Building a comprehensive digital collection and creating a vital revenue stream through commercial partnerships

The American Antiquarian Society (AAS), an independent research library and scholarly society, has a clearly defined mission: to collect everything published and printed in America prior to 1877. The AAS has traditionally operated from a small endowment and contributions. But in 2002, Readex, a publisher of digitized historical primary source materials, began to reissue AAS-based microform products in digital form, paying the Society royalties that quickly grew to be a significant revenue stream. By 2006, this experience led the president of the AAS and its Council to cultivate a portfolio of commercial partners that would help digitize the collection, thus contributing to the AAS’s transition to a new digital environment, while also paying royalties. Those royalties now total close to $1.1 million annually from the commercial partners’ sales to other libraries of these digital collections. This case study does not focus on a single digitized collection, but examines the strategy of an institution with a well-defined scope and its determination to supplement its budget with royalties derived from licensing agreements with a variety of partners.

This case study is one of eight conducted as part of an IMLS-funded project in collaboration with the Association of Research Libraries. The final report, Searching for Sustainability: Strategies from Eight Digitized Special Collections, offers findings drawn from all eight cases, highlighting the ways in which libraries and cultural heritage organizations have undertaken to move their special collections into the 21st century through digitization and ongoing investments to ensure the collections remain valuable to users over time.