities for the twenty-first publishing industry in  [7].


Our position paper presents the broad set of issues impacting the transition from print resources to primarily digital resources for a research library. The investigation into these issues is just now beginning. We do not intend to address all of these concerns as we embark upon this research, but we do want to ensure that a sufficiently comprehensive research agenda is established to guide the critical, ongoing transition from print to digital. The Asian University for Women is faced now with the decision about how to create a research library from scratch. Identifying the issues for consideration is a first step in helping to find the right balance needed to establish a strong reputation and meet the teaching and research needs of the AUW faculty and students. We look forward to participating in the Books Online workshop to engage in discussion with others who share similar interests in understanding and meeting future educational needs, as mass digitization efforts make available a broad array of digital resources.
Our thanks to Dr. Charles Henry of CLIR for initiating this research and to Dr. Nancy Dye, Vice-Chancellor and President of AUW, for launching the stimulating exploratory conversations that make this research possible.
[4]     L. Spiro and J. Segal, The Impact of Digital Resources on Humanities Research, Rice University, 2007; An essay based on this research is forthcoming in The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age, to be published by the University of Michigan Press as part of its digitalculturebooks imprint.
[5]    L. Spiro, “How many texts have been digitized?” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, May 5,  2008;
[6]    L. Spiro, “Evaluating the quality of electronic texts,” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, May 9 2008;
[7]    Henry, G.: On-line Publishing in the 21st Century. D-Lib Magazine (2003) 9(10);

Welcome to E-Research Library, a new blog examining the shift from print to digital libraries.  This blog will document ongoing research by Geneva Henry and Lisa Spiro of Rice University into the feasability of establishing an all-digital library.  Our research begins with a thought experiment: if you were establishing a new academic library, how would you do it?  Would the library’s collections be primarily digital, print, or some combination? Our research, which is sponsored by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), will examine the technical, social, legal and economic issues bound up in the idea of an all-digital academic library.

[Post updated 12/18/2008]