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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997


Oxford University,
Chairman ICSU Press


The academic enterprise depends on the effective dissemination of information at all levels. This might be the transference of the newest ideas and facts from one research worker to another, the compilation of basic information in a particular subject area, or the synthesis of a corpus of such work by a unifying idea. It is often pedagogical, designed to pass data and skills to a new generation of students and scholars.

These requirements are accentuated in the scientific research community where authors and users are the same group. From the authors point of view their main concern is to ensure that the information and ideas are rapidly and efficiently disseminated. For five hundred years the main vehicle of this dissemination has been the printed word and predominantly, starting some 300 years ago, but particularly in the last 50 years, it has for scientists been the learned journal.

In order to be effective in this environment the scientific information chain, (or more appropriately loop) has always needed intermediaries. Printers and publishers have always played a central role in this activity and it has not been a passive one, whether they be learned societies, university presses, or commercial enterprises. It is they who have often discerned and assessed the need, responded and taken the risk, planned and coordinated the supply network. Booksellers and library agents are necessary to coordinate the supply of this vast and wide ranging literature into the hands of the consumer. And last, but not least, librarians have provided the focal point where this information could be accessed.

Since the last war the publishing of academic books and journals has become a large and relatively stable industry but it is now clear that things are changing. There is no doubt that the scientific information chain in particular is in crisis. There are many reasons for this, but the simplest is the universal law that exponential growth cannot be sustained for long. The ever increasing flow of scientific information is driven in part by the ``publish or perish'' philosophy created by the policies of the funding agencies. It is also increasingly fragmented as more and more scientific journals are created to accommodate the increasing specialisations. As every academic librarian knows this expansion is becoming too expensive to contain and even the greatest libraries are no longer able to encompass the whole range of publications in scientific fields. The inexorable rise in costs has placed tremendous strains on library budgets. Many are critical of the publishers and indeed most of these, be they commercial companies looking for a return to their shareholders or learned societies looking to support their other activities, are making significant profits on their journals. However, a closer look at the economics of the system shows that even if these profits were eliminated the rise in cost would still be unsustainable for libraries.

It is therefore clear that the system must be modified and electronic publishing provides a possible answer. But we need to be sure that any new paradigm will meet the needs of academics and scientists worldwide. It will also need the acceptance of new methods of working and no doubt significant investment in the infrastructure. It requires a modification and some redefinition of the roles of all the players in the loop -- author, publisher, agent, librarian, and user.

The switch to electronic distribution of information is already well advanced for specific data. This is most obviously appropriate in on-line form where the information is most valuable and time sensitive, e.g. on the financial markets but it is also well established for legal information, and for compilations such as dictionaries and encyclopaedias. The next significant shift is almost certain to be in the area of scientific journals and it is this which is the subject of this lecture.

There have been many meetings of interested parties to try to understand the opportunities offered by the new technologies and if possible to guide the transition. We are at the mercy of many forces, some conflicting which are driving change. Technology is perhaps the most significant and it moves with great rapidity. In the last few years we have, for example, seen CD-ROM change from an apparent panacea into more of a niche product, and market forces, with current funding restrictions, are especially important. The scientific community worldwide has become increasingly concerned and has also come to realise that as author and user it is in a strong position to drive the changes for the maximum benefit to the community. To this end a Conference of Experts on ``Electronic Publishing in Science'' was held in Paris last year under the auspices of ICSU and UNESCO. This partnership is highly appropriate since the International Council for Scientific Unions has direct links to learned societies in all scientific disciplines and to national academies while UNESCO can communicate directly with national governments and their agencies. The conference involved people belonging to all groups and players in the chain and across a broad spread of developing countries who brought direct experience of the impact of the new technologies on the scientific community worldwide.

