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The Indexing of Scholarly Journals by John Willinsky and Larry Wolfson
As Executive Director of NFAIS, the premiere trade association representing the interests of information aggregators, I am writing to comment on the December 2001 article by Messrs. Willinsky and Wolfson, entitled "The Indexing of Scholarly Journals: A Tipping Point for Publishing Reform."
At first glance, the authors appear to raise new concerns about the role of aggregators — often referred to as abstract and indexing services or secondary publishers — in the field of scholarly research, particularly research using digital or electronic content. After a closer read, however, one understands that the authors are concerned less with the valuable role that aggregators perform and more with encouraging scholar-authors to begin abstracting and indexing their works as part of a general "move away from the commercialization of academic publishing that has taken place over the last four or five decades." In other words, the message to scholars is this: simply become an indexer or abstractor in addition to a scholar-author, contribute your work freely to an open access system, and something good happens to the world of scholarly publishing.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the prospect that the rise in the cost of scholarly publishing reflects a comparable rise in the value of the resulting content is a debate that has raged since the beginning of publishing. It is also one likely continue far beyond our lifetimes. Although there are those who may never be comfortable with the concept that information is, to some extent, a commodity subject to market forces — including market pricing — an information marketplace for information services has existed for hundreds of years, including in the field of scholarly publishing. As does any market, it provides choices for consumers, in terms of value and price, and when consumers no longer find value in a product or service they can, and do, find alternatives.
The fact is that there exists today, and has existed for decades, any number of vehicles for scholarly publishing and research. The information-aggregator sector alone is comprised not only of products and services provided by the private sector, but also those produced by nonprofit scholarly societies (many of whose members are the very scholars and researchers of concern to Messrs. Willinsky and Wolfson). So-called "free" services such as those made available by universities or under the auspices of government agencies are also part of the information-aggregator marketplace, and even though they may not charge for access, their construction and maintenance is certainly far from cost-free.
Regardless of which type of organization supplies an information aggregator service, it is precisely this question of value that is of the greatest concern to the NFAIS community, their content partners, and their customers. Messrs. Willinsky and Wolfson make much of the fact that current indexing resources, including both pay services and no-fee access services, vary in their comprehensiveness and their redundancy. These same arguments have been made since the advent of such services. However, I would suggest that some more comparisons are necessary before we condemn information aggregators generally as contributing to the self-proclaimed "crisis in scholarly publishing." For example, it would be helpful to compare the volume and types of literature covered by information aggregators today, as opposed to the time before the internet. It would have also been more useful in assessing the authors' conclusions about the "weaknesses of the current indexing services and the hit-and-miss full-text Web searches," had they compared the number and availability of electronic aggregator services today with similar services provided only in hard-copy print format just a few years ago.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that aggregators today provide information about more content, in more formats, and through a greater variety of services that ever before. Despite the faults of current systems, they do provide much greater convenience to users than has ever been the case before. In assessing the two authors' conclusions and recommendations, it should also be kept in mind that like all things "Internet," we are speaking of markets and products as works in progress. As much as some of us may have assumed that the Web would help make all things perfect, such perfection is an illusive goal. Most users are as interested in value, and I would argue that the improvements in information retrieval since the advent of digital information systems translates as value in anyones objective pocketbook.
Nevertheless, one cannot deny the authors' assessment that cash-strapped budgets for library acquisition departments will eventually force libraries to choose fewer and fewer aggregator services. It is also quite logical that marketplace behavior will result in libraries not renewing subscriptions to services that are not relatively comprehensive of their fields of study or that simply duplicate other indexing and abstracting sources.
It is less certain that scholars in general will want, or be able, to apply effectively the types of automated indexing procedures discussed by the authors in a manner that anticipates and meets the needs of researchers, whether in the scholars' field of study or in another field. Indexing expertise contributed by disinterested third parties ensures relevant and appropriate information retrieval. Different information-seeking behaviors require that there be many ways for various types of users to find and retrieve a single item in a database.
