Review of current issues: a ramp study


Costing of holdings and services



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<> 5. Costing of holdings and services
5.1 Once rights of access have been established and enforced, and delivery mechanisms implemented, archives may consider attributing monetary value to some of their services. Such decisions will be motivated by two factors. First, user fees can provide financial support to institutions and, in some instances, ensure that the provision of greater public access is not done at the detriment of other archival functions. Secondly, the costing of services may serve as a moderating factor, ensuring that there is an actual need for the services requested. In the first case, the fees assessed may include a profit factor while in the latter they will be below the real cost of the service, as revenue generation is not the intent of the exercise.
5.2 The temptation of operating archives on a free-market system may be appealing to some and seem necessary to others. Russian archives, for instance, faced with critical resource shortages since 1990 have had to implement user fees to ensure their survival. In certain cases, these have been extended not only to services, but to the release of documents themselves. As is evident with the disclosures concerning the final destiny of the Romanov family, certain archival holdings have incredible financial value. Some American archives faced with enormous information requests - some from profitable commercial enterprises - have adopted pricing policies that enable them to recover the costs of providing such services and support some of the other operations of the institution.
5.3 Before considering the implementation of user fees, archives must ensure that established rights of access are preserved. Not only must archival information be available, it must also be accessible by all. If holdings require manipulation before they can be consulted, such as census records in electronic form, it is the responsibility of the archives to make the information available. What may be costed, then, are the additional or "enhanced" services provided to users. This principle poses enormous challenges for non-textual archivists who, in addition to having to overcome the often exhorbitant costs of making information available, have to face increasing and divergent research interests.
5.4 As a second principle, users must not be penalized for professional inadequacies in the area of archival description. After all, why should users pay for extensive searches when accurate descriptions of the records should have been prepared in the first place?
5.5 Various social and economic factors will influence costing decisions. These usually transcend the more obvious request-response scenario that we associate with user fees. In Canada, for instance, the National Archives has had to consider the interventionist role that the federal government has played in the development of the country. In some cases, it would not be appropriate to pass on the true cost of providing access as it would force the disappearance of some vibrant - but poor - research communities that have been credited with enriching the Canadian sense of identity.
5.6 Another factor would be off-site access. If archives decide to fully recover costs for the inter-institutional loan of microform or the copying of records, for instance, they immediately reduce access opportunities for researchers who live some distance away from the institution. This may be acceptable when travel costs for client communities are minimal but will be hard to defend when an institution is mandated to serve a large geographical territory.
5.7 In the case of public archives, the legal frameworks must be carefully examined to ensure that the implementation of user fees is permissible. As the corporate memory of a collectivity, public archives benefit from funding from the citizens whose history they document. Consequently, they have a responsibility to support the information needs of those citizens. User fees should not become a hidden form of double taxation. Prices must also be fair; archives should be careful not to determine prices exclusively according to the information value or commercial potential of the documents concerned.
5.8 This issue is particularly sensitive in the audio-visual sector as decisions are increasingly being made at a political level, with commercial value in mind. The audio-visual policies of nations, it has been argued, "are currently based on profit, market share, competition, economies of scale and rationalization." Even though archives are a minor player in this environment, they should assume responsibility for defending the educational and cultural needs of their users.
5.9 Once these issues have been resolved, archives can assess the cost of making archival information available. It is quite reasonable, for instance, to charge for the cost of reproducing or photocopying information. In some institutions, users are asked to provide the diskette, cassette, or videocassette on which the information will be copied. Others include the cost of this material in the copying costs. Information about the holdings, such as general reference guides and regular finding aids, however, should be accessible to all. Criteria to be used to determine whether or not user fees should be assigned to a particular service are a public good versus a special benefit, demand, value to user, impact of fee on user, importance of activity to an institution's mandate, user profile, and administrative feasibility.
5.10 Intrinsic to all of this is the concept of service standards. Users must clearly know what is available at no cost and what has an "added-on" value. In such standards, the relationship of the client to the provider of the service must be clearly spelled out and there must be an explanation of what are reasonable expectations. User fees also imply good service, speed, convenience, and accuracy - concepts that are often foreign to archives. Finally, before introducing fees for a service that was previously free, users must be advised and, if possible, consulted as the fee structure is being prepared.
5.11 In drafting the actual user fee strategy, it would be best not to include a profit factor but aim to recover the costs associated with providing the service. Researchers should not be responsible for filling the gaps in the normal resource allocation process of a repository. If the purpose of the exercise is to moderate use, the fees can be inferior to the services provided as making money is not the point or aim of the exercise. The services for which there will be fees also have to be assessed. It would be useless to develop a financial infrastructure for services that will never be purchased.
5.12 It is obvious that when audio-visual and electronic records are concerned, issues surrounding user fees and revenue generation are both extensive and complicated. For one, conservation and copying work often has to be performed before consultation can occur. This adds a cost dimension to the concept of universal rights of access. Decisions must also be made about who, if anybody, should pay for this essential work. Some public archives place this burden on the back of the first user of the record. Is this fair? In time, will this result in a decrease in demand for new records as users will only request the material already conserved and copied? Also, does this penalize those researchers who have to conduct in-depth (and consequently time-consuming) research into our holdings?
5.13 Archives, then, enjoy a certain amount of latitude in developing user fee policies and frameworks. The challenge in doing so, however, is to maintain a balance between the institution's resource requirements, its corporate responsibilites, and its public access mission. In such an environment, creators, donors, and user needs and expectations must be respected so that the ultimate purpose of archives - that is to preserve records of permanent value so that they can be made available - is justly served.


