In 1983 I made a speech at the ALA Annual Conference. That speech, titled "Electronic Access to Journals," was a publisher's perspective on the future access to journals. I quoted a Library of Congress staff member who had said to me that "the train of electronic access to journals was leaving the station, and publishers had better get on board or it will leave without them." My response in 1983 was that "publisher activity [in advancing electronic access] will be uneven and that [electronic access] will happen in fits and starts in a patchwork fashion over the next decade or longer."(1)
Well, now that decade has passed. As a planner, I feel slightly satisfied that my analysis ten years ago was reasonably accurate. Improvements in electronic access to journals and other scholarly information during the past decade have been patchy at best. Some progress has been made, but not yet the revolution. At the same time, as an evangelist for electronic access, I feel great disappointment that we as a community--scholars, librarians, and publishers--still seem to be standing on the brink of the breakthrough. But now I would agree with the LC staffer: it is imminent and urgent.
I want to examine three things related to electronic publishing and distribution: first, the national context; second, six specific issues which have to be dealt with; and third, some specific media, services, and experiments.
NREN, PDAs, and Ubiquitous Digital Libraries
First, I want to discuss visions of electronic information dissemination at the national, or macro, level. I do this because these visions have become the context in which we all work, and they will affect the technology and the economics of our work and perhaps even the legal infrastructure.
Ten years ago we were not talking of an NREN or a National Information Infrastructure or a wireless palmtop computer and personal digital assistant. I doubt any reporter had written of cyberspace in the New York Times. National Public Radio was not doing stories on electronic journals as they are now. We did not have a president or vice-president who understood the power of networks and who had Internet addresses in the White House. Ten years ago we didn't have the Internet.
Now we live in an electronic field of dreams. We believe that if we build it, they will come, where "they" are every man, woman, and child in the nation. In his introduction to the High Performance Computing and High Speed Networking Applications Act of 1993, Representative Rick Boucher said in April 1993: "Our goal is for every individual in his or her home or office to be able to obtain access to any library in the nation, to utilize an electronic index, retrieve a particular document, and print that out on his or her laser printer, all within a matter of minutes." A formidable vision and goal. Real-time access to everything and a laser printer in every house. The 1990s equivalent of a chicken in every pot.
In a July 1993 meeting convened by the Librarian of Congress, Vice-President Gore articulated his vision, summarized as that "of a young child at home accessing, in exciting, captivating, and energizing forms, an entire universe of knowledge. This universe would be available in ways that corresponded with that child's natural curiosity, responding instantaneously to questions as they occurred to the child."(2)
At the same meeting, Senator Robert Kerrey of Nebraska and Representative Newt Gingrich of Georgia articulated their visions of the power of the network. Senator Kerrey focused on education, with ubiquitous network access to all information enriching classrooms, improving learning at home, and enhancing remote adult education. Earlier in 1993, Kerrey proposed legislation to seed the establishment of a central digital library in each state, which would make information available to every part of the state and to every citizen and community. Representative Gingrich, as a Republican, was perhaps more reluctant to advocate what could be interpreted as a growth in government. …