Automated procedures lack any human component, such as the judgments made by aggregators on a daily basis. Good indexing requires that the aggregator be a neutral, uninterested third party with the experience and skills needed to understand and categorize research across a broad range of disciplines and sub-disciplines. The Dublin Core Standard, a project in which many NFAIS members worked closely with the scholarly and user communities, provides only top-level information templates. It does not provide standard templates for metadata beyond the basic information outlined by the articles two authors. One important reason for this lack of standardized, detailed metadata is precisely because it was recognized that the human interface and judgment skills are required to anticipate user needs and determine how best to meet them.
Relating this concept directly to the proposals made by Messrs. Willinsky and Wolfson, scholar-authors within a narrow field may not properly recognize the value of their work to those outside their own immediate niche. Even more to the point, scholars are not always properly equipped to recognize how others outside their immediate environment may be approaching a search or wording a query — an increasingly important consideration in interdisciplinary research.
As an example, if the author of a clinical study of a drug provides only the brand name of a particular pharmaceutical product as a keyword and fails to include the generic name or drug class as a keyword, a user who searches under those terms will not retrieve the document. Hence an individual author's selection of keywords may actually limit or prevent retrieval of a specific document by the widest possible audience for whom that document might prove useful. Aggregators are well aware that an article published in Nature would likely be assigned indexing terms differently by EMBASE, MEDLINE and BIOSIS. Messrs. Willinsky and Wolfson view these differences among indexing services as disadvantageous and lacking standards. In truth, such differences are purposeful, because each indexer serves a different audience and has worked hard to understand that audience's needs.
In conclusion, it is understandable, given the views expressed by Messrs. Willinsky and Wolfson about the commercial publishing sector and scholarly publishing in general, that their primary goal is economic — a redistribution of the wealth of information, as it were, more than improving the quality of scholarship. There is certainly nothing wrong with seeking new economic models and proposing their testing in the marketplace. As stated above, market forces are something that NFAIS members have long experienced, regardless of whether they are private sector, nonprofit or government providers.
However, NFAIS members have a different prime objective in mind: doing the best job possible in aggregating information for a wide variety of users and uses. It has been this selective approach to indexing various journal titles that has proven valuable to end users. To propose that these tasks can be adequately replaced by lay persons using minimally standardized technologies, and without controlled vocabulary or taxonomy, does a disservice to current aggregators. Such a haphazard system of indexing may also doom scholarly researchers to wasteful, illogical hunting and pecking through the enormous fields of information in order to obtain those one or two fruits of knowledge essential to their discoveries and writings.
Thanks in large part to information aggregators in all fields and across all sectors, we have moved a long way from the days before Melvyl Dewey. Let us not allow self-proclaimed crises or larger economic agendas force scholarly research to return to those times of haphazard, random (and often abandoned) attempts to categorize, index, and abstract information. Should that occur, we will inhibit, rather than facilitate, access to and use of the vast wealth of information provided by the world's scholars.
Print Monograph Dead; Invent New Publishing Model by Marshall Poe
E-Books Produced by Purdue University Press
In January of this year, Purdue University Press launched an e-book monograph imprint, Digital-I books [formerly http://www.thepress.purdue.edu/digital.htm]. The model was set up to help in those areas of scholarly publishing in which traditional print runs would be small, 200 or under. Coupled with the imprint was the opportunity to have a traditional book printed in paperback at very small quantities, 50 or less when needed to fill orders. We put out our first title in the imprint, Italian/American Short Films and Music Videos: A Semiotic Reading by Professor Anthony Julian Tamburri, Florida Atlantic University. As part of the contract provisions, we provided the author a PDA on which he could display his book to those he met at conferences and his university.
We are currently in the process of creating a series of ebooks in the field of comparative culture under the editorship of Steven Totosy who is the editor of the online journal CLCweb. We have also had discussions with the editor of Studies in Romance Literature about this model.
When I read about the trials an author has in publishing a limited-interest monograph (Marshall Poe), I am struck by the lack of interest by my fellow university presses. Still, I also understand that tenure decisions are not made in bytes yet. While Purdue University Press is small, other UPs have a lot invested in the traditional book-production process, and even when we offer the e-alternative to authors, they balk. However, the e-book will actually be a help propagate scholarship in areas that might never see the light of print.
