Usage and Demand
One area that we know even less about than costs is usage and demand. The traditional view has been that scientists will adapt rapidly to electronic publications, whatever they may be, and the humanists will adapt rather slowly, if at all. The picture is probably more complicated than that.
Some kinds of usage-for example, hits on the Web-may be easy to measure but tell us correspondingly little. Because hits may include aimless browsing or be only a few seconds in duration, the mere occurrence of a hit may not tell us a great deal. Nor are we able to generate in the short run the type of information from which the econometrician can easily estimate a demand function, because we do not have alternative prices at which alternative quantities demanded can be observed. But we can learn much from detailed surveys of users in which they describe what they like and what they do not like in the product and how the product makes their lives as researchers or students easier or harder (see the surveying described by Mary Summerfield and Carol A. Mandel in chapter 17). Thus, for example, it appears that critical mass is an important characteristic of certain types of electronic products, and the TULIP project may have been less than fully successful because it failed to reach the critical mass.
Electronic library products make access to information easier in some respects and certainly faster; but these benefits do not mean that the electronic information is always more convenient (reading the screen can be a nuisance in contrast to reading the printed page), nor is it clear that the more convenient access makes students learn better or faster. In fact, the acceptance of electronic products has been slower than anticipated in a number of instances. (See the papers about the Chicago Journal of Theoretical Computer Science [chapter 5], Project MUSE [chapters 9 and 15], JSTOR [chapters 7 and 11], and the Columbia On-line Books project [chapter 17].) But all the temporary setbacks and the numerous dimensions that the usage questions entail make it imperative that we track our experiences when we create an electronic or digital product; only in the light of such information will we be able to design products that are readily acceptable and marketable at prices that ensure the vendor's long-term survival.
A special aspect of usage is highlighted by the possibility that institutions may join forces for the common consortial exploitation of library resources, as in the case of the Associated Colleges of the South (Richard W. Meyer [chapter 14]) and Case Western Reserve/Akron Universities (Raymond K. Neff [chapter 16]). These approaches offer potentially large economies but may face new problems in technology, relations with vendors, and consortial governance (Andrew Lass [chapter 13]). When the consortium is concerned not only with shared usage, but also with publishing or compilation of research resources (as in the cases of Project MUSE and the Case Western/Akron project), the issues of consortial governance are even more complex.