Doing More, With More: Academic Libraries, Digital Services, and Revenue Generation
Dohe, Kate, Babak Hamidzadeh, and Ben Wallberg, “Doing More, With More: Academic Libraries, Digital Services, and Revenue Generation.” Ithaka S+R Issue Brief. January 2019.
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The axiom to “do more with less” in university research libraries is increasingly untenable, as budgets continue to shrink and demand for novel services continues to rise. The impacts of such existential uncertainties are self-evident and widely discussed in the literature--staff burnout, lowered morale and increased toxicity, weakened local collections, and limited capacity for ambitious and genuinely innovative work. In response to calls for entrepreneurial initiatives from campus and library leadership, the Digital Systems and Stewardship (DSS) division of the University of Maryland Libraries has been engaged since 2015 in developing a revenue generation program known as Digital Data Services. This initiative tackles the challenging financial landscape of higher education and furthers our institutional mission by offering fee-based technological services to the campus community, to affiliated partners, and to the commercial sector. Conceived of as a means to generate steady revenue to support and sustain library initiatives, the program currently represents a significant source of income for the Libraries DSS division after three years of growth, and is envisioned to contribute to other divisions in the Libraries, as well. More than standard cost recovery programs, the Digital Data Services program generates returns that can be reinvested in staffing or equipment for the Libraries, and DDS projects represent unique opportunities to cultivate talent and expand expertise to benefit other library initiatives. While a large-scale revenue generating program may initially appear contrary to traditional models of library services, this program has enabled the Libraries to expand both our capacity and aptitude to improve many of our mission-driven services over time.
This issue brief will address program development, financial principles of the program and their relationship to the institution’s budgetary practices, challenges encountered, risk assessment, and ongoing operations oversight. Fiscal management of the DDS program shares some foundational principles with responsibility center management, such as proximity, community, and transparency, and is made possible under the aegis of the University of Maryland’s encouragement of entrepreneurial initiatives fostered in campus units; while these environmental conditions help the program succeed, they are not inherently required for the initiation and advancement of the program. With careful strategic planning and financial sustainability, such a model can translate to many other research libraries with in-house technological expertise in systems management, software development, preservation, digitization, or research data management. Furthermore, such a revenue-generating model may have potential for adoption outside of technology departments--at UMD Libraries, the DDS team has been consulted about establishing fee-based services in public-facing units. Drawing from three years of data regarding project success, cost-benefit analysis, and assessment of the program, the authors will share best practices, valuation, and opportunities for growth and change. Ultimately, negotiating the tension between revenue generation and the altruistic mission of academic libraries is a challenging and reflective practice, and requires transparency, reflection, and compelling evidence of support for our mission to enable the intellectual inquiry and learning required to meet the education, research and community outreach mission of the university.