<> 6. Networking
6.1 One of the unexpected results of the democratization of archives has been the increased cooperation between repositories in the provision of services to users. Starting with dissemination efforts such as traveling exhibitions and inter-library loan of microfilm, archives have progressed in their search for efficient ways to make information available to users in their home localities. The goal has been to make archival research as convenient and inexpensive as possible.
6.2 In launching these initiatives, archives were quick to realize the advantages of working together in sharing and disseminating information about related holdings. In some cases, archives turned to other institutions to make copies of their own records available through the latters' reference facilities. In other cases, repositories formed partnerships to produce comprehensive lists of holdings to be found in a number of institutions so that researchers could better focus their holdings. The concept of union lists of holdings organized by constituency, theme, or medium evolved from this tradition. The Union List of Manuscripts and the Guide to Canadian photographic archives in Canada, the National Union Catalogue of Manuscript Collections in the United States, and the Repertoire sommaire des fonds manuscrits conserves dans les bibliothèques et archives de Suisse are but a few examples of these efforts.
6.3 Over the years, union lists have had varying degrees of success. The absence of descriptive standards, inconsistent returns or input, problems with automation, and resource shortages associated with the collection and maintenance of the data eroded much of the initial enthusiasm about these tools. Also, while it may have appeared that researchers were well served by union lists, some studies have demonstrated the opposite. The Research Study on Decentralized Access undertaken at the National Archives of Canada in 1987, for instance, revealed that national union lists were the least used source of archival information.' It is now evident that these tools have been more helpful to archivists than to the public for which they were ostensibly created.
6.4 In recent years, however, the prospects for the further development - or even reconceptualization - of union lists have changed with advances in global communication technologies. Combined with increased user and creator familiarity with technological tools and the decreasing costs of automation, archives are once again considering the wider dissemination of information about their holdings, albeit in very different ways.
6.5 Currently, the challenge for archives is to develop information networks that are focused enough to be of use to researchers. In some cases, building from the foundations laid in the sixties and seventies, it may be possible to develop automated guides to repositories and holdings that are sufficiently comprehensive and easy to use that casual network "browsers" and actual users are able to identify and locate information of interest. In such systems it will be imperative that the intent - and by that we mean the content, context, and the limitations - of the networks are clear to users who access them.
6.6 While it is preferable for the archival community to develop common communication approaches for such ventures, the extent to which these have to be standardized is no longer as extensive as it used to be. Interchange standards which permit the sharing of information created on dissimilar systems, viewer technologies which allow for the retrieving and reformatting of information, and "search engines" which enable free-text searches have paved the way for the easy creation of dissemination products.
6.7 In the area of dissemination of copies of holdings, interlending remains an effective method of sharing information between repositories and users. The overall purpose, however, is less to share resources - as in the case of libraries - but to make information more readily available without having to build elaborate diffusion frameworks. Once the copying of original records has been completed, interlending becomes a relatively inexpensive method of widely diffusing information. Consequently, interlending in archives consists of more than the traditional loan scenario that libraries have developed. It may involve the placing of copies of originals in regional centres, as it is done at the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States; the selling of copies to interested libraries, clients, etc; or the establishment of cooperative ventures whereby copies of information are shared by institutions with common reference interests.
6.8 Traditional technologies have proven to be long-lasting and efficient in copying paper based records for diffusion purposes. Up to now, due to its durability, existing technical expertise, and relative ease of access, microfilming has been the copying option of choice in the archival world. Microfilming provides opportunities for researchers to examine near-exact copies of documents off-site through diffusion systems that allow for the relatively inexpensive movement of records. It also enables the sharing of collections of common interest between repositories. This is particularly useful in countries that were populated as a result of initiatives from other countries. The case of former British colonies is a good example. Since the current legal and social structures of these countries are the result of centuries of British influence, the need to refer to British archives is considerable. The same situation exists in the former Soviet republics or parts of former French Africa. It is to be expected that in the coming years, extensive copying of those records relating to their own collectivities will be carried out by new republics.
6.9 In the past, much of archives' diffusion efforts focused on paper records. This was the result of research interests and the availability of copying technologies. With the development of new copying and communication technologies, the possibilities for the dissemination of non-paper records has increased considerably. There is no longer any reason why audio, visual, and electronic records cannot be copied and diffused as extensively as paper records. The tools used for such dissemination might differ but the approaches remain the same.
6.10 As a result of technological developments, there have been interesting variations on the traditional interlending and diffusion models. The National Archives of Canada, for instance, opened in 1992 a prototype "decentralized access site" in Winnipeg, some 2,200 kilometers from National Archives headquarters in Ottawa. Located in the Research Room of the Provincial Archives of Manitoba, the Winnipeg Access Site provides access to descriptive information (approximately 500,000 automated descriptive records, contained on a CD-ROM product), a video viewing area (with introductory and instructional videos), and microfilmed copies of the most popular and used National Archives holdings. Users can identify the information of interest, and then, either consult it on-site, order copies from Ottawa, or forward requests for additional information via a Fax-Modem. With technological advances in image capturing systems (whether they be optical disk, compact disk, or other formats), it is the intent of the programme to offer, to the degree possible, direct access to holdings through a series of such sites.
6.11 Efforts have also been made to transpose archival information on various electronic media for the purposes of making them widely accessible. Spain's Archivo General de Indias project, for instance, has resulted in the copying, using an optical digital image system, of 9 million pages of historical documents which are currently consulted by more than 3000 visitors every year. In addition to facilitating access to the holdings, this system reduces handling of the records, thus contributing to their conservation. Other like projects are being launched in many other countries; in all cases, the objective is no longer experimental but operational.
6.12 Finally, the possibility of diffusing the holdings themselves is once again generating interest. Given the cost of copying records, archives are experimenting with the loan of records to other repositories and users. In doing so, they borrow from established security and conservation practices which, for years, have governed the loan of originals - usually for exhibition purposes -throughout the museum and archival communities. As we migrate to an electronic environment, such "loans" will become even easier and more effective to administer. Hopefully, this will become a main building block in the development of a worldwide "web" of archival services.


