One of the unexpected benefits of mass digitisation is that it frees up library shelf space; being able to access primary materials and journals online means that librarians no longer need to dedicate precious space to often bulky or fragile objects. Recent JISC-funded digitisation, for example, has allowed many universities around the UK to either put in storage or dispose of some historic newspapers and parliamentary papers.
Some interesting evaluation could be done on the benefits this brings; not only in terms of space saved but in staff time saved in being able to quickly point users towards the networked resource.
For instance at the University of Exeter, librarian Martin Myhill reckons that 280m of shelf space was freed up when the 18th- and 19th- Century Parliamentary Papers went online. Time was also saved by being able to direct users to the website instead of library staff having to take users to the microfilm or print versions,
which were also far more difficult to navigate.
But NB – librarians have to be confident that they will be able to access the replacement digital content in perpetuity! If access to the digital content is likely to be inhibited by rising subscription costs or digital preservation then librarians will wish to keep the original material freely available – another good argument for developing digital content along the open access model.