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The Impact of Electronic Publishing on the Academic Community

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Session 5: Digital libraries and archiving of electronic information

Digital library work: meeting user needs

Mats G. Lindquist

Lund University Library, PO Box 3, S-221 00 Lund, Sweden

©Portland Press Ltd., 1997.
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To meet user needs in the world of digital information libraries must revise their policies and their way of working. The foundation for these new library policies for electronic documents must be sought in an analysis of how electronic documents differ from traditional ones, and an analysis of the changing roles of the institutions in the 'value chain' for documents.


In an electronic environment libraries must reach out more towards the sources of information. Libraries must also perform more of the functions that traditionally have been carried out by other actors in the value chain: packaging, transmission and the provision of manipulating tools.

To a large extent electronic publications have been considered as, and treated as, a variant of the corresponding traditional, printed publication. This is an evolutionary approach, which is adequate for the transition period we are in at the present. Print and electronic publications will coexist, in parallel, for the immediate future [1].

Electronic publications represent, however, a revolution in communication, and a fundamentally different approach to the handling of these publications will be needed. The philosophical and theoretical foundations for library and information science must be questioned and revised. An example of such an analysis is "Cataloging in the Digital Order" [2], which brings the reasoning from Chartier's [3] "The Order of Books" into the present world. A similar 'soul-searching' approach is taken by Chan [4] in her discussion about "Classification in the Electronic Age".

Library operations will be affected in a fundamental way by the revolution to electronic form (some examples are given in [5]). To find a basis for policy making it is necessary to analyse what electronic documents really are, and how they differ from traditional ones. It is also necessary to analyse the processes in which they are part, and the roles of the institutions which have emerged in these processes.

Unique functional properties of electronic documents

The following is a list of unique functional properties (UFPs) of electronic documents (e-documents) that set them apart from traditional documents, and that require consideration when planning procedures and processes for the management of e-documents. In some cases established concepts and legal aspects must be reviewed (based on Lindquist, 1995 [6]; a similar analysis is given in McCarthy, 1996 [7]).

(i) Transcendence. E-documents encompass in a uniform way information that traditionally has been considered to be of different kinds: text, graphics, images, sound and video. All definitions and classifications of documents based on media must be reconsidered. Digitalization is making it difficult to maintain consequential differences based on media. E-documents are also, at the same time, potential print, film, phonogram and video.

(ii) Large volume. Technical tools for the production of e-documents are powerful and have a large installed base. The number of producers is beyond estimation. E-documents with image information are voluminous and put a load on the processing equipment which is magnitudes larger than is the case with 'character-based' information.

(iii) Multiplicity (variants). E-documents can be manipulated relatively easy, which is indeed one of the benefits of them. Re-use of information characterizes both the commercial publishing world and the individual arena. The consequences are problems of physical control and problems with information integrity.

(iv) Copies equal to or better than the original. E-documents can be copied without loss of quality. Together with the ease of manipulation this compounds the problem of establishing authenticity. The distribution of 'originals' cannot be controlled by technical means. The quality of an e-document can be enhanced by algorithmic methods; shapes and forms can be made more distinct, shadows can be washed away. Restoration of e-documents must be considered as part of preservation.

(v) Links (pointers). E-documents have structures that are, at least to a part, logical constructs. They can encompass parts which are not physically connected (or bundled). Links occur on several levels: within a document (e.g. hypertext); between documents; within/between series and within/between collections. Emerging are also links between libraries/archives. These links raise organizational questions about responsibility and economic aspects of co-ordination.

(vi) Foreseeable impermanence. E-documents are intimately tied to the technology used for their creation. Technological development gives new dimensions to maintenance and preservation. Technological obsolescence must be considered especially. Physical attrition of the information carrier is also a problem.

(vii) Volatile distribution. E-documents can be 'distributed' without manifesting themselves as a physical instance ('copy'). Access to an e-document can be equivalent to having it. The difference between lending and giving away (or selling) can be difficult to maintain.

(viii) Complex copyright. As a consequence of the transcendence [see (i)] it is problematic to apply the legislation on intellectual property rights for e-documents since the laws often build on definitions that are media-based. Economic (and aesthetic) consequences cannot be foreseen which leads to complicated discussions about compensations.

The changing roles of institutions

In electronic publishing the traditional steps between content owners and users are changing in scope and nature. The process of bringing content (information) to use can be thought of as a value chain [8]. In this each link represents an addition of value (and hence constitutes a ground for payment), where the final value determinant is putting the information into use (see Figure 1).

Today much attention is given to the control and ownership of content, as witnessed by research programs (for example the European INFO 2000) and by commercial activities of acquisitions and mergers in the information industry. Technological convergence between telecommunications, cable and ether media is an example of how traditional roles change, and of how actors who were in separate business sectors now are in competition with each other.

Figure 1. The value chain for electronic documents

Reproduced from [8], with kind permission from PIRA International.

