I contacted the list in Spring to enquire about the experience of
other repositories in the realm of commercial publication (microform
or electronic) of archival / rare book collections. The responses
were extremely helpful, and I'm sorry it has taken me so long to
report back to the list. A copy of my original query is provided
I was particularly keen to learn about the following: cost vs income
to the repository, perceptions of the actual promotional benefits,
production difficulties (especially from a conservation angle). Since
some of the responses were confidential, let me just summarise
here and explain that the sum of experience on all fronts were,
perhaps unsurprisingly, inconclusive.
On the question of cost vs income, the evidence that royalty
payments cover costs is inconclusive. Most repositories do not
appear to have formally quantified cost vs income on this score so
the findings were based on impressions rather than firm figures.
The cost to the repository depends on a number of factors, but the
most common perception was that whilst commercial exploitation
of the collections in this manner can superficially appear to raise
income, there is in many cases an actual cost to the repository in
terms of staff time spent planning and organising the production
process. Perhaps I was naive thinking it could be otherwise.
However, this is not to say the experience was for all a negative
one. Some repositories have felt positive benefits of commercial
returns, either as income or in terms of profile-raising. Participation
in the commercial market necessarily involves a risk, and the
uniqueness and individuality of the source material obviously
makes comparison between the fortunes of different products
There were also valuable warnings from some of you as regards the
need to carefully monitor and supervise the actual production
process, since some of those physically involved in producing the
surrogates were not as careful as one might hope.
Questions of access in this realm are also complex. Microform or
digital surrogates do increase remote access and some users,
some of whom would not otherwise have accessed the material,
are satisfied with using the surrogate. Other researchers of course
still want to see the originals (and other means of increasing
access to these groups, like travel grants, exist in some cases).
In summary, the advantages of commercial production of
surrogates in the realm of access, profile-raising, and (to some
degree) conservation, do exist. But it is also true that the
commerical benefits of the venture as regards income remain more
ambiguous than might at first be hoped.
Again, many thanks to those list-members who responded so fully
with details of their experience as these have proved extremely
useful as a means to realistically focus our thoughts at Leeds
about commercial exploitation of certain collections through
microform or electronic publication.
(Special Collections, Leeds University Library)
From: Jess Gardner
<[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Commercial Publications
Date sent: Wed, 5 Apr 2000 14:54:24 +0100
I'd be very grateful to hear on or off-list from others about their
experience of commercial publication (microform or electronic) of
their archival or rare book collections.
I'm particularly keen to gain an idea of i) cost vs benefit - I realise
most publishers bear production costs but wonder if the resulting
income to repositories from royalties, which I suspect is often
small, balances against staff input at either the planning or
production stages ii) how positive experience it was overall - what
hassles were involved working with the publishers or those
physically handling material iii) what the promotion benefits have
been - particularly, if discernable, whether there has been any
impact on use of the originals.
I apologise for such a convoluted query - perhaps replies off list are
best - but really am very interested in learning from the experience
of others in this area in view of Leeds University Library exploring
the possibility of exploiting its collections in this manner.
University of Leeds
Leeds LS2 9JT