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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

The Use of Electronic Documents in Libraries

S.Michael Malinconico, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA
Jane C. Warth, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA


Libraries are finding it increasingly difficult to acquire and to make available to their users the full range of information in print form they require. At the same time electronic information prod ucts and services are appearing at a rapidly increasing rate. Users find them attractive and use them more heavily than print sources. Consequently, libraries in response to the demands of their us ers, and overwhelmed by the problems posed by print publications, are increasingly making electronic sources available. This paper describes the nature of the problems posed by print publications an d trends involving the use of electronic documents in libraries. It discusses the viability of electronic documents as alternatives to print collections. It also describes a study that the IFLA Inf ormation Technology Section has undertaken to assess how rapidly libraries are adopting alternatives to locally held, print sources.


The Serials Crisis

Libraries are finding it increasingly difficult to acquire and to make available to their users the full range of information in print form they require. At the same time electronic information prod ucts and services are appearing at a rapidly increasing rate. Users find them attractive and use them more heavily than print sources. Consequently, libraries in response to the demands of their us ers, and overwhelmed by the problems posed by print publications, are increasingly making electronic sources available. Clearly, they cannot continue to provide both. Thus, it would be of interest to know how libraries are dealing with these challenges. After we describe the nature of the problem and its potential solutions, we will describe a study that the IFLA Information Technology Sectio n has undertaken to assess how rapidly libraries are adopting alternatives to locally held, print sources.

Serials in print form pose among the most vexing problems for libraries today. The number of serials and their subscription costs are both increasing at an alarming rate. The number of new journal titles published each year doubles approximately every 10 years and the average cost of journal subscriptions nearly doubles every 6 years. As a result, libraries are making available to their users an ever decreasing fraction of the world’s total published information. The 119 largest and most prestigious research libraries in North America belong to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL ). Between 1990 and 1992 ARL libraries canceled journal subscriptions worth 21,000,000 $US. In 1994 these libraries spent nearly 100% more on serial subscriptions than they did in 1986, yet they r eceived 4% fewer journal titles, and they purchased 22% fewer monograph volumes in order to pay for journal subscriptions. It is evident that libraries are decreasingly able to supply their users’ information needs with their own resources. Interlibrary borrowing by ARL libraries has doubled in the most recent 7 years; and a growing number of libraries are turning to document supply services rather than retaining subscriptions to costly, infrequently used journals.

Although this problem is now reaching crisis proportions. It is hardly new. A 1960 UNESCO report, Alternatives to the scientific periodical, identified several shortcomings of printed scient ific journals. Among them, are the high costs of scientific journals, which, "... are a factor in the failure of libraries and abstract services to maintain complete coverage of any field." In fac t, it has been asserted that the entire apparatus for commercial publication is too expensive a mechanism for scholar-to-scholar communication.

Printed journals have been the primary means for communicating the results of scholarly inquiry since 1665. For most of that time communication at a distance was slow and uncertain, and the expense of producing printed document had to be amortized over large numbers of copies. Early in the 20th century this began to change. The efficacy of the scholarly journal containing numerous relatively unrelated papers began to be seriously questioned. It was noted that it made far more sense to distribute scholarly papers as separates, so that readers could choose only those in which they had a p articular interest. Such a proposal was made at least as early as 1926. Numerous other schemes, employing the most advanced technologies of the time, were suggested in the years following. From o ur vantage point in 1995 it is clear that the technologies of earlier times were not adequate to support a viable alternative to the scholarly journal that could overcome the firmly entrenched prejud ices of its users. The escalating cost of traditional, print journals, and the range and sophistication of the technologies currently available for disseminating information may have at last combine d to offer a viable alternative to this venerable means of scholarly communication.

Electronic Information Sources

Researchers, scholars, academic faculty, and students at universities in developed countries are increasingly getting, and creating, their information electronically. Electronic information is begin ning to compete quite successfully with information in traditional, printed form. Library users clearly prefer it. For example, librarians frequently report that when electronic tools, such as CD-R OM indexes on on-line catalogs, are introduced, users abandon the printed tools even when they are told that the electronic products do not have the depth or completeness of their print counterparts. One library even reports that when it installed an electronic system that provides full text access to selected journals, students preferred using that system despite a .25 $US/page charge rather than climb two flights of stairs to use the printed issues that were available free of charge.