In his analysis Sacerdote points out that there is increased competition between the providers of 'manipulating tools' and 'packaging; distribution'; there is also an ambition from the actors in 'transmission' to include 'manipulation tools'. In short the whole chain between content owners and users is melting into a continuum.

At the originating end there is also a clear trend that creators feed directly into the value chain and bypass the owner link, which is the traditional publisher. In scholarly communication this trend has been quite visible for years. The direct distribution of pre-prints between researchers is an example [9].

Libraries are one of the institutions in the traditional value chain. Their main role has been to provide logical and physical access information. The cataloguing system represents a form of 'manipulating tools' in the model above, but only in a limited sense, and it affects in no way the information itself.

Library polices

Given the background of the functional properties of electronic documents and the changing nature of the value chain for electronic publications, the guiding principles for library work must be re-evaluated. In the following is outlined the elements of a strategy for libraries that are necessary for managing electronic publications.


"Find the stream of scholarly material that is relevant to the library's mission." Scientific communication will find new ways for distribution. It is necessary for the library to have a closer contact with the research community where material is created and disseminated.

Evaluation of the material quality will encompass new challenges. It will take a long time before the electronic publications will be part of an equivalent system of quality control that the scientific publishers of today represent, at least with sufficient coverage; evaluation must then to a larger extent be made in co-operation with the user community.

Bibliographic control

"Find a model of description and organization that makes logical and physical access efficient and cost effective." (The term 'bibliographic control' is not semantically correct in the digital order, but will do in the transition period.)

The current practice of describing electronic publications in a print-oriented description model such as the cataloguing rules will not be adequate very long. There is a need for 'EECR' --- electronic entities cataloguing rules. A constructive initiative is the one by the (United States) National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a "federal information processing standard (FIPS) for a data standard for record description records", announced in the Federal Register 28 February 1995. This initiative also points to another necessary development: that of unifying descriptions in the library and in the archive world; provenance will, for example, be of increasing importance for library material (this issue is sometimes addressed in terms of 'meta-information').

In a world of increasing co-operation and exchange it is not effective to develop local cataloguing rules, but to participate in international work on this. In the transition period it is necessary to find a balance between the efforts spent on describing the traditional form and the electronic forms. To catalogue electronic works is more expensive than for traditional ones, and yet is more important since an undescribed electronic publication is more difficult to handle (and can easily be unusable due to lack of description).

Maintenance and collection development

"Make a clear decision about which material should be collected ('owned') and which can be accessed remotely."

"Design a system to establish, identify and control links within and between electronic publications." Owned material must be kept in operable condition from a technical viewpoint which means a technological commitment.

The library will also, to an increasing extent, be the custodian of the authenticity of the material.

Access and provision of information

"Secure sufficient rights from content owners to secure adequate access for the users."

"Design access systems that can interact with user systems, and make possible manipulation and further processing of information."

The transition to electronic form makes, in many cases, the legislation for printed material non-applicable. To secure user access the library must be prepared to negotiate rights from content owners and to design a system for the management of intellectual property rights.

The library user will not only be a reader but an information processor. Therefore the output from the library must be a useable input to the user's (computer) system.

Staff training

"Train staff in computer and communication systems, in user instruction and training, and in current scholarly information practice."

"Make sure staff has a high competence in knowledge organization principles." Many library users will have a need to learn the new ways of the digital order; the library will be a teaching organization more than at present.

The 'unorderly behaviour' of electronic material makes it important for staff to have a good command of principles for knowledge organization and information management.


1. Zhou, Y. (1994) From smart guesser to smart navigator: changes in collection development for research libraries in a network environment. Library Trends 42(4), 648--660

2. Levy, D.M. (1995) Cataloging in the digital order. In Digital Libraries 95, available at URL: http://csdl.tamu.edu/DL95/papers/levy/levy.html

3. Chartier, R. (1994) The Order of Books. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.

4. Chan, L.M. (1995) Classification, Present and Future. Cataloging and Classification Quarterly 21(2), 5--17

5. von Ungern-Sternberg, S. and Lindquist, M.G. (1995) The impact of electronic journals on library functions. Journal of Information Science 21(5), 396--401

6. Lindquist, M.G. (1995) Long term strategies for electronic documents - report from a Swedish study. IASA Journal no. 6, 33--39

7. McCarthy, C.K. (1996) What is a document? Rethinking the concept in uneasy times. JASIS

47(9), 669--671

8. Sacerdote, G. (1994) Multimedia and interactivity - fiction, fantasy, or fait accompli? In The Electronic Publishing Business and its Market, (Blunden, B. and Blunden, M., eds.), IEPRC/Pira International, Leatherhead, UK

9. Caplan, P. (1994) You can't get there from here: e-prints and the library. The Public-Access Computer Systems Review 5(1), 20--24. Available from listserv@uhupvml.uh.edu by sending the e-mail: GET CAPLAN PRV5N1 F=MAIL

©Portland Press Ltd., 1997.
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