The conference approved a series of recommendations roughly grouped under five headings directed specifically to ICSU and UNESCO and through them to the scientific communities in general, the learned societies and national academies and others involved in scientific information provision such as publishers and librarians. I will try to give a broad summary of these and some indication of the progress which has been made in the last year. They are appended to this document. The full proceedings of the conference can be found in ``Electronic Publishing in Science'' Ed. H. Moore and D. Shaw, UNESCO 1996, ISBN: 0-930357-37-X and on the World Wide Web at http://www.lmcp.jussieu.fr/icsu/information/Proc-0296/Recommendations.html

The first set of recommendations related to what might be called ``Normative Issues'' -- i.e. do scientists want publication with the same properties which has characterised scientific journals over the recent past. This is not a trivial question because there are those who argue that self publication on a bulletin board, something akin to the preprint systems used informally in many scientific communities, would be adequate in the new environment and several of these are already available, particularly in physics. But a strong majority of scientists believes that this does not guarantee adequate quality control and that the processes of peer review and editorial standardisation remain as essential as ever in the new environment. Electronic transfer of information between those concerned can speed the process but many of the traditional publishing processes are still required. A series of workshops involving ICSU, UNESCO and other interested bodies is being planned on these issues, to try to reach consensus on a code of conduct which could be recommended to authors, referees, editors, librarians and users.

The opportunities presented by electronic publishing will not be achieved if they are regarded simply as versions of the old paradigm. In addition to the approved visibility and transparency of electronic material it is certain that much extra value can be added to improve indexing and search possibilities and through hypertex linkage as to other materials.

This leads on naturally to the key question of costs. On this issue the meeting could reach no consensus about the real finances of main stream electronic publishing since this depends in part on the extent of the added value which is regarded as necessary. What is clear is that it will not be cheaper if the electronic version is merely regarded as an add-on to the normal print on paper distribution so that many libraries will feel the need to carry both. In the last year we have moved much closer to this, possibly temporary, situation in that many main stream scientific journals now offer electronic access as a supplement to the printed version. However the finances are packaged in a way so that the costs are still recovered through the print version. ICSU is planning a further workshop early next year to try and elucidate these issues further. Details may be obtained from the ICSU Home Page referred to above or the organiser Dennis Shaw (http://associnst.ox.ac.uk/$\sim$ icsuinfo).

In addition to identifying costs and benefits we need to consider the development of economic models for the use of electronically stored journal material. With the increased availability of journal material on-line it is possible that enhanced document delivery services will serve many needs particularly if they are wedded to good indexing and abstracting services so that the scientists can identify the material they really need. One of the main difficulties here is the fragmentation of the material since it may be necessary to access the servers of several different publishers and the complications are exaggerated if the paying mechansims are diverse. Access to ``document supply'' from a large corpus of data together with appropriate linking of that data looks to be an attractive alternative because of increased usability, but also because for the librarian it would simplify the number of transactions involved. Here the traditional document suppliers, the library agents, and the national libraries could have an important role to play. But the traditional role of librarians as intermediaries in the chain could be much altered.

In fact, these ``pay by drink'' economic models are currently less favoured by users and librarians than the broader ``site licence'' method which allows a restricted range of users within an institution to use the material for a single fee, much as the current printed work is available to all library users. It is more difficult to operate this in the electronic medium because of the ease of downloading and consequent lack of control, but this might well be countered by improved encryption methods. Indeed the latter promise to become so efficient that access to electronic material could become more controlled than that to print on paper. A more radical model develops the concept of enhanced page charges where the author pays for the publication costs and then allows free access. This is attractive to scientists who are interested in the maximum visibility for their work but would require a shift in funding emphasis and puts the ``poor'' researcher at a disadvantage. It seems unlikely to take hold.

As we move into the wider use of electronic access it will be essential to pay more attention to the infrastructure. This not only requires access to appropriate hardware but to cheap and effective networking. The World Wide Web was originally invented by physicists for use within their community. They now represent a tiny fraction of the traffic on the Net. The academic community must not be placed at a disadvantage by the overloading of the networks by commercial and leisure use. It needs some protected access to the communication links. Moreover, users will need some training if they are going to use the new technologies effectively. To date scientists have grown up with these developments but future generations will need instruction. This has been a traditional role for the librarian and it is to be hoped that they will continue to develop this essential service.

Many of these issues are accentuated in developing countries where the challenges of obtaining the appropriate infrastructure are greater but where the opportunity to by-pass the period of inadequate library provision through improved electronic access to information presents an unparalleled opportunity. Here UNESCO through a number of initiatives is attempting to exploit this opportunity, as mentioned in M. Quéau's talk.

