ATG Original: Reveal Digital Unveils a New Business Model for 21st Century Archives

by | Nov 14, 2014 | 0 comments

By Nancy K. Herther

At the ALA 2014 Annual Conference in June, digital publishing veteran Jeff Moyer announced a major expansion to their fledgling Reveal Digital business: A crowdfunding model for developing open access digital collections. A radical change from the existing models for producing and selling primary source materials, the enterprise appears to be finding a warm reception in the library world.

Jeff Moyer

Jeff Moyer

Reveal Digital was launched in January 2013 by NA Publishing, Inc., in order to create affordable open access content using an innovative business model that collaborates with libraries for access to primary source materials and uses a crowdsourcing sales model. The model is based on an upfront analysis of the costs required by individual projects—including conversion, copyright clearance, royalties, sales/marketing, hosting and administration costs, as well as potentials for ongoing development.

Once these costs are determined, the purchase price is set by estimating the number of libraries that are expected to purchase the individual primary source collection during the first four years that it is offered. If more libraries than anticipated sign up, the costs would be reduced. Two years after the costs have been recovered, the collection would then become open access. The nonprofit membership service LYRASIS has been selected as a primary sales agency, although membership is not required by libraries to purchase any of the Reveal Digital products. Reveal Digital has also been in discussions with both HathiTrust and the Internet Archive about long-term access to the content once the open-access period begins.

Crowdsourcing Solutions

Funding large-scale archival projects doesn’t come cheaply given the need to pull together collections of needed materials, get required permissions, digitize, archive, quality check and organize information, and then get this into a suitable retrieval/storage system. Additionally, there are long-term needs for maintaining the collections, adding any new materials, guaranteeing long-term access, availability, maintenance of the system along with adding new features, software updates, and other needed services. With the rise of many successful projects, “the research focus related to digital preservation moved from how to set up digital preservation to ongoing business models,” noted a recent management assessment of digital archives. “Because of digital technologies,” the authors note, “digital archives can be created, transmitted, preserved, and distributed far more quickly, cheaply and broadly than ever before.” At the same time, in terms of managing these collections, “digital preservation participates in the market for goods and services which maintains and/or enhances the ability of a durable good to provide a stream of benefits over an extended period of time.” The result is either institutionally-funded resources (often on a very small budget) or costs of acquiring access often well into five figures—or even more. Reveal Digital is offering a different cost-sharing model using crowdfunding.

In a recent WSJ blog post, Sandeep Sood noted that the first instance of crowdsourcing, at least in the U.S., was funding the installation of the Statue of Liberty. “With the help of Joseph Pulitzer and his newspaper, the New York World, the government raised over $100,000 from more than 160,000 backers.” Crowdfunding, he continues, “has now become a multi-billion dollar industry. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Crowdfunder are collectively expected to raise a whopping $5 billion dollars in 2014. And with a mind-boggling annual growth rate of 74%, it seems there’s nothing ‘the crowd’ can’t fund.”

Although popular in many areas of business, social action, and the arts, crowdfunding hasn’t been applied to large-scale library purchases until now. Given the very positive response to Reveal Digital’s June 27 announcement of their crowdfunding, we may be seeing a whole new commercial approach to bringing primary sources into the 21st century.

Reveal Digital’s model “gives librarians an opportunity to review proposed projects and commit to those that hold the Reveal Digital logogreatest appeal and meet the needs of their patrons.” In their model, “all costs associated with producing a collection define its funding threshold. Once the funding threshold is reached, the collection moves to open access,” the press release explains. “Due to Reveal Digital’s lean approach to project development and more accurate demand forecasting (based on response during the enrollment period), the funding levels are expected to be just 20% of comparable collections from other publishers.” Each collection is undertaken on a project-by-project basis. The costs are underwritten by annual payments from the academic and independent research libraries that agree to participate in developing that given collection. The level of a library’s annual payments depend upon the total direct and indirect costs of producing the collection, the type of library (e.g., two-year college, Masters, ARL), and the total number and types of libraries committing funding to the project.

