Libraries have always been expensive to operate. Acquiring, managing and storing large collections of print books and bound journals, done on any significant scale, have substantial associated costs. But one of the fuzzier aspects of cost analysis for a library has involved determining the ongoing, annual expense of keeping items in the “warehouse.”
Physical storage is not free. Shelf space has a measurable value, as do the associated support functions of climate control, lighting and inventory tracking. But those indirect costs have always been “below the line” for library operating and acquisitions budgets. Furthermore, physical collections have significant inertia in that they persist in place unless concerted action is taken to remove materials on a regular basis. The upper bound on any given physical collection is determined by square footage and linear feet of shelving in a library building and its associated auxiliary storage facilities.
In the digital world, libraries face an entirely different situation. Each year we license enormous amounts of digital information for academic purposes, much of it at great expense. (more…)