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60th IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 21-27, 1994

ADONIS: For Developing Countries?

Sharon Lynn Grant


The document delivery system ADONIS was developed to protect publishers copyright royalties which they felt were being lost due to unlimited photocopying. Development of ADONIS made use of the large storage capacity of compact disks read only memory (CD ROM); catered to the established need for delivery of biomedical information; and supplied this information quickly. The search features of ADO NIS, its basic hardware requirements, and the hard currency needed to subscribe are usually taken for granted by libraries in industrial countries. But what about developing countries? Their requirements for biomedical information are based on the critical health needs of their populations. The challenges faced by their biomedical libraries and information centres are daunting. Is ADONIS a re levant product for countries who are 'information isolated', and perhaps becoming even more so with the construction of the information highway. The feasibility of CD ROM technology for developing countries is just one aspect which must be examined when considering ADONIS. The appropriateness of the information contained therein must also be considered. For developing countries to meet the par ticular health needs of their citizens, the relevant biomedical information must be accessible for them, economically and quickly.


What is ADONIS?

ADONIS is the CD ROM based subscription service which provides full text articles of over 600 academic publications from more than 40 different publishers. These publications cover primarily biomedicine, but publications from related disciplines such as biotechnology, biochemistry and bioengineering are included in ADONIS coverage. Each CD ROM contains over 100 journal issues. The CD ROMs, whi ch include the page images and indexes (copied to a pc's hard disk) are issued weekly. The fields indexed are: author, article title words, ISSN or journal title, year of publication, volume, issue and pages. The use of boolean logic is possible, but neither keyword nor subject searching is an option. Articles retrieved may be viewed on screen before printing; several may be selected and print ed together; or, articles may be printed immediately. All printing is done by laser printer which reproduces the article as it appears in the journal, including graphics. The new version of ADONIS (ADONIS II) scheduled for release in May, runs under Windows, a program which provides a graphical interface for DOS. A subscription to ADONIS for 1994 is about 15,000 US dollars. Additionally, each copy printed is recorded in the ADONIS system's built in cost centre which collects information on printing activity for future billing of publishers' copyright charges. Charges are set by individual publishers, and range between a high of 10 US dollars to a low of 3.50 US dollars, averaging about 7.00 US dollars. Charges incurred are billed back to the institution quarterly by the ADONIS cons ortium which then distributes the payments to publishers.


? ADONIS emerged in the early 1980's as a consortium of some of the most important biomedical publishers in the world, including: Elsevier Science Publishers; Blackwell Scientific Publications, Pergamon Press and Springer Verlag. The catalyst which brought these publishers together was their concern over lost revenue and cancelled subscriptions due to the availability of material through photocop ying. The "fair use" copyright clause of many national governments ensured that such photocopying would continue. This was equated by publishers as unlimited use without payment.1

Elsevier was concerned enough about potentially lost revenue due to photocopying to enlist the help of the British Library Document Supply Centre (BLDSC) to determine the nature and extent of the material being supplied to other libraries. The BLDSC participated in two studies and several other document supply centres were approached in the early years of the consortium to provide comparative da ta.2 These studies and other market research compiled over a decade provided the consortium with a wealth of data about the document delivery market. In particular, they learned that biomedical information was in greatest demand especially if articles were less than three years old.3 The development of optical discs as a full text storage medium merged with the document delivery idea and becam e known as the 'ADONIS concept', or the 'ADONIS experiment'. It is important to point out that ADONIS was developed primarily as a means of ensuring that publishers were able to gain control over some of the revenue that was being lost to them through photocopying 'fair use' or otherwise. Several articles, written by people who were involved with ADONIS at various stages during the course of it s development, bear this out.1,4 5 Another aspect which is important to note is that the initial ADONIS titles and recent additions were based on major input from the pharmaceutical industry whose companies form a substantial part of the customer base of ADONIS.6 8

Information explosion

In order to examine the potential of ADONIS for developing countries, it is necessary to look at the information needs of these countries within the context of the information explosion which is taking place and within their realities. The information explosion is changing the face and the functions of libraries, in particular biomedical libraries.

The spiralling cost of journal subscriptions and the proliferation of biomedical information have combined to place additional pressure on biomedical libraries to meet the needs of their users. The information explosion is forcing libraries everywhere to become dynamic access points which lead to a wide range of information sources. In some libraries, lending of books and journals from in house collections has become secondary to 1) the locating and accessing of information stored electronically in local and remote sites; 2) the delivery of the identified information, through photocopies, fax, etc.