<> Conclusion
Since 1990, archival thinking throughout the world has focused on the changing context in which archives operate. This has been mainly inspired by the soul-searching that is customary on the eve of a new century. From the resulting body of literature, three general areas of change have emerged as being of main concern to archives. The first relates to changes in the governing systems of countries, and of government-citizen interactions, that have resulted from globalization and the emergence of new democracies. The second relates to advances in technology, particularly as they affect information creation, administration, and dissemination. The third relates to the evolution in the nature and form of records which is the result of the first two set of changes.
As we advance towards the year 2000, archives must commit themselves to strategic shifts in both their philosophical and practical orientations. Where access to archives is concerned, the environment must change in three general areas. First, the access frameworks of institutions must reflect the renewed relationship between archives and their creator and user communities. On the one hand, archives have to develop mechanisms that enable them to be more receptive to the needs of users and they must also be willing to actually respond to these needs. On the other hand, archives must plan for the provision of access services to holdings that, in a post-custodial age, may not be under their immediate physical custody. Secondly, there must be greater archival intervention in the records creation and administration process. Given the prominence of electronic information - and its inherent particularities - archives must increase their involvement at the front-end of the information life-cycle to ensure that an understandable and useable record survives. Finally, archives must adopt descriptive strategies that proceed from the general to the specific, whatever the physical medium of the record, so that users are able to assess the information value of the records within their proper intellectual context, and then select what is most relevant to their needs. Such strategies must also enable access to the holdings from a distance and with as little case-by-case archival intervention as possible. If archives are able to adapt accordingly, they will increase their visibility with both records creators and users, and will find themselves in a strategic position in the world of information providers.


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