Participating libraries make a non-binding commitment to pay these fees during a six-month open enrollment period. When this initial period is completed, the interest expressed by libraries brings a decision on proceeding with the project. LYRASIS serves as the sales and administrative agent and provides management services for each project. All contributing libraries that are involved in the selection of content to be included in future collections developed have an option to mount the digital content locally, and are able to access the digital collection during the embargo period before opening the collection freely over the web.

Five Initial Digital Collections

Reveal Digital has five unique digital open-access collections being offered in this cost-recovery/crowdfunding model:

Independent Voices Screen Shot

Click to enlarge

Independent Voices is a collection that covers the “transformative decades of the 60s, 70s and 80s through the lens of an independent alternative press,” which intends to include the complete runs of more than 2,600 titles or more than one million pages. Participation includes the following libraries: Northwestern University, Duke University, University of Wisconsin, University of Buffalo, Michigan State University, University of Texas, and University of Kansas. These participating libraries also receive their own copies of scanned images and metadata. Access is provided under Creative Commons Non-Commercial license and the rights to individual works in the collection remain with the original copyright holders. The prospectus for Independent Voices estimates the annual payments for different types of libraries to range between $1,283 and $5,125 per year. This estimate is based on the expected $2,173,400 cost of producing the collection, and assumes a total take-up of 150 libraries of various sizes.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Digital Archive:Loosely organized but dogged in its commitment to end segregation, the young SNCC activists played (and play) a critical role in the ongoing fight for to obtain equal rights for all Americans battle for equality in the U.S.” Collection partners include King Center Library and Archives, Wisconsin Historical Society, Emory University, New York Public Library, Library of Congress, University of Southern Mississippi, Miami University and various government documents.

SNCC Archive Photo

SNCC Archive Photo (Click to enlarge)

Weaving Threads of Justice: Highlander Center Digital Archive, 1932-1983:Founded in 1932 by Miles Horton in Monteagle, Tennessee, the Highlander Folk School has provided education, training and community leadership for early labor union organizing efforts in the South, served as a training center for many civil rights leaders and organizations, held voter registration workshops and founded Citizenship Schools to fight segregation, and fought for economic and environmental justice throughout Appalachia. The documents and files on this school are taken from these partner institutions: Wisconsin Historical Society, Tennessee State Library and Archives, and Highlander Education & Research Center, as well as from various government documents.

Highlander Archive Photo

Highlander Archive Photo (Click to enlarge)

Liberation News Service Digital Archive provides access to this left-of-center news agency.The digital archive will include the complete collection of both photographs and news packets sent to subscribers during the 15-year life of the service, plus thousands of unpublished photographs. Where known, photographer names, places and dates will be associated with each image. Users of the collection will be encouraged to provide additional subject tags for images should they recognize people, places, or events. Source material is coming from New York University’s Tamiment Library.


Sylvester Manor House. Photo by Steve Gross and Susan Daley.

Sylvester Manor House. Photo by Steve Gross and Susan Daley.

Sylvester Manor Digital Archive is taking information and records from and about thehome of the original European settlers on Shelter Island in eastern Long Island, New York. For over 350 years and continuing to this day, the Manor has remained with descendants of the original Sylvesters….The Sylvester Manor Archive provides unique primary source material that will broadly support courses and research in early American history, economics, Native American studies, economics, food science, agricultural history, political science, New York history, genealogical studies and many others.” Materials are from New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections.

Inside the Mind of Jeff Moyer

Moyer began his career in digital texts working as director of Dissertation Publishing for UMI (now ProQuest), also heading up their DigitalVault Initiative, which lead to the Early English Books Online (under the Chadwyck Healey division), Historical Newspapers (ProQuest), and the American Periodical Series. After some work with NA Publishing on journal backfile and archival projects, he founded Reveal Digital in late 2010.

“I’ve always been fascinated by special collections and the stories that these collections tell,” Moyer tells ATG. “To a large degree, the goal of Reveal Digital is to expose these stories to as wide an audience as possible. Since I view Reveal Digital as a library services company and not a publishing company, we are in a position to offer open access to any of our projects once a project’s costs are recovered (including a reasonable profit for Reveal Digital). We are not interested in building up a portfolio of ‘published products’ that we own and therefore have a vested interest in restricting access to ‘buyers’ only. In fact, Reveal Digital makes no ownership claim to any of our projects and the rights remain with the sponsoring/source libraries.”

