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Cost Calculator

Update and maintain e-resources in your OPAC efficiently and effectively

Estimated Costs
Holdings Information
Estimated number of electronic holdings
Percent that are simple records (ie, require just copy cataloging, probably by student workers)
Percent that are difficult records (ie, require the attention of a library paraprofessional to be resolved)
Percent that are most complex records (ie, require the attention of a cataloger or other technical services expert)
Note: The three above percentages must add up to 100.
Average time (in minutes) to complete simple records
Average time (in minutes) to complete difficult records
Average time (in minutes) to complete most complex records

Salary Information

Student hourly rate
Paraprofessional hourly rate
Benefits variable
Cataloger hourly rate
Benefits variable


Based on the data provided above, the cost in time and dollars for cataloging your electronic holdings is roughly as follows:


Student workers
Paraprofessional staff

Before discounts, Serials Solutions' basic charge to do this work $.
In addition, you have your own time back, to pursue other important and relevant projects.

Determining the True Cost of Cataloging E-Resources

by Peter McCracken, MLS

Most libraries today recognize the need for cataloging their electronic journals and making them available to patrons through their online catalogs. Research I conducted that was published in the December 2003 issue of Libri showed that among baccalaureate institutions, as many as 85% of journals available at a library were accessible electronically. These journals represent a vast resource for librarians and their patrons. Libraries that do not catalog and publicize the contents of these databases are failing to deliver access to an enormous collection of resources for which they are already paying large amounts of money.

But tracking all that information is difficult. Some libraries have tried to do it themselves, and have found that it is simply cost-prohibitive and time-consuming. Because Serials Solutions has focused on providing access to electronic resources for the past six years, we have been able to automate many aspects of this process. We are therefore able to provide the service to libraries at a cost far below what takes to do it themselves, with increased accuracy and timelier updating of information.

What is the actual cost of doing this work yourself? After talking with serials catalogers, I developed a set of formulas that quantify the dollar cost of cataloging your electronic resources. Using the formula below, your library can calculate an estimate based on values you consider to be accurate.

More important than the actual dollar difference, however, is the question of opportunity cost: what are you not doing while you're busy attempting to catalog all of your electronic resources? What could you be doing instead? And what would the benefit be to your library if you were able to both catalog your electronic resources and spend time on these other activities?

In this study, I examined both time spent and dollar amounts. For reference, "holdings" represent each instance of an electronic journal in a database. Counting "holdings," rather than "journals," is important because if a journal is available through four databases, its information is tracked four separate times. Even in the case of aggregators that replicate journals in multiple databases this information must be watched to ensure that duplicate information is accurate and changes made are reflected in all instances.

Based on discussions with librarians who are currently attempting to add links for all of their electronic journals to their online catalog, I have made the following observations:

  • About 50% of the holdings that a library can access electronically are for journals that the library has in print. Updating each record takes about two minutes each, and is done by student staff.
  • About 45% of the holdings that a library can access electronically are for journals that the library does not have in print, so cataloging staff must locate and download a record from OCLC. This is done by paraprofessional staff, and takes about 10 minutes per title.
  • About 5% of the holdings that a library can access electronically are for journals that the library does not have in print, and require investigation by professional catalogers, since paraprofessional staff are unable to locate appropriate copy cataloging records, or there are issues that simply require a greater level of expertise. These take about 30 minutes per title.
  • Costs for staff time are as follows:
    • Student staff: $7.50 per hour, based on average salaries for student employees at several institutions.
    • Paraprofessional staff: $24,000 per year, based on 2002 numbers in 2004-05 Occupational Outlook Handbook, at At 2000 hours per year, average hourly wage is $12.00.
    • Librarians: $43,000 per year, based on 2002 numbers in 2004-05 Occupational Outlook Handbook, at Average hourly wage is $21.50. Note that serials catalogers likely have a higher average salary than do librarians in general.
    • Paraprofessional and professional staffs have benefits costs of about 50% of their annual salaries. These costs include health benefits, contributions to retirement accounts, sick leave and vacation pay, and other incidental costs.
  • A library has about 20,000 holdings – we see a regular average around this area, but you can adjust it to what you believe to be correct.

Assume that the library in this example has 20,000 holdings and it aims to add all of those holdings to the online catalog. Half of the holdings (10,000) can be done in two minutes a piece, by student staff, at a cost of 25 cents each ($7.50 per hour for the student staff, so 12.5 cents per minute). It will take 333.33 person-hours (10,000 holdings times two minutes per holding, divided by 60 minutes per hour) to do this work. The cost for this initial load will be $2500.

Paraprofessional staff will load the next 9,000 records at a rate of $2.50 each (10 minutes each at $15/hour, including benefits costs), and 1500 person-hours (9,000 records at 10 minutes each). The cost for the paraprofessional load will be $22,500. Professional staff will handle 1,000 records, at a rate of $13.80 each (30 minutes at $27.60/hour), and it will take them 500 person-hours to do the work. The cost for the professional load will be $13,800.

The total cost to the institution will be $38,800, and it will take about 2333.33 person hours to complete- the equivalent of a full 16 months of straight work.

Try computing this total based on your own knowledge of your institution's costs, wages, number of electronic holdings, and other variables.

As an answer to the finances and time consumed by manually updating to OPAC, Serials Solutions offers 360 MARC Updates. Serials Solutions 360 MARC Updates is an ongoing service that updates e-resource MARC records on a regular basis. Our team of data acquisition specialists and product support representatives (over half of whom have library degrees or significant experience in the library industry) are constantly on the lookout for URL changes, coverage date changes, the addition or loss of titles, and other variations to ensure that your OPAC delivers the most accurate e-resource information. Our knowledgebase is constantly updated, a central repository for the most accurate data available. We make hundreds or thousands of changes every day, and each change is reflected the next day.

When providers change their URLs, we update information so quickly that many clients never notice. Even when this change is sudden (and vendors are not known for giving much warning) we will work diligently to correct URL information as quickly as possible. When students, paraprofessionals, or professionals do this work, it dramatically increases the cost of making corrections--and sidelines other work that might have been done instead. Our staff works with providers to make corrections so you don't have to.

Serials Solutions provides the additional benefit of what's known as the "network effect." Specifically, this means that it's not just Serials Solutions' expert staff who are reviewing your metadata, it's also thousands of librarians and patrons from across the country and around the world who share access to the Serials Solutions knowledgebase. When Serials Solutions corrects a URL, a coverage date, an ISSN, a title, or some other piece of information, we correct it not just for the library that reported the problem; we correct it for all libraries, most which never realize the problem existed. This sharing of authoritative information is one of the great benefits of our Software as a Service structure, whereas a locally hosted knowledgebase will never benefit from the improvements made by others.