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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 015-118-E
Division Number: VII.
Professional Group: Editors of Library Journals
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 118
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Critical issues facing LIS journals - from the point of view of a Hungarian editor

National Technical Information Centre and Library


In smaller countries professional journals such as those in library and information science, have three basic functions. Firstly, they have to monitor world developments and evaluate them from a domestic point of view. Secondly, they have to inform professionals in the country about the selected foreign materials, through translations, abstracts, reviews and studies. Thirdly, they have to make progressive domestic developments known to both domestic and foreign readers. The author uses his experience as an editor of the Hungarian journal Tudományos és Müszaki Tájékoztatás to demonstrate how this challenge can be met.


The role of LIS journals in smaller countries

To use media terminology, specialist journals in smaller countries must operate simultaneously as
Aiming at as wide an audience as possible, one wants to find out about professional developments worldwide, and to evaluate them from a specific angle: what of all this could be useful in the country. By a "selective translating and relay station" I mean translating the selected information into the native language and then passing it on. Finally, "multiband transmission" is needed so that as many people as possible, from practioners to the elite of our profession, both abroad and at home, may be able, and eager, to receive what is transmitted.

World trends and domestic circumstances must be integrated into the theory and practice of the sciences and professions in smaller countries in such a way that they become organic parts of the congruent sciences and professions of the world. At the same time, we should induce and reinforce an inherent domestic development.

Even journals published in smaller countries face competition. We should establish some kind of division of labour, by subject and other aspects, which would help all of us to more efficiently carry out the three functions I mentioned above.

Everything that applies to the editing and publishing of special journals in smaller countries also applies to journals in library and information science. Tudományos és Müszaki Tájékoztatás (or TMT as it is commonly abbreviated) is a point in case. Our experience with TMT answers the question of how this triple challenge can be met (to some extent), as well as illustrates the typical problems in editing our journal.

TMT - one of Hungary's LIS journals

TMT, which is in its 45th volume, publishes 45 to 50 papers, articles, essays and reports every year. The number of authors is actually somewhat higher, because of co-authorships. 70% to 75% of authors are from Hungary; the rest are from abroad, mostly from the West. Two-thirds of the Hungarian authors discuss Hungarian issues, but articles about foreign concerns also are related to Hungary.

Foreign authors typically discuss their own libraries, regions, countries and special fields as well as the activities of international organizations; but occasionally, when requested, they also write about Hungarian problems.

Approximately one half of domestic submissions are initiated by the authors. While 8-10 professional writers regularly publish in our journal, most authors only appear once, when they believe the topic has a special professional significance, by reporting mostly local developments, for instance, in automation. The other half of the domestic papers are written upon our request. TMT tries to find out about professional research projects, concepts and plans, then tries to "lure" the manuscripts out of the drawer of the author's desk. Requests are made for papers on specific topics, especially when a thematic issue is being put together about problems that are especially timely but insufficiently covered in the literature.

Foreign authors give us the final reports of studies they have been commissioned to carry out (e.g. as consultants) as well as papers given at conferences held in Hungary and turned into articles. It happens two or three times a year that a foreign author is specifically requested to write for us.

The majority of the articles and essays (72% in 1997) are published within 3 to 5 months from the submission date. About 10% of the articles have a shorter time lag. These papers which are published almost instantaneously are, without exception, written upon request. An 8- or 9-month time lag is rather rare. In those cases, multiple editor-author conferences are often needed, for professional or stylistic reasons. Five to 10 papers are rejected every year because they do not meet the expectations of referees as to content or style.

We generally evaluate the most important Hungarian publications in our field (newly published monographs, index tools and special bibliographies), but because of our limited staff it is impossible to review foreign literature systematically. However, we welcome such reviews.

I can best indicate the subject profile of TMT by mentioning some papers in the first four issues published this year:

The articles and essays of TMT are reviewed and indexed by foreign abstracting and indexing journals, such as LISA, Pascal, Referativny Zhurnal, Science Abstracts Series C: Computer and Control, as well as Hungarian Library and Information Science Abstracts and Hungarian Research and Development Abstracts. We believe that our summaries in English, German and Russian, which accompany all major articles, have something to do with this extensive coverage.

Our abstracts and thematic reviews on foreign journal articles play a significant role in TMT's being a selective relay station. When we select articles, we keep three things in mind:

With these points in mind, our abstracts and reviews are prepared as substitutes for the original sources as far as possible. At the same time, we try to provide a geographically well-balanced picture of what is going on worldwide in our profession. Professional developments in 20 to 25 countries as well as multinational projects are reported every year.

