Magazine article Information Today

FIZ Karlsruhe Celebrates 25 Years: Intelligent Decisions and State Support Have Helped It Reach This Milestone. (IT Feature)

Magazine article Information Today

FIZ Karlsruhe Celebrates 25 Years: Intelligent Decisions and State Support Have Helped It Reach This Milestone. (IT Feature)

Article excerpt

This year the German not-for-profit information center FIZ Karlsruhe marks its silver jubilee. Having survived the hard years of public-funding scarcity, could it now become a model for information provision in the future?

Background

On June 6 everyone who is anyone in the German information industry gathered in the Festhalle Stutensee near Karlsruhe to celebrate the anniversary. Adding excitement to the festivities was news that the German federal government has been rethinking the funding of scientific research. For FIZ Karlsruhe this has brought a specific commitment that state support will be held at current levels for the next 4 years. "It was good news indeed," said professor Georg Schultheiss, managing director of FIZ Karlsruhe. "Although less than 20 percent of our funding now comes from the government, the decision to stabilize the situation will be an immense help in planning for the future. It is also a strong endorsement of everything that we have been doing."

Founded by the German government in 1977 following the merger of five German scientific institutions, FIZ Karlsruhe was created as part of a plan to build a national network of state-funded information centers. In total, 16 FIZes (FachInformationsZentrum) were planned. Notable among the others were FIZ Chemie and FIZ Technik.

But as Western economies saw state funding increasingly go out of favor, the number of FIZes dwindled to five. Those surviving have faced constant pressure to wean themselves of state aid. Lately many had assumed that all those remaining would eventually be closed, sold off, or privatized.

Turning Point

June's announcement, however, suggests that this may no longer be the case. Moreover, some believe that the German government's decision could prove to be a turning point for the industry at large. Certainly it underlines rising concern over the increasing privatization of scientific information, whereby large multinational (generally U.S.-based) companies are threatening to become the sole distributors of vital research information--and are therefore able to hold scientists and national governments for ransom.

In any case, the 360 people celebrating FIZ Karlsruhe's 25th birthday were happy to see the government's commitment of continued support as a positive sign for the future. While only two speakers were scheduled to talk, the enthusiasm of those gathered proved such that 11 speeches were eventually made. Hopes for the future aside, the fact that an organization dependent on funds from the public purse has survived the past 25 years--and in an industry that has seen so many casualties--was clearly cause enough for celebration. After all, over the years there has been no shortage of commentators who would have been happy to write FIZ Karlsruhe's obituary.

What, then, has proved the secret to its success? "What is special about FIZ Karlsruhe is that it was a government initiative that was almost closed down at various points in the past, but through good management and technological expertise has flourished," said Arnoud de Kemp, a keynote speaker at the celebration and a director at German publisher Springer-Verlag.

Schultheiss is quite clear about why FIZ Karlsruhe has survived. "Firstly, we fanned an international network; secondly, we developed a very sophisticated search system; and thirdly, we created an effective one-stop shop for sci-tech information."

Beyond Germany

Vitally, FIZ Karlsruhe realized at the outset that it had to look beyond the German market alone for its services. For that reason, in 1983 it partnered with CAS--a division of the American Chemical Society--to create the STN International online service. Launched in 1984, STN soon attracted the attention of the Japanese, and in 1986 the Tokyo-based Japan Science and Technology Corp. (JST) became a third partner.

To its credit, STN prefigured a key aspect of the Web. …

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