The State of Online in Italy

Article excerpt

As in most European countries, online database systems in Italy were originally, and still largely are, issues of public institutions and organisations. Online searching is a relatively recent procedure, compared with the U.S., originally confined to documentation centres and scientific libraries, and gradually extended to other sectors where "fresh" data are essential, such as business and finance.

Only since 1982 Italian databases (following the European trend) have considerably increased and are still increasing in anticipation of 1992, when free circulation of goods and services will be permitted within the countries of the European Economic Community. This upward trend appears also in the quality of information proliferating online, i.e., databases concerning market researches and forecasts, which are likely to increase still more in the future, both online and on CD-ROM. The EEC has recently created a special organism called IMPACT (Information Market Policy Action), where legislation is being discussed concerning personal data protection and the right to privacy, and proposals are being elaborated in favour of European libraries, intended to promote cooperation and give a push to telematic services.

These initiatives are all evidence of the proper attention that online searching is receiving throughout all West European countries and a consequence of the great effervescence of the single market. Increase in demand for online information is widespread, with an interesting interaction of the new media CDROM, videotex). It is to be noted, however, that European databases are still mostly confined to their national markets, and also limited linguistically, which may represent a restriction to their full exploitation.

The recent increase and diversification of online has stimulated a remarkable growth of consumers:

* Italian online users represent 10%

of all Western European users

* United Kingdom (34%)

* Germany (20%)

* France (13%)

In this connection it has been calculated that the Italian market has presented the most significant expansion. In the period 1987-89 the annual turnover of database manufacturers and distributors in Europe has recorded average increases of 20% and 13% respectively. The growth rate in Italy has been by far more substantial, with an increase of 67.9% for manufacturers, while distributors have achieved, in the single Italian market, an overall turnover higher than the one attained in the rest of Europe [1].

Online searching in Italy was given a great impetus in 1984 by the establishment of ITAPAC, the Italian packet-switching network run by the state-controlled telephone company, SIP, and allowing direct connection with all hosts, both national and international. Via ITAPAC all Italian database production is accessible to U.S. searchers, on the condition that agreements with the various file suppliers have been made. The Italian packet-switching network is fairly efficient and reliable and seems to have definitely overcome the initial technical difficulties that created so many problems for online searchers in its early phase.

As regards users, scientific documentation centres and libraries of the industrial, services, and banking sectors are the major consumers of the online product in Italy. The quality of searching reflects the information needs of these categories, concentrated on scientific disciplines and technological innovations, patent references, market trends (statistics and forecasts both in Italy and abroad), information on commercial enterprises, economy and finance, Italian and European legislation, and particularly on taxation, import and export duties.

ITALIAN ONLINE SYSTEM USAGE

DIALOG is by far the most frequently used system for online searching in Italy, followed by ESA-IRS, Data-Star, and the Italian system, CERVED, (owned by an association of the Chambers of Commerce). …