Recently, the information explosion has gained headlines beyond the library and information world. The US government's focus on its National Information Infrastructure (NII) has brought the terms "information superhighway" and "INTERNET" to the attention of the general public in North America. Despite the expanding information highway, there remains widespread absence of coherent national infor mation policies in developed as well as developing countries.9 Unfortunately, it is all too often that the integral role of libraries and information services, from the local level to the national level, are understated or overlooked. Lack of information policies perpetuates the lack of status for libraries and information centres and the people who staff them. It is critical for national gove rnments to realize that access to health information is a solid foundation for the growth and development of viable health care systems. The health of a nation's population contributes greatly to its potential for economic growth.10

Realities of biomedical libraries in developing countries

What are the major health problems facing developing countries? Tropical diseases such as cholera, yellow fever, dengue and malaria are epidemic. AIDS is spreading hand in hand with pulmonary tuberculosis. Statistics now indicate that these communicable diseases have been joined by diseases which were formerly more prevalent in developed nations; diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Diarrhoeal disease continues to be a major cause of morbidity and mortality especially among infants and young children.12 The information needs of health professionals in developing countries, as well as medical researchers, teachers and students are based on these realities.

Economic issues are the most important factors influencing the ability of biomedical libraries in developing nations to provide the relevant services needed to support their health professionals and researchers. Many libraries throughout the world face similar problems such as: under staffing combined with the demand to provide more services; shrinking book and serial budgets combined with esca lating prices; lack of space; inadequate facilities. In developing countries, these conditions are particularly acute and solutions are difficult to find. There is often much bureaucratic manoeuvring necessary to obtain funds, and subsequently, foreign currency, whether for collection basics such as journals and books, or for luxury equipment such as photocopiers, computers and their subsequent upkeep and maintenance. Low status of librarians, lack of trained staff and lack of opportunities for continuing staff development in the dynamic and rapidly changing areas of computer technology and applications are additional challenges. The challenges faced by libraries and information centres in developing countries are well documented.13 17

ADONIS and developing countries

How does a product like ADONIS conform to the realities of biomedical libraries in developing countries? ADONIS is a CD ROM based product. CD ROM has often been seen as an distribution mechanism which would go a long way towards alleviating the 'information isolation' of developing countries.18 UNESCO seemed to sanction this idea in a survey of the information of needs of its member states. T he same survey also found that CD ROM with full text capability was highly valued.19 Some of the benefits of CD ROM for developing countries are:

Immediate and convenient identification of world literature via user friendly interfaces where search intermediaries are not a necessity.

Access to information without online charges which are substantial for developing countries because of the distance between them and the countries where databases are produced.

Access to information without the need for sophisticated national and international communication infrastructures.

Large storage capacity and durability of the medium. CD ROM can withstand conditions of extreme climate--heat, humidity, dust, as well as heavy usage.

Cost per unit of information is low, compared to paper, floppy disks, or hard disks.

CD ROM and the value added service it provides, improve the image of libraries and their staff, thus contributing to greater awareness and utilization of library services.

These features are inherent to ADONIS, but it appears to have additional advantages over traditional CD ROM based products already in use in the libraries of developing countries. Bibliographic databases such as MEDLINE and POPLINE are the most common applications of CD ROM technology in biomedical libraries of developing countries. In some libraries, CD ROM technology can be seen to increase t he severity of the existing challenges and create new problems. User satisfaction with the ability to access a large body of literature and to identify relevant information quickly may fade just as quickly into frustration when that information is not immediately available. If the information identified is not available at a regional or national level, requests must be sent to international doc ument supply centres. Delivery may take weeks or months, due to limitations of communications and/or transportation. All of this adds expense which libraries in developing countries cannot afford.

As a full text CD ROM based system, ADONIS has the potential to address the demand for rapid access to and delivery of biomedical information for developing countries. The concept of storing full text and images of over 100 journal issues on one disk incorporates the best features of CD ROM technology previously mentioned. Additionally, ADONIS has the ability to supply high quality copies immed iately. This is its strength. Even considering the cost of publishers royalties for copies printed, ADONIS remains a less expensive alternative for developing countries. A library subscribing to ADONIS effectively adds over 600 titles to its collection at a fraction of the cost of subscribing to even a portion of the same publications in hard copy. This immediate availability of a substantial number additional titles is significant for libraries in developing countries. Contrary to biomedical libraries in industrial countries, most of the ADONIS titles are unlikely to be duplicated in hard copy in the same library or even regionally. ADONIS is updated more frequently than most bibliographic databases which are commonly updated monthly or quarterly. Under the ADONIS II production s chedule, its producers estimate the turnaround time from receipt of journal issues to CD despatch will be two weeks, and users will receive a new disk each week. The fact that the ADONIS turnaround time is quick and delivery is more frequent does not eliminate the age old problem of journal issues not being received. One problem which is has been noted with ADONIS is that some issues are missin g from the system as they were unavailable to be scanned within the production schedule. ADONIS does not have the sophisticated search features or the variety of access points (indexed and searchable fields) of bibliographic databases such as MEDLINE, nor does it match the scope or coverage of bibliographic databases on CD ROM. The ADONIS difference is that it is a document delivery product, no t a current awareness or reference tool for which it is less suitable.

