Electronic Publishing vs. Libraries

Robert A Amsler amsler at FLASH.BELLCORE.COM
Tue Aug 7 15:28:12 EST 1990

Robert J. Robbins (rrobins at note.nsf.gov) makes an excellent case for
print media not being displaced by electronic publishing, but leaves
unmentioned that there is no reason to force this into an either/or
situation. The better strategy is for the dissemination of
electronic copies IN ADDITION TO using the standard publishing

This could mean, for example, that recipients could find that
articles were relevant to their interests by running software over
the electronic text versions and then obtain photocopies or FAX
copies of the print medium with its half-tones, line art, etc.

Full-text databases are still rather rare and while most articles are
prepared using word processing, access to the electronic text after
publication is left to the prior business arrangements of the
publisher. There often are no arrangements for full-text access, in
which case the electronic text is lost to all those who could use it
unless at some enlightened and well-funded time in the future we
commit funds to the OCR or re-keyboarding of printed materials. 

The utility of electronic text and whatever accomodations can be made
to the electronic reproduction of figures, illustrations and
photographs is that they can be reprocessed and searched. Keeping 
only the print output has been likened to the master chefs of the
world only saving a plate of their food and throwing away the

Coupled with electronic mail, the distribution of even portions of
the material of published articles in electronic form can provide new
bases for discovery and end the paradox of a electronic society
waiting for a 19th century distribution system to cut down trees and
chemically and mechanically process them into squashed cellulose with
ink on it intended solely for manual reading. 

Remember, we USED to program computers by cutting holes in cardboard.

What I would suggest is that authors make arrangement with their
publishers for permission to distribute the electronic version of
their published papers much the way they can distribute reprints. It
should NOT be a copyright-prohibited activity (especially given the
sizeable differences in the paper publication and electronic
representation capabilities that still exist). These electronic
reprints could then be distributed by the authors and collected by
whomever asks for them to form personal electronic archives. Some
might only want the bibliographic information, others might use the
full-text and the data it contains, still others only the citation
linkages. How and what the recipient will do with the electronic copy
should no more be a concern than what they currently can do with the
print copy.

The publishers should also be encouraged to offer electronic
`supplements' to their print products, in which they could send
diskettes of issues or articles to subscribers at cost. They could
offer a consistent format and at minimal cost enrich the electronic
product with linkages and other media as they become available. The
personal relationship that publishers have with their readers today
has no electronic counterpart since they hand their published
data to database vendors. A wise dictum of business has always been,
``eliminate the middleman'' and publishers should seek to regain the
contact with their subscribers in the new electronic one-on-one manner
made possible today.

All of these can and should co-exist with the large central
databases. They serve different functions and won't seriously
interfere with each others marketability any more than the other
`competitors' such as videotape, television, motion pictures and radio
have ended their predecessors roles. 

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