Electronic Journals
Journals and indexes in electronic form afford many advantages when compared with their print alternatives: publication can be more timely; they can be more readily accessed; they do not need to be indexed; they do not need to be bound or shelved; missing issues and missing pages do not need to be replaced; they can be accessed wherever an institution’s telecommunications network reaches; etc. Many librarians and academic officers have begun to enquire whether electronic dissemination of information might provide some part of the solution to the problems created by scholarly communication in print form.

The most far-reaching proposal was that advanced in 1990 by Ann Okerson, Director of the ARL Office of Scientific and Academic Publishing in a speech she delivered to a meeting the of the Coalition f or Networked Information (CNI). The CNI is an organization formed in the US by the ARL, CAUSE (the professional association for the management of information technology in higher education) and EDUC OM (a consortium of colleges and universities, and other institutions involved with campus information networking). Okerson noted that ARL libraries spent 1/4 billion $US on serial subscriptions in 1989/90. This growing economic burden represents a potential impediment to access to information. She proposed that universities claim joint ownership with scholars of the information they create. She urged that they establish central databases of reports of research done by their faculties. Rather than publishing in traditional journals, researchers would submit reports of their scholarly activities to databases maintained by the universities themselves. Free access to these database would be provided via the Internet, or the National Research and Education Network (NREN), which was then being proposed in the US.

Okerson’s proposal focused attention on potential alternatives to traditional, printed journals. It also focused attention on the essential attributes of journals as vehicles for scholarly communica tion. First, and foremost, a journal’s publisher ensures the quality of what is published in its journals. A journal’s publisher and its editor assemble an editorial board that reviews and validate s submissions before they are published. This peer review process provides readers assurance that the information presented is accurate and reliable. Journal editors also ensure the uniformi ty and consistency of articles appearing from one issue to the next. Journal editors assist and educate new authors to prepare reports of high quality and they encourage authors to write articles in fields that merit development. In addition, editors ensure consistency in terminology. A failure to control the nomenclature used in published reports in some fields would result in mass confusio n, e.g., zoology and paleontology. The foregoing requirements are necessary regardless of the medium in which a journal is produced. Finally, a printed journal fixes information permanently within a framework of pages, issues and volumes, thereby permitting convenient reference to individual articles contained within it. And, because a journal is issued in many copies, the integrity of infor mation published in it is assured. These latter requirements are, at present, serious difficulties that must be overcome before electronic journals can become important means of scholarly communicat ion.

There are also other equally formidable obstacles that need to be overcome before electronic information sources can compete with print on paper. Standardized techniques must be developed to encode graphics and illustrations, these techniques need to be generally adopted by hardware and software developers, and the resulting systems need to achieve wide-spread use. And, equally, or more import ant, adequate means need to be found to protect the intellectual property rights of information producers without unduly impeding the free flow of information.

Growth of Electronic Sources
Print on paper will continue to be the dominant information medium for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, information in electronic form will rapidly gain in importance. Most of the material publ ished today exists in computer-readable form at some stage in its production. A growing corpus of information in electronic form exists. Whereas the number of books and print journals grow from 2% t o 7%/year, the number of electronic sources is growing many times faster. For example, from 1985 to 1994 the number of on-line data bases has been increasing more than 28%/year; the number of on-lin e databases that contain full text has increased nearly 40%/year; and the number of CD-ROM data bases has grown more than 100%/ year. Lacking are the technical and legal infrastructures that would permit a market for this information to develop even more rapidly.

The technical obstacles are rapidly being overcome. Consider, for example, how readily illustrations, graphics and other multimedia objects are now transmitted over the World Wide Web (WWW). The en coding language used to specify the typography and layout of the information displayed on the WWW has already been incorporated as a standard feature of several word processing systems. As soon as i t becomes clearer that the technical problems are in hand, the legal and commercial obstacles will also fall rapidly. Information users and information providers both stand to realize enormous benef its from systems that permit ready availability of information in electronic form, hence, can be expected to work together to find solutions to the problems of fair use and fair compensation.

