Case Study: Lexicons of Early Modern English, University of Toronto

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Lexicons of Early Modern English (LEME) provides a historical database of glossaries, monolingual, bilingual, and polyglot dictionaries, lexical encyclopedias, and lexically-valuable treatises from the Early Modern English period, 1480--1702. LEME comprises over one-half a million word entries from 160 searchable lexicons.

The project’s development, headed by Ian Lancashire, professor of English at Toronto, began in 1990. The development was funded largely by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, with additional in-kind support from the University of Toronto Libraries.

The University of Toronto makes LEME available under two access models: an open access version, intended for the public and for secondary schools, and a more fully featured, fee-based version, designed to serve the needs of researchers at colleges and universities.

The open access version of LEME supports simple searching of the lexical database and limited retrieval of sets of search results, but does not support advanced search and retrieval capabilities. The licensed, fee-based version of LEME offers a fully featured online research resource that supports advanced searching, including Boolean operators, proximity and fielded searching, and search restrictions by content type. The licensed version also includes an extensive bibliography of early works known to contain lexical information about English.

Since 2004, LEME has been published jointly by the University of Toronto Press and the University of Toronto Libraries. The Libraries house the project’s laboratory and contribute computing infrastructure, online hosting, and technical support for the project, including the online user authentication component. Although the collaboration began on the book-side of the Press, the Press markets and licenses LEME to academic libraries through its journals division, which has more extensive experience with online services.

LEME is one of relatively few library-press collaborations in which the partners—including the project’s editor, the Press, and the Library—share equally in the revenue generated by the fee-based licensing of the service. For academic libraries, LEME is priced comparably to similar online research and reference services ($1,000 per year for institutions with more than 10,000 FTEs and $750 per year for smaller institutions). Individual subscriptions are also available.

Each partner is responsible for the costs it incurs in supporting the service. Although editorial development work on the project has largely ended, the Libraries continue to incur ongoing hardware, software, and staff costs for maintaining LEME’s online platform. The Library applies its share of any licensing revenue to fund the project’s ongoing operations.

For its part, the Press expects its share of the LEME revenue to cover the Press’s direct costs for providing marketing, sales, and fulfillment support for the licensed service. Although the service’s revenues do not cover the Press’s fully-loaded costs for marketing the licensed version (taking into account overhead and other indirect costs), support for the project aligns with the Press’s mission to disseminate research and enhance the reputation of the University of Toronto.

Licensed access to LEME was only introduced in 2007, and the nascent revenue stream for the service does not yet cover the ongoing operating costs of either partner. Although both the Libraries and the Press consider support for LEME to be consistent with their individual missions and strategies, they hope that licensing revenues will eventually prove sufficient to make LEME operationally self-sustaining, without the need for cash and in-kind subsidies. Achieving such a level of financial self-sufficiency may require the partners to increase the appeal of the licensed version of LEME relative to the open access version.

Because it incurs the cost for maintaining LEME online, the Libraries bear a greater share of the financial risk for the project. This distribution of risk reflects the Libraries’ mission-driven objective of offering an open access version of LEME alongside the fee-based service. It also increases the project’s appeal to the Press, which might otherwise have found it difficult to justify its participation given other worthy projects competing for its attention and resources. Implementing a financial arrangement that balances the project’s financial risk in a manner appropriate to the missions and strategies of the partners provides LEME with a stable financial footing, capable of sustaining the project on an ongoing basis.