Returning Scientific Publishing to Scientists by Allison Buckholtz
William J. Pesce, President and CEO of John Wiley & Sons, Misquoted
Allison Buckhotz's article entitled "Returning Scientific Publishing to Scientists" in the July issue of The Journal of Electronic Publishing refers to misquoted and misinterpreted remarks attributed to William J. Pesce, President and CEO of John Wiley & Sons, Inc., in the June 29 issue of Professional Publishing Report (PPR). The inaccurate reporting was subsquently corrected in PPR's August 10 issue.
The PPR article is a material distortion of Mr. Pesce's response to questions posed by a stockholder during Wiley's Fiscal 2001 Year-end Conference Call, resulting from the writer's misinterpretation of Mr. Pesce's actual comments and her incorrect attribution to him of certain connections and conclusions. The misstatements would lead one to believe that Wiley has acted in response to SPARC. This is simply not true, and not what he communicated during the conference call. What is true, and is supported by his reponse, is that Wiley has been addressing customer concerns — some, but by no means all, of which are of concern to SPARC and other entities as well.
While I realize that your use of erroneous material was not intentional, I am nonetheless concerned that your readers will be misled by this inaccurate account of the dialogue, as Ms. Buckholz apparently was misled. Therefore, I respectfully request that a correction be published as soon as possible.
General Praise (We Love It!)
Table of Contents
One simple good thing JEP does is to notify readers of the contents of each issue and to summarize the articles. This is not, but should be, the universal practice of electronic journals. It makes you feel you are indeed a subscriber and helps you to decide which, if any, articles you want to read. When you have to go to a Web site to see if a new journal issue has appeared, you never remember the prospective issue date, the deadline may not be kept (journals are often VERY late), and, in short order, you no longer keep up with the journal. So, my compliments to the editor for her regular notification and helpful article summaries.
JEP Creates Internet Guru
I am most impressed with this latest issue of the journal.
It has much valuable information to which I have referred (with acknowledgment, of course) in my weekly information bulletin for this company. With your help (and the help of many others) I am getting the reputation of an Internet guru.
General Suggestions (We Listen!)
Please consider changing your HTML so that text is rendered as black, not dark purple (or whatever you want to call "#333366").
When you try to print an article for later reading away from the computer, the printer renders the dark purple as a shade of gray. The result is that all the type on the printout has a "fuzzy" look that degrades legibility.
Remember that any print or online design is supposed to aid communication, not hinder it.
Ed Note: JEP is looking at a redesign for the August 2002 issue, and text will be black.
Hypertext by Mindy McAdams and Stephanie Berger
Important Though Not Entirely New
In reaction to the recent hypertext paper published in JEP, I would like to start by saying that the authors take up a very interesting and important though not entirely new discussion (as also shown in their reference list). In my opinion, they treat the subject seriously and adequately.
If you consider changing the format of JEP from articles-ready-to-print (electronic delivery of linear texts) to hypertext-for-online-reading-only, the implementation (layout) should be reconsidered carefully. Most responses to the text so far correctly point at the readability issue which is not only a question of the right (or useful) ordering of the chunks of texts (or modules) and the links between them, but also one of layout and navigational aids. In the vast hypertext literature, this is being discussed intensively.
I would like to make the editors, the authors, and the readers aware of two recent publications, addressing, among others, this issue of the readability of hypertexts. The first by Bruce Douglas Ingraham, entitled "Scholarly Rhetoric in Digital Media" is to be found in two versions: http://www-jime.open.ac.uk/00/ingraham/ is the version currently under revision for JIME, the Journal of Interactive Media in Education, and http://www.navihedron.com/php/view.php3?navihedron_id=780 [link no linger active] is a navihedron implementation of the same text.
The second "paper", entitled "The Future of Academic Knowledge Representation in the Age of Cyberscience" is authored by me and was presented to last year's American Political Science Association annual conference. This paper comes also in two versions. One for online reading (printing is not recommended) http://www.oeaw.ac.at/ita/ebene5/dsk/APSA/ and one which is also apt for printing in PDF format: http://www.oeaw.ac.at/ita/ebene5/dsk/APSA/apsa2000.pdf. In addressing the issue of readability practically, I have added "paths" to follow and a site map ("structure") for orientation. I hope that my theoretical discussion of readability will be fruitful also to this audience.
Note: Dr. Nentwich is the author of "Quality Filters in Electronic Publishing" in JEP's September, 1999 issue.