ADONIS was initially greeted with interest and enthusiasm by UNESCO. UNESCO sponsored ten 1991 and 1992 ADONIS subscriptions for sites in developing countries: India, Thailand, Tunisia, Egypt, Venezuela, Slovakia, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Nigeria and Senegal. According to Paul Harman of the ADONIS Head Office in Amsterdam, the sponsorship was not renewed by UNESCO in 1993 or 1994. Eight of the te n sites could not find the funds to renew on their own, only two remain. Reasons why UNESCO did not continue funding of the ADONIS subscriptions were not made available.

The CD ROM technology exemplified in ADONIS has the potential to fulfil the information isolation of developing countries. CD ROM is embraced as a promising solution by both librarians and end users from these countries.20 The full text document delivery component of ADONIS makes it appear all the more promising. But what about the ability of ADONIS to be part of the solution and to meet the i nformation needs of biomedical libraries in developing countries? The information needs of ADONIS's target market of pharmaceutical companies and the needs of biomedical libraries of developing countries are based on different realities and priorities. As is often the case with CD ROM and other forms of information sources, the question must be asked as to the relevance of the information for d eveloping countries. In order to satisfy information needs, material must not only be accessible and timely, but also language, content and context specific. It has been suggested that much of the information produced in developed nations is not appropriate to the needs of developing nations.21 23 The opposing view is that biomedical information and literature is universal.24 The criticism le vied on ADONIS that it is a 'European biased service' has been partially addressed in the new release which adds many titles from American publishers. ADONIS is no more or no less biased towards the information needs of industrialized countries than any other CD ROM information system. In all fairness, ADONIS does not pretend to have as its focus the information needs of biomedical libraries an d information centres of developing countries. That is not to say that the biomedical information delivered by ADONIS lacks international relevance and usefulness; there are ADONIS sites in developing nations, particularly in Central and South America.


Solutions for the information needs of biomedical libraries in developing countries do not rest with ADONIS, nor do they rest entirely with CD ROM technology. The development and marketing of ADONIS can be a framework for the development of a similar full text CD ROM based document delivery product. Such a product would have as its nucleus the goal of meeting the biomedical information needs of developing countries. Biomedical information which is highly relevant for developing countries could be identified from the standard information sources currently available. This literature, combined with local and regional biomedical literature, would result in a product which could be issued in various formats, including CD ROM full text. Additionally, it is necessary to:

If biomedical libraries of developing countries are to consider using their limited funds for a product like ADONIS, it must be a product which is: highly relevant for their needs; qualitative and selective, combining the best biomedical literature sources from developing as well as developed nations. These features, incorporated with the CD ROM based document delivery concept of ADONIS, would ensure substantial use of the product and make it economically viable for developing countries.


1. Stern, B. T. and Compier, H. C. J. ADONIS-document delivery in the CD ROM age. Interlending and Document Supply. 1990; 18(3): 79 87.

2. Ibid.

3. David, M. and Martin, G. The ADONIS experiment. Health Libraries Review. 1989; 6: 193 199.

4. Bradbury, D. ADONIS the view of the users. IFLA Journal. 1988; 14(2): 132 136.

5. Braid, J.A. The ADONIS experience. Serials. 1989; 2(3): 49 54.

6. Abid, A. Improving access to scientific literature in developing countries: a UNESCO programme review. IFLA Journal. 1992; 18(4): 315 324.

7. Pozza, E. The ADONIS experiment: the electronic serial. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Serials Librarianship. 1990; 1(4): 31 44.

8. Korwitz, U. ADONIS between myth and reality: trial document supply using CD ROM technology. IFLA Journal. 1990; 16(2): 215 219.

9. Weitzel, R. Library services for primary health care. Social Science and Medicine. 1991; 32(1):51 57.

10. World Development Report 1993: Investing in Health. Oxford: World Bank, 1993.

11. Eighth report on the world health situation. Geneva: World Health organization, 1993.

12. Ibid.

13. Kanamugire, A. B. Implementating information technology projects in developing countries. Information Development. 1993; 9(1/2): 58 65.

14. Nwali, L. O. The potential value of CD ROM in Nigerian libraries and information centres. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. 1991; 23(3): 153 157.

15. Compton, A. W. Opportunities for CD ROM information services in Africa. Information Services & Use. 1992; 12: 283 290.

16. Nkhata, B. W. M. CD ROM in developing countries: is it a technology for the distribution of information? Electronic Library. 1993; 11(4/5): 295 297.

17. Kinney Meyers, J. The contribution of CD ROM in overcoming information isolation: insights from an African experience. CD ROM Librarian. 1991; 6(7): 11 12, 14 21.

18. Ibid.

19. Survey of the Information Services Needs of UNESCO Member States: Summary. Paris: UNESCO, 1991.

20. Abid, p. 323.

21. Woon, L. W. Y. Online databases and developing countries. Libri. 1990; 40(4):318 326.

22. Kanamangurie, p. 61.

23. Nhata, p. 296.

24. Saracevic, T. Experiences with providing a low cost high quality collection of journals in medicine for developing countries. Inspel. 1991; 25(2): 68 98.