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Faxon Institute Colloquium Electronic
Publishing and the Scholarly Communication Process
January 7-8, 1997
To better understand what is happening and where we are headed in the scholarly communication process, we inevitably focus on electronic publishing, especially in the sciences.
Generally — and all generalizations are dangerous — there were two major impediments to the discourse at the Faxon colloquium. First, although the words used were familiar to all, there was an absence of a genuinely common vocabulary. Terms such as "value-added," "publication," "full cost" [of providing information], "archival access," and "users" [of information] all seemed to have different meanings for publishers, aggregators, and librarians. A for-profit publisher suggested that there was really no difference between for-profit and not-for-profit publishers. What I believe he intended to say was that the final product (e.g. a journal) should be evaluated based on the value for cost, no matter what the source. Nevertheless, what he said suggested something quite different.
A second major impediment to the discourse was the lack of true dialogue, that is, suspending personal views and values while trying to understand those of others. What was often heard were declarations or assertions that staked out and fortified a position. It may certainly be argued that at least the different players were hearing the positions and concerns of other players, which is a helpful exercise. However, in order to move toward a more productive relationship, more genuine listening and questioning for understanding must take place.
Lag Time vs. Real Time
A recurrent theme throughout the roundtable discussions was that laws and a common understanding about roles, rights, and relationships were lagging far behind what was really happening in the scholarly communication arena. Publishers, aggregators and librarians are engaged in Wild West of licensing and legal maneuvering to make electronic information available. While there is clearly a movement toward simplified and standardized license agreements, the motivation probably comes as much from the desire to reduce the cost of legal fees to amend licenses as it does from thoughtful concern for the needs of an information society. It is not clear how significant tenets of law, such as the doctrine of first sale, are to be addressed in a vapor-like electronic world. One hopes the legislation currently pending in the House and Senate to update copyright and related intellectual-property law in an electronic era will restore some balance and stability to the relationships.
Listening to Mickey
While the mouse may be small, Disney and other entertainment-oriented content providers will have a large role in deciding how intellectual property is managed in an electronic information environment. Entertainment-oriented content has a significantly different purpose and history than scholarly communication. Entertainment is an optional (but important) part of our lives and we are used to paying by the drink for what we want or can afford. Scholarly communication, on the other hand, drives the intellectual and economic engines of society; it is necessary and it longs to be free and unencumbered. Yet it seems entirely possible that the laws governing downloading a film clip of Mickey Mouse will also apply to information embodied in a physics article.
"It would move the discourse forward if we hear from some of those who are paying the pipers for the tunes"
Among the Missing
Future colloquia should include more participants in the information food chain. Authors, who are both creators and consumers of information, need to be present. Consumers of information who are not authors should also be heard, for they will help determine how information is used and will add how much they are willing (or able) to pay. As governing agencies issue an increasingly loud and clear cry for greater accountability and for providing more with the same or fewer resources, it would move the discourse forward if to hear from some of those who are paying the pipers for the tunes: legislators, regents, and trustees.
The many problems and issues arising from the collapse of time and space in the world of information need to be examined creatively and fundamentally. As Einstein is reported to have said, The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.
Douglas E. Jones has been with the University of Arizona Library since 1979, and has been active at the library, campus, and national levels. At the UA Library he has served as team leader of the science-engineering team, chair of the task force on access/ownership, chair of the strategic long-range planning team, and coordinator for computer-reference services and collection development in the sciences.
He has served as secretary/treasurer of the U.S. Agricultural Information Network and on the editorial boards of Oryx Press and the Journal of Agricultural and Food Information. He currently serves on the Library Advisory Board of the Optical Society of America, the University of Arizona's strategic-planning and budget-advisory committee, and the Association of College and Research Libraries government-relations committee. The subjects of his publications and presentations include library organization, serials inflation, and agricultural-information sources.