Applause — and a Site Map
I applaud the attempt to create a true hypertext document out of a research article and take advantage of the possibilities of the medium. I think, however, that the article should have had its own site map as the underlined phrases on the right of the text did not enhance comprehension of the what the article was about in its entirety. Secondly, the titles on each Web page did not print out, causing some confusion in putting the text together after printing it out.
I would also suggest a print-out version in old-fashioned linear format for those who want to print out, rather than read online. Also, I concur with another reader who mentioned the difficulties of reading on Web pages with blue backgrounds. Not easy.
Like the New Look
If you want to encourage on-screen reading, this look will do nicely. However, from the letters you've posted, it seems many of your subscribers read JEP after printing it out. I know I would have found "Hypertext" to be difficult to print out; i.e., did I get all the pieces, in what order should I read them, etc.
That said, I personally like the new look and would continue to read articles in this format.
Intriguing, Disorienting and Frustrating
While I find the concept of hypertext intriguing, and the arguments for its use compelling, I found the actual reading of the article "Hypertext" disorienting and frustrating.
The authors write (somewhere within the article, but I would be hard-pressed to indicate where): "If the writer provides access to all the components from the very start of the hypertext (by linking them there), and maintains that same complete access in each component, then the reader can construct a thread almost at will — whatever path the reader takes will become the thread for that reader."
This kind of complete access wasn't provided, and if it was, I missed it even though I was looking for it. The top page only had links to four components, and each component had its own set of links. Just when I thought I had perused all the components I'd find there was another link to something I hadn't seen yet. Although I welcome the opportunity to skip around and "construct my own threads" that hypertext has the potential to give me, I don't want it at the expense of having a sense of the whole, even if that whole is nonlinear.
Online Reading vs. Printing
I'd like to toss in my personal view on the issue of reading materials online or printing them for later viewing. When I have the time and access, I read online. Like most, when I find an article that I want to read at a later time, and I know I will not have access to a computer, I print it out. Although I consider myself something of an environmentalist, the issue of "saving trees" doesn't enter into this discussion, at least for me. This is an issue of knowledge transfer and media choices.
The medium in which the journal is presented to me (online, print, CD, etc.) is often entirely separate from the medium in which I choose to read it. There is nothing inherently better in reading a straightforward text article online vs. printed on paper. This changes dramatically, however, when the material is in hypertext format or other interactive format that has non-linear flow and doesn't often allow easy printing (as neatly discussed in the recent JEP article "Hypertext" by Mindy McAdams and Stephanie Berger).
One suggestion to address this in the short-term: publishers of these varying types of materials (linear text vs. non-linear hypertext) ought to provide a compact, printable version of the document for download as an appendix to an electronic article. Treat the hypertext as footnotes or end-text. Some context and information flow may be lost, but that is a loss accepted by the person printing an article in a non-hypertext format.
Perhaps in the near future, we will all have personal readers (E-books, PDAs, etc.) available to us at all times that will allow us to transfer selected materials and peruse them in their native format at our leisure. Although that day isn't here, yet, it's coming. . .
I gave up on the McAdams and Berger article in the March issue of JEP because I couldn't read it. The font is okay but it is set against a background of blue wallpaper. Black on blue makes for poor contrast and, therefore, eye fatigue. Times New Roman on plain white would better serve both your authors and readers.
When hypertext is better
To the Authors:
I'm scared and confused. As a reader I've always counted on the writer to lead me through his or her text in whatever tortured manner the writer felt best. As an electronic-publishing specialist I strive to return that control to the reader through the interfaces I create. Until I made my way through your article, I never fully realized how disoriented a user can become when they really do have control.
You succeed with your article where many others fail. The result, for me, was the decent into anomie and the very strong desire to stop reading before I got to the end — or beginning, in a non-linear sense. Suddenly, I was not in an orderly place being led paternalistically toward a logical story conclusion, I was in a Chinese restaurant with so many choices, I couldn't even get a glass of water.
I have to go now so that I can re-read your work.