I have left till last the one issue which was the subject of Conference recommendations and which I think is of particular concern to librarians;- that of maintaining a proper archive of electronic material. It has already received considerable attention, for example by the Research Libraries Group whose Task Force published a report last year on ``Preserving Digital Information''. It addressed all manner of issues, such as:- What medium should be used when the technology is changing so rapidly? What standards of data recording should be used when the software tools are also changing? Who will decide on the authentic version when electronic material can be changed easily and continuously? Who will bear the responsibility, and the cost, of holding and updating the archive? In the past this has been predominantly a library role but in the current state of flux it is the more responsible publishers who are accepting responsibility to archive their own material. This cannot be a long term solution given its fragmentation and the commercial pressures. Presumably the national libraries will have a role here as they have had in the preservation of the printed archive. This issue is one of particular concern to the International Council for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI) and they, after discussion, have set up a group to study the issues. I know that they wish to involve IFLA in this enterprise and I hope that this audience and your officers will agree to collaborate with them. Indeed I would wish, on behalf of ICSU, to solicit your support for all of these follow-up activities.

I would like to conclude by drawing attention of the Conference to a particularly urgent issue. Underlying the whole of this discussion, and all our modes of working, is the legislative framework and it is important to consider how electronic publications in science will fit into international regulatory regimes. As was said at the beginning scientific information is different because, while it has commercial value, it is in the main passed round a loop from an author to a user community which are largely overlapping. The interest of all is maximum availability and the facilitators such as publishers and librarians are ultimately judged by this criterion. It is therefore essential to see how copyright regimes act as a help by encouraging investment in essential services, rather than a hindrance, to information transfer. It cannot be emphasised enough that it is the author or his employer who initially holds all the rights to his work and can therefore in principal ultimately determine the way in which it is used. In the past publishers have driven a bargain requiring transfer of copyright so that they could control its use, in exchange for the service of making the material available in a printed journal. The pattern of advantage is somewhat shifted by the new technologies although publishers and rights owners have responded by attempting to tighten the legal regime. In this connection the doctrine of ``fair use'' must be carried over and clearly defined for the electronic environment. The original concept has already been modified through the advent of photocopying and the ease with which copies of electronic material can be made and distributed raises difficult issues. On the other hand in scientific research and in education the primary interest is maximum dissemination. I know that IFLA and its constituents have been active but much remains to be done.

Colleagues in Europe should be aware that a recent European Directive requires legislation to be in place by the end of this calendar year in all Member States to address these problems. In particular it requires legislation to create a so-called ``sui generis'' right in databases where the compilation requires an investment of time and money but lacks the creativity needed to qualify for the ``droit d'auteur'' definition of copyright. The scientific community is greatly alarmed that this will restrict access to important scientific data, for example meteorological and geophysical data or that relating to genetic sequencing, which has traditionally been in the public domain. For the first time data itself, rather than ideas and presentation appears to be protected so that once in a proprietary database they could only be used by other scientists under payment to the compiler (and not even the original measurer of the data). Within the United States strong opposition has been marshalled to any such legislation which appears to conflict with the concepts of freedom of information enshrined in their law and constitution. On the international field discussion of a proposed treaty from the World International Property Organisation to create a legislative regime for databases to sit beside the Berne Convention on Copyright have been slowed down by the intervention of ICSU, UNESCO and by developing countries but discussions are still continuing. Librarians and their representative organisations should lobby their national representatives to the WIPO Conference (which is on September 16/17) to express their concerns.

However, in Europe the situation is critical. It seems that the only route open to the academic and scientific communities is to lobby each national government to make sure that the new legislation contains the maximum provisions for fair use. The EU Directive allowed for such provisions to be decided at national level. I therefore appeal to librarians from European countries to lobby their national governments and parliaments on this issue without delay. By the end of the month it may be too late.

I trust that this talk has provided a perspective from the scientist's point of view on problems of common concern. I hope that dialogue and collaborations with librarians can continue and will be strengthened.

ICSU/UNESCO Conference Recommendations


The Conference of Experts on Electronic Publishing in Science convened by ICSU and UNESCO in February 1996 discussed the broad range of problems and opportunities presented by the new technologies. It approved a number of recommendations, roughly grouped below under five headings, which are directed specifically to ICSU and UNESCO and through them to the scientific community in general, the learned societies and national academies and others involved in scientific information provision such as publishers and librarians, and to national governments.

I Peer review and codes of practice

II Electronic archives

III Financial considerations

IV The scientist's working environment

V Developing countries