Reveal Digital is firmly based on the concept of building open access digital collections,” Moyer continues. “We rely on libraries to both sponsor and supply material for projects and to fund the development of those projects. At the start of Reveal Digital the big question was, would libraries invest in projects that they know will become open access and thus freely available to all? The EEBO-TCP project provided a good model for us and demonstrated that libraries would indeed invest in projects that have the ultimate goal of open access. As a result of EEBO-TCP nearly 50,000 texts have been encoded, with 25,000 of the Phase I texts becoming freely available January 1, 2015. This will become a tremendous resource for scholars and will provide access beyond those lucky institutions that have purchased the collection. Unfortunately, these encoded texts represent only a fraction of the total collection, the balance remaining inaccessible to scholars from non-purchasing libraries. It’s a bit ironic that all of the EEBO texts by definition were published prior to the 1700s yet access to the digital version is still restricted.”

Reveal Digital came up with the idea for Independent Voices based in part on my publishing background at ProQuest and Gale,” Moyer continues, “where I was always interested in building a digital collection on the alternative press from the latter half of the 20th century. This was our ‘seed’ project and we had to take a more active role in defining it. Our new projects have all come from discussions with the libraries that hold the material and who have a desire to see their collections digitized. They all have viewed Reveal Digital as an alternative funding model and were willing to work with us to put together a project.”

“Based on a lot of conversations with special collection and collection development librarians,” Moyer notes, “I think libraries are seeking new cost effective ways to make their special collections more accessible without giving away their rights to the digitized material. There are plenty of hurdles that need to be crossed to make that happen, not the least of which is how to fund these projects. To date we have focused our funding calls on libraries but we are starting to examine the possibility of hybrid funding models that combine library crowdfunding with traditional funding sources (NEH, IMLS, etc.) or even individual contributions. In the end I’m convinced that libraries will be spending significantly less if they can fund directly the development of these digital collections. Reveal Digital is here to help libraries manage that process. What we are trying to do for special collections we’re seeing similar innovative approaches in journals (SCOAP3) and monographs (Knowledge Unlatched). I expect we’ll see more new approaches over the next few years.”

Framing the Past

Realization of the need to preserve our media past has been traced back to the 1930s. In his recent dissertation, Brian Murphy notes that “a ‘preservation complex’ has emerged in American culture since the 1930s. This complex is both institutional—a proliferating network of securitized, temperature-controlled spaces for preserving media—and psychic—the anxieties of corporate and state scientists, librarians, and archivists have to some degree become the anxieties of everyday American citizen-subjects, as we now preserve more information, both institutionally and individually, than any civilization in history.” Information professionals are involved throughout—from using the wisdom of this significant ‘crowd’—in the very development of projects, involving them in the determination of content (often allowing them the resources to get their own collections digitized for broader distribution and use), using the combined financial resources of libraries to pay for this development, and then making the collections available to the world through open access after an embargo period.

In 1994 and again in 1998, led by the National Science Foundation, the federal government focused attention on creating the foundation for “innovative digital libraries” noting that “digital libraries research and applications efforts have proliferated; new communities of researchers, information providers and users have become engaged; the definition of a digital library has evolved; technologies have advanced; stores of digital content have increased dramatically; and new research directions have emerged. These advances point to a future in which vast amounts of digital information will be easily accessible to and usable by large segments of the world’s population.”

Today, digitized collections are being created at national levels—such as the Digital Public Library of America andDPLA_logo Europeana—and by major libraries and archives from across the globe, and private/public partnerships. Adam Matthews has 44 collections currently. Alexander Street Press catalog lists more than “100 databases curated by expert editors.” Other key producers include ABC-Clio Greenwood, ArtStor, Naxos, EBSCO, Chadwyck Healey, ProQuest, Gale Cengage, and Berg Fashion Library.