The Latest Issue
The excellent Landesman/van Reenen piece prompts me to ask whether anyone has remarked on another possible "zero-sum" feature of the economics of electronic publishing:
Except for high-priced scientific journals, the conventional publication and dissemination of scholarly information tends to be inherently unprofitable because of the fixed cost of preparation and limited demand for the output. If electronic availability does not significantly increase that demand, the unprofitable relationship remains. Hence you now have providers of electronic scholarly resources announcing that their profits will actually be generated by accompanying sales of related books, courses, or advertising. But to whom, if the user universe remains essentially the same size?
Responses to the June, 2000 Issue
The Chinese Word for Crisis
"Motivational speakers like to talk about how the Chinese word for "crisis" is made up of the ideograms for 'danger' and 'opportunity.'" (From the Editor's Gloss)
I don't know what motivational speakers you have studied, but obviously not Chinese. I liked the idea above very much and took a deeper look into the background. To my disappointment, there's not much reality in it, as a professor of Chinese told me.
"Crisis" is made up of two ideograms, wei and kjei. Wei means danger but kjei does not stand for opportunity, but for mechanism, mechanic, action, drive, driving force. And that seems quite obvious for me: a crisis is simply danger in action.
What works well for Chinese must not fit well enough for motivational speakers. . .
PS: I love the JEP.
Already Being Done
Much of what Bruce Edmonds suggest in his paper "A Proposal for the Establishment of Review Boards" is being implemented in Noesis: Philosophical Research On-line available at http://noesis.evansville.edu/bin/index.cgi. We are still in the early stages of our work, but the basic concept is there. As it is, we have found that the Noesis 2.0 model (and the one described in your paper) is still a bit unworkable. It involves quite a bit of person-to-person coordination. The final solution, we believe, is in a method that auto-organizes the academic Internet and determines its quality by watching the activities of users whose identity we know. They do what they would do naturally, and we turn it into an organized and quality-regulated dataset. Consequently, we are heading now in a different direction. But we did give the earlier model a try.
To learn more, please see my earlier paper, "Evaluating Search Engine Models for Scholarly Purposes" at http://www.dlib.org/dlib/december98/12beavers.html. It's outdated now, but it does show where we've been. I can't say at the moment where we are headed, but I am working on a paper to describe the algorithms.
The Latest Issue
As usual, excellent contents. But once again my difficulty reading on screen. Scrolling through Hodge I didn't pick up who ultimately bears responsibility. Traditionally it has been the library or archive, sometimes a commercial entity . At one point, the Commission on Preservation and Access was actually considering whether the publisher would have to pick up the slack. If I had the print in front of me, I would probably look back. I also think Edmonds might have mentioned the possible reluctance of academic reviewers to subject their imperfect written comments to public scrutiny.
Archiving and Mirroring
I read your editor's page about the loss of your March issue, etc. May I suggest that a journal such as yours should be archived and mirrored? In the case of CLCweb (previously a Canadian-published journal with a Canadian ISSN), for instance, the National Library of Canada performs such a service as part of the library's function of preserving the publications of the country. Would the Library of Congress not perform a similar service as part of the preservation process? If this is not available, you should have a mirror site somewhere: perhaps this is what you mean when you say that now your journal is saved somewhere else each month.
From your response to the subscription form:
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The silly thought occurred to me that JEP could have, on the form for prospective subscribers [as they are not yet subscribers while filling out the form], a drop-down list of ice cream flavors. Now, as the purpose of the form is to encourage unfettered, freely flowing text, this would of course hinder the intent.
But the fact that it occurred to me at all says something about an on-line mentality; we're filling out information for storage in computers, information that will probably never be read by a human being. We're expected to sort and structure the information for easy database storage.
I'm not quite certain what this means, just yet, but it sounds like a particularly impressive pontification, so it of course must point to something more profound — possibly a future article.
For the record, Mr. Fein's favorite ice-cream flavor is coffee. We know that because we read the information he submitted. —J.A.T.
SGML and PDF: Why We Need Both
I found your article using Hotbot.com and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We are in the middle of a SGML versus PDF debate and Mr. Kasdorf's ideas will help us work together.
Young Turks and Pontificating Nerds
I enjoyed Peter Grenquist's comments about electronic publishing, "Why I Don't Read Electronic Journals." Kudos and best wishes to him. He is a worthy candidate for your masthead and I am confident he could provide some pithy editorial commentary in the future, possibly serving in an editor-at-large capacity. Give him a byline and let him provide a healthy balance to the young Turks and pontificating nerds et al.