Electronic Services in Libraries
At present the amount of information in electronic form is insufficient to support large-scale changes in the way libraries operate. Nonetheless, progress is being made in specific, specialized area s. For example, several US libraries including those of Colorado State University and San Diego State University, have begun digitizing some of their reserve reading materials and providing access to them electronically, without violating copyright restrictions. Many others are studying the feasibility of doing the same thing.

Two libraries, the Columbia University Law School Library and the library or the Chicago-Kent School of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology, are currently converting parts of their book colle ctions into electronic image form. The Columbia University law library has received a grant to scan and store in digital format 10,000 deteriorating books yearly by 1996. Columbia University estima tes that scanning will not cost any more than the 100 $US/volume it costs to microfilm books, and could in this way avoid the 20 million $US cost of a new building to house its new acquisitions.

The Chicago-Kent law school library has initiated an even bolder program. It disassembles its new books, digitizes their pages and discards the originals. The electronic images are accessibl e to all of the library’s users. In addition, the librarian has set up a system under which law firms can subscribe to the library for as little as 200 $US/year and view any document on the system f rom their offices. They can obtain copies of the digitized materials for 21 $US plus applicable copyright fees.

OCLC, which serves more than 18,000 libraries in 61 countries, offers 3 titles in its Electronic Journals Online Program, Current clinical trials, The online journal of knowledge synthesis for nursing and Electronic letters online. The journals are accessible via the Internet and dial-up telecommunication networks. They contain text and graphics, which can be displayed wi th an OCLC-supplied program, GUIDON. Each of the journals is peer reviewed and edited by a professional association. OCLC plans to introduce 32 more electronic journals in 1995.

Established publishers, e.g., Elsevier Science Publishers, Pergamon, Springer-Verlag, and others, realizing the inevitability of electronic distribution of scholarly information are attempting to car ve niches for themselves. For example, Elsevier will supply one of the new journals OCLC will offer on-line in 1995. Elsevier has been involved since 1991 with some 10 US universities in TULIP (Th e Universal Licensing Program), a project to test the viability of electronic distribution of page images of 42 of its journals in materials science and engineering. This comprised 103,000 pages in 1992, the first year of the project. The project is scheduled to run through the end of 1995.

"The project will attempt to determine the technical feasibility of distributing journals in networked environments, over both the Internet and local campus networks. It will compare a wide variety of delivery mechanisms, search and retrieval systems, and print-on-demand options. In addition, the project will help participants better understand alternative cost, pricing, subscript ion, and market models, with the objective of reducing the unit cost of information delivery and retrieval. Finally, the project will study reader usage patterns under several different distribution situations."

Springer-Verlag, another major, international, scientific journal publisher, is engaged in a similar project, the Red Sage Project, in cooperation with AT&T Bell Laboratories and the University of Ca lifornia, San Francisco (UCSF). This project is intended to, “... identify and study the technical, legal, business, economic, and social issues surrounding the creation and delivery of scientific, technical and medical information in an electronic, networked environment.” The project, which started in February 1993, will also test the capabilities of RightPages®, a system developed by AT&T to provide access to electronic documents. Red Sage provides faculty and researchers access over a campus LAN to page images of approximately 30 biomedical journals; including journals in Radi ology, which have particular demanding image resolution requirements. It is expected that other publishers will eventually join the project, the Massachusetts Medical Society (publisher of the New E ngland journal of medicine), Wiley, the American Medical Association, and the British Medical Association, have been mentioned. In future expansions of Red Sage Springer-Verlag plans to use the Int ernet to supply SGML encoded text instead of page images.

