Electronic Publishing: The Library and Scholarly Activity

By Nelson, Nancy Malin | Information Today, June 1991 | Go to article overview

Electronic Publishing: The Library and Scholarly Activity


Nelson, Nancy Malin, Information Today


The Faxon Institute for Advanced Studies in Scholarly and Scientific Communication presented its second annual conference in late April. Entitled "Creating User Pathways to Electronic Information," the program brought together experts, practitioners, and analysts from publishing, information science, the public and private sector, management and consulting, and from academica.

The program commenced on a Sunday evening as conferees gathered to listen to the keynote speech of Michael Schrage, author/columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Schrage's assignment was "to explore the role of electronic tools and technologies which are reshaping relationships from communication activities to collaboration processes."

Schrage, speaking to an audience composed almost entirely of librarians, insisted we should substitute the word 'information' for 'relationship' in our speech, writing and thought, and even in our slogans. "They (relationships) are what are important. Think in terms of communities not individuals, and improved productivity, products, and the quality of life will come with community actions," he opined.

Noting that the "current thinking in information processing systems is 'carrel-based,'" Schrage reminded us that carrels are derived from the medieval workstation concept. "We should be making communities-based aids, not personal-based aids," he said. The future of scientific-scholarly publishing is in "the creation, care, and feeding of virtual communities."

Lyman: Pamphleteeing in the '90's

Peter Lyman, executive director of the Center for Scholarly Technology and Associate Dean for Library Technology at the University of California, opened the first full day of sessions with a look at "New Formats in Electronic Publishing: From Bulletin boards to Scholarly Journals." He compared today's publishing environment, the desktop, to the 17th and 18th centuries and the co-joint development of the printing press and graphical information schemes.

According to Lyman, because of the advent of desktop publishing, we are now experiencing an upheaval in scholarly communication; the resultant commotion we are observing may be akin to the environment created by the rise of pamphleteering in the 17th century. As a result, says Lyman, "the library is wherever scholarly activities are occuring. The library can help create as well as deliver information. It can be interactive."

One important example is reflected in the publishing process for the 1990 census. According to Lyman, the census is the only research mandated by our national Constitution. It is important, he notes, that the 1990 census will only be published in digital form, on 350 CD-ROMs to be exact. This is an historic transformation, he notes, as the "data on CD-ROMs is invisible." Research on the census now requires of an individual a new kind of literacy in order to read it. And, "because the census data is on the workstation, the workstation IS the database."

Understanding Connections: Content,

Format, Use

Lyman emphasized that it is now essential to understand the connection between the CONTENT of an item, its FORMAT, and its intended USE to determine what medium is appropriate for its presentation. We may communicate by phone, by letter, by E Mail, or fax. And it is very easy to make a mistake and send people messages in the wrong format.

Additionally