Thanks to Liberal Education Today for the reference to an Ithaka report called "Sustaining Digital Resources: An On-the-Ground View of Projects Today." We've been having discussions on how to sustain our comparatively tiny accessCeramics digital project and came up with a similar list of options offered in this report, including: subscription, licensing to publishers and users, custom services, corporate sponsorship, author fees, endowment, and grants. Not surprisingly, it doesn't have any easy answer regarding which one is best.
The report is very critical about relying too much on what can be the invisible support of parent institutions.
To some extent, I think one just has to accept that these kind of projects can be somewhat transitory in nature. The report appears to be reaching for some kind of formula for permanent sustainability. But, indeed, if a project has a viable life for a decade and then its content migrates along to a new home, all is well.
The Symposium on Teaching with Digital Collections in the Liberal Arts in May at Reed College had a few cases of small scale digital projects at liberal arts colleges. In most cases, they revolved around supporting a research and teaching interest of a particular faculty member. The product would be used in instruction at a local institution, but at the same time had a global reach. Lafayette College's image collection of Taiwan under Japanese Colonial Rule, co curated by a historian at the school and the library's special collections unit was one example. Claremont had several others. In these kinds of cases the institution is really supporting the work as part of faculty teaching and research and the library is acting as a kind of institutionally-sponsored laboratory.
I wonder if there are system-wide solutions that could make it easier for small scale digital projects to create revenue streams. Should digital collections software like ContentDM make it possible to sell high quality images, for example? Should it facilitate donations or sponsorship of collections?
OCLC now offers the ability to post local digital collections into WorldCat. But what if a library wants to license out some of its digitized content? A player like OCLC could develop pools of topically oriented, "premium" digital content from member libraries and charge for it. I have to believe that libraries will strive to keep their digital projects open and free.
The reality is that we get a lot of information on the open web for free now. But what incentive is there to pay that back by contributing something ourselves?