Questions About Printing
When you become a subscriber to JEP, you are asked for an unsolicited opinion. One subscriber had a couple of questions so interesting that we pass them on to you. Please send replies to email@example.com. The best will be printed. —J.A.T.
- How many JEP subscribers make paper copies of articles they want to read?
- How many people would bother with electronic journals if they didn't own a printer?
- How many JEP subscribers make paper copies of articles they want to read?
Despite having developed the knack for reading online, since I'm at work, and since I often do not have the time to read at work, I print a copy of a must-read article to read on the way home.
- How many people would bother with electronic journals if they didn't own a printer?
Probably not that many? But this is beside the point in that the issue is rather one of access, affordability, and convenience.
When reading articles on the web (JEP and other) at work, I rarely print them out unless I'm worried that the link will eventually expire. I just bookmark the page or, if a PDF is available, download it. For academic work, however, I do need paper copies to highlight, shuffle around, and array in front of me. When writing, I have to have the sources I'm citing in front of me on the desk so I can flip back and forth, see a significant chunk of more than one thing at once (a pesky limitation of computer monitors), and toss it on the floor when I'm done with it.
My printer at home has been broken for a while, and I've just done without. I don't read less on the Web at home as a result.
How many JEP subscribers make paper copies of articles they want to read?
I gather it would be a high but declining percentage of readers. I personally have a strong dislike of "dead-tree-archives," so I don't print them out. . .
How many people would bother with electronic journals if they didn't own a printer?
See above: opinion doesn't change.
If you're still keeping track of this:
I look at the JEP online just long enough to decide which articles I want to read first, then I save them to my computer as HTML source, and print them out after I've gone offline.
I will take the printed articles home, along with my laptop computer, which I mention to make the point that, even though I could read them on-screen in different locations on my laptop, I am infinitely more comfortable with a few pieces of paper in hand. I can walk around the house with it; I can lie on the couch with it. I can annotate it and I can easily photocopy my annotated copy for a coworker.
I don't read online for long stretches for another practical reason: I don't have unlimited hours to be online, but rather xx number of hours per month.
- If I had an Internet connection but no printer, I'd read a lot less, especially when it comes to things that run more than a page or two / screen-depth or two.
Reply to Your Unsolicited Opinion Questions in June Issue
Hello! Yes, I print a copy of the electronic newsletter; I find that I cannot (or should I say I don't) read the articles on my computer screen.
It is hard to answer the question about the printer. I have one so it is not an issue. But if I didn't have a printer, I would still subscribe to the newsletter and I would be more selective about what I read.
Regarding Questions About Printing in your Potpourri section:
How many JEP subscribers make paper copies of articles they want to read?
I read all JEP articles on the computer screen. I am used to reading this way and don't get tired unless the article is very long (some JEP articles are long!). Printing the articles is a waste of ink. If I want a copy of an article, I download the file to the hard disk or to a floppy disk.
How many people would bother with electronic journals if they didn't own a printer?
I would use them all the same without a printer.
Review: Good for Those Who Like That Kind of Thing
We received notice of Anatomy of Fire, a book written and published on line. Here is a review of that book by a member of JEP's Editorial Board. We welcome other opinions. —J.A.T.
I took quick trip through this fun and interesting book. I like what I read and saw.
However, this old reader finds reading more than a few paragraphs from a screen to be challenging. For people who can read long documents from a screen, this one is worthwhile.
Opinion: Ditch Those Issues!
Please remember to un-shackle your publication from constraints that are related to the print environment. For example, another journal has a bulletin board that publishes articles when they are available, rather than conforming to the print model of "issues" at a set time interval.
I must counter with a resounding "No!" If new articles may become available for reading at any time, one finds oneself checking on a regular basis to see if there are any. I simply don't have that kind of leisure time. If I checked three or four times and found nothing new, it would be a long time before I got around to looking again, and if, some time later, I came back to find eighty new things posted since I'd last looked, I would probably turn around and walk away (so to speak).
That format may be appropriate for other types of information-exchange, but this is a Professional Journal, and there are good reasons for grouping articles together the way print journals do.
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