Easily accessible collections of historic materials provide us with windows to our past, our cultural memory. In the field of rhetoric, memory is considered as far more than just memorization, but in becoming peritus dicendi: To be an expert communicator, one had to not only have access to knowledge but the ability to absorb and apply it. Matthew Kirschenbaum writes in his Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (MIT Press, 2012), that “memory storage today is both an accessory, something you hold in your hand or slip into your pocket (your iPod or memory stick), but is also increasingly disembodied and dematerialized.” However, he also notes that archival repositories using massive storage and interactive technologies can also mold, bend, and make unique memories out of existing ones. What is gathered into these repositories—and perhaps more importantly what is left out—as these become our historic legacies or memories for the future become serious issues for information professionals. Objectivity is difficult in any case; however all the more so with history, which we know to be subject to continuous revelation.

In his The Postmodern Condition,” Jean-Francois Lyotard explains that today memory and knowledge are no more than information as “the traditional teacher is replaceable by memory banks… didactics can be entrusted to machines linking traditional memory banks (libraries etc.) and computer data banks.” (p. 94) While, at the same time, ‘nonhuman memory sites’ become central to human learning and social life, there is a resulting shift in which could as intelligence and skill, with it becoming less important to develop knowledge and more significant that individuals become facile at exploiting and connecting stored knowledge as needs arise. This is something we information professionals call information literacy.

Dawn of a New Approach to Funding Large Projects?

“As the number of new project ideas coming to us from libraries continues to grow,” Moyer explains, “we are looking for creative ways to get an initial read on the interest in a project prior to working-up a full proposal. Through our online marketplace at we’d like to introduce Facebook-like ‘Like It’ buttons to quickly gauge library interest in a project. We’re also exploring ways to get faculty involvement in helping to assess projects early in the process.”

Laura Micham2

Laura Micham

Duke University’s Laura Micham, Curator of the Gender and Sexuality History Collections, sees great value in this approach to archival digitization. “Archivists and rare book librarians are generally approached by digital publishers interested in their collections,” she explains. “So we tend to be content providers. My experience with Reveal Digital and the work they’re doing with a range of special collections and content creators suggests the possibility of new ways of collaborating. I like the idea of spending less time facilitating workflows associated with digitizing and publishing digital projects—some of the activities that a publisher like Reveal Digital excels at—and more time working with content creators, activists, and scholars to develop ideas for digital projects and to create contextual material about the digital projects we develop together. Having been a subject librarian for many years, I know that my colleagues who purchase digital collections are enthusiastic about new, more affordable pricing models and open access initiatives.”

Jeff Moyer approached me about four years ago,” Micham continues, “asking if we in the Sallie Bingham Center at Duke University would be interested in collaborating with Reveal Digital and Northwestern University to create a federated digital collection of periodicals from mid-20th century social movements. The Bingham Center would mainly contribute serial runs to the feminist module with some titles also included in the LGBTQ module. Jeff was very open to my ideas and suggestions and I was glad to see these high research value materials added to a collection within an open access model.”

“Libraries and librarians have a lot to gain through the digitization of their special collections,” Moyer believes. “From both a research and an instruction perspective, digitization offers tremendous value through improved access, discoverability, and interactions with their collections that simply can’t be replicated in an analog state. Libraries will still collect new material but the thought process for digitization, and all the issues associated with it, is moving more to the front of their collection management thinking. The result is an ever-expanding mass of digitized material. The ways in which that material is accessed and searched is the focus of many new exciting ventures (DPLA, Europeana, Trove, etc.). These are all game-changing initiatives. Where in the past the role of librarians was directing users to content, that’s changing through the efforts of these initiatives to directing content to users.”

“I do think that open access models for research materials are gaining steam as they coincide so well with our research mission of providing the widest possible access to our collections,” Moyer reflects. “This is especially true of materials that document social justice movements. It has been my experience that both the creators of these materials and the scholars who seek them are very committed to the idea of open access.”

“To me,” historian David McCullough has said, “history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn’t just part of our civic responsibility. To me, it’s an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.” Finding new ways to help bring more richness to our human experience may prove to be the most lasting benefit of Reveal Digital’s innovative model.



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