As for the authors of primary sources reviewed (approximately 130 to 160 authors a year), the proportion of westerners is between two-thirds and three-quarters. Anglo-American authors are the most favoured, as they were in the Communist era, since TMT had long ago won the right to be politically neutral, in order to focus on professional quality. From Central and Eastern Europe, Russian, Polish, Czech and Slovakian authors appear the most often. Their presence proves that TMT did not lose interest in the new democracies in 1989, since the transformation process of those countries is very similar to the changes under way in Hungary.

Also, TMT gladly publishes interesting and brief news items - a feature which noticeably enlarges its "information radius."

Other LIS journals in Hungary

If we ignore Magyar Könyvszemle (the oldest Hungarian library journal, which in recent years has been devoting its pages exclusively to the history of books and libraries), the yearbooks of major libraries (which focus on their own library collections), and library bulletins and newsletters (which are for specific professional groups of various sizes), there are only four nationwide journals for the profession in Hungary. Of these four, Könyvtári Levelezö/lap (with a monthly circulation of 1,000) and Könyv, Könyvtár, Könyvtáros (900 copies monthly), do not justify close consideration, since they focus on the safeguarding of professional interests and on the problems of public librarianship; in the rare cases where they go beyond this, the articles lack real depth.

So TMT (at 510 copies per month) has only one real competitor: Könyvtári Figyelö (KF for short) a quarterly journal. Its predecessor was launched in 1955, and its current circulation is 850 copies. Our profiles coincide, at least in relation to the most generic issues of scientific and special librarianship as well as to information policy. On the other hand, TMT does not feel obligated to cover information services in the social sciences, nor to deal with libraries that have collections of a general nature, and it focuses more on information science. A further point is that while TMT abstracts try to serve as a substitute for the original publication, KF abstracts do not.

TMT's impact on the profession

TMT tries to be a "living" journal. Without attempting to be comprehensive, let me mention a few points in evidence:

Problems and difficulties

However, our successes cannot conceal the problems and difficulties we face issue by issue. Let me mention a few of them:

Plans for the future

As to the future, it seems that we will not have to change our present publishing philosophy, which can be summed up like this: "you shall always serve the progress of the profession". More specifically, our effort to improve quality is naturally a general requirement. On the other hand, there are some more specifc actions that would make a difference:

Conclusions - and Questions

A number of conclusions can be drawn from this overview - and some questions can be asked.

With regard to finances, the fact that TMT is nowhere near self-sufficient and unlikely to become so makes us dependent on sponsors and limits our development. Can one accept the fact that a library journal is constantly losing money and say that we are carrying out a mission to promote the profession, instead of making money? Or should we say that this loss indicates a lack of efficiency, and that it should therefore cease publication?

On the role of TMT, one of its functions is to be a substitute for the reading of foreign library and information journals by reporting professional developments worldwide - bearing in mind that many Hungarian librarians do not speak any foreign language and/or have any access to foreign journals. But is this enormous task actually possible? The professional developments we choose to report may not be the most important ones, and we could perhaps leave the selection to the reader, thus encouraging him or her to study foreign languages and to obtain access to these journals locally.

TMT also tries to inform the world, at least at a minimal level, about domestic developments (through tables of contents and abstracts, both in foreign languages), in the knowledge that Hungarian is a rather obscure language, and that it is rare to find articles by Hungarian authors in foreign journals. Is this function important? If so, are there additional ways of fulfilling it - for example, by publishing certain selected articles in Hungarian and English simultaneously?

On other LIS journals in Hungary, TMT's competition consists of three other nationwide journals. Is it reasonable for the country to support four journals with nationwide coverage, considering that they all lose money? Or should some of them merge? Would it not be better to create one generalist title and publish some smaller ones specializing in different areas (such as acquisitions, automation, or databases)? Or, using a different approach, would it be more reasonable to publish three titles in Hungarian and one in English (with this last being responsible for covering domestic developments for the outside world)?

Quality seems to be satisfactory by our standards; we do not aim at broader international recognition. Should it be the number one concern, to which all other criteria are subordinated, or are there other factors (such as regular deadlines, urgent topics, or saving money) which might justify the occasional lowering of our standards?

As to impact, TMT does appear to be quite widely read and to have an impact on library thinking and library policy. Should its scope be broadened to cover related subject areas so that it could be read by more people, or should the present profile be kept as it is now? A broader profile would mean discussing a wider range of topics, but leave our original readers somewhat dissatisfied and possibly lose some of them.

Finally, as noted, it is planned to issue TMT in an electronic version, partly to make use of the benefits of the electonic medium, and partly because more and more readers expect it. How similar should this electronic version be to the hard copy? Also, how could we launch this electronic version in a way that would reduce our financial losses, instead of adding to them?