Document Delivery Services

Ironically, at the same time that increasing costs have reduced the amount of material libraries can supply from their own collections, the availability of computer-searchable indexes has greatly exp anded the number of sources that library users are able to identify; putting even greater demands on library collections. In order to deal with economic exigencies and new, amplified requirements, m any libraries have begun to rely on document delivery services, i.e., services that provide individual copies of journal articles on-demand. Document delivery services typically charge from 7 $US to 15 $US to supply individual articles. Copyright fees are generally included. For a higher fee, articles can be obtained by overnight mail or by fax. These charges seem high, but when compa red with the subscription, processing, binding, and shelving costs of infrequently used journals, whose subscription prices may be 1,000 — 5,000 $US, they may not be so excessive. At those prices, a library could supply on-demand several articles each week plus a table of contents service to keep users apprised of what is being published.

Document delivery services, like electronic information sources, allow libraries to provide access to information sources without having to own or maintain them. At present, document delivery servic es have several advantages relative to electronic information services: they provide coverage of a far greater range of material (particularly older material), they require no special equipment to b e useful, a number of competing services already exist, document delivery services pose no new copyright problems, and workable solutions to those problems have been developed. Thus, document delivery services seem a natural step toward fully developed electronic services. Consequently, one could learn a great deal about how electronic information services might work in libraries by stu dying libraries’ and users’ experiences with document delivery services.

The library of the Stevens Institute of Technology (STI) in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA, has implemented a particularly bold and comprehensive program involving the use of electronic sources and documen t delivery services in lieu of locally held serial collections. In 1992 STI canceled all of its journal subscriptions and reallocated that money to pay for full text services, such as those o ffered by UMI, and document delivery services, such as those offered by CARL, Engineering Information (Ei) and OCLC. The library’s director reports that, "... we are encountering ... an almost unan imously positive faculty who are not only pleased to have easier search tools and easier access to identifying and ordering documents; but who are genuinely pleased to have their time saved while sim ultaneously having access to a larger world of information."

ITS Survey

Thus, it is clear that use of electronic information sources will inexorably displace traditional sources. We are standing on the threshold of momentous changes. There is much anecdotal evidence of that change. Yet, a search of the library and information science literature reveals that we have little empirical data, we have no objective measures of the extent, and scope, of these changes, co nsequently, we have no reliable means for assessing the rate at which change is occurring. It behooves us to chart these changes so that we can anticipate their consequences and control them. The I FLA Information Technology Section has undertaken a two year project to assess the extent to which academic libraries have begun to rely on electronic sources in lieu of, or as complements to, print sources.

We will begin by surveying large academic libraries in North America, Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, because it is expected that libraries in those regions have been among the earliest ad opters of new information technologies. We will conduct the survey primarily with questionnaires distributed by mail. We hope to include some in-depth interviews with librarians from libraries that have implemented unique or particularly noteworthy programs. Because of funding limitations, we will conduct most of our individual interviews at professional meetings such as the American Library Association conferences, IFLA congresses, the Congress of Southeast Asian Librarians (CONSAL), etc. We will be seeking additional funding to extend this aspect of the program. The first group of li braries surveyed will be the 118 North American ARL libraries. In 1996 we intend to extend this to libraries in other parts of the world. We intend to take advantage of the IFLA Congress in Beijing and CONSAL in Kuala Lumpur to gather in-depth information.

A search of the literature as well as discussions with several librarians has failed to reveal any measure other than the relative budget allocations that might serve as a measure of the extent to wh ich libraries have adopted (or are adopting) electronic sources. Thus, we have developed a questionnaire that employs this as a measure. The questionnaire asks for information concerning 1994/95, t he fiscal year just past, and in order to provide a point of comparison, for the year 1990/91. The survey instrument will attempt to determine for these two years the range of electronic services li braries provided, how much they spent to provide these services, whether any of these costs were included in their materials budgets, whether they canceled any serial subscriptions, and whether any o f the resulting savings from print cancellations were used to fund electronic services.

We hope that this survey can be repeated in future years to provide a moving picture of the progress being made toward the realization of electronic libraries and how electronic technologies are tran sforming libraries. The results will be submitted to the IFLA journal for publication and may also be published as a report by the section.



S.Michael Malinconico
School of Library and Information Studies
The University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA