Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Of Barriers and Breakthroughs

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Of Barriers and Breakthroughs

Article excerpt

Electronic journal publishing via high-speed wide-area networks such as the Internet is in its infancy, as evidenced in part by the relative paucity of these journals. According to the Directory of Electronic Journals and Newsletters (Michael Strangelove and Diane Kovacs, ARL, 1991), there are about thirty electronic journals and over sixty newsletters and digests published over the Internet.

These numbers are sure to change as publications come and go and are likely out of date at this writing. Nevertheless, this compares with 100,000 or more print journals of all types worldwide.

While new titles will continue to appear over time, it is difficult to say with certainty what the rate of growth will be for this mode of publishing. My estimation is that it will remain slow and the number of titles will remain few until some of the many obstacles to electronic publishing are removed or circumvented.

Computing, communications, and networking technologies have converged to produce the first favorable environment capable of sustaining the life of an electronic journal; yet this troika of technological progenitors presents new and sometimes unprecedented barriers to growth and development. For the many benefits realized by electronic networking, there remain some stubborn hindrances.

A chief barrier, network access, is diminishing daily as new users connect to and log on networks worldwide. Network growth in recent years has been sustained at a nearly exponential rate. The Internet community has grown large enough to include authors, editors, publishers, and readers, and a largely informal publishing effort has arisen to serve the community's information needs.

However, despite rapid and significant networking efforts at national, regional, campus, and office levels, ubiquity is not yet a reality. The Internet remains a nonentity for many who would both contribute to and benefit from its communication and publication capabilities.

Electronic networking has essentially demolished geographical barriers, redefined our concepts of time and distance, and, in library terms, begun the gradual shift in emphasis from local holdings to remote access. Electronic journals are only present, however, when the equipment necessary to access and display them is available. For many, access is still the primary obstacle.

Early versions of the one-time visionary's dream of the scholar's workstation -- powerful desktop access to remote text, data, and computing resources -- are beginning to appear in laboratories, research facilities, computing centers, and offices.

As soon as the workstation and network connection arrive in the office, however, users are sure to want to work elsewhere: on the road, at home, at meetings and conferences, in planes, trains, and automobiles. While these capabilities are developing, the very need for access beyond the office walls underscores the hard boundaries of network itself. Access is everything.

Developing a Community

Among some groups of professionals, networks are instrumental in the development of newly formed communities of common interest. Electronic mail, discussion lists, journals, and newsletters flow through new-found channels and provide a sense of common experience for those who participate by reading or contributing. In this respect, some professional and social barriers have fallen or been transformed.

Network connectivity provides easy access to the members of the networked community, and, in many ways, publishing of various sorts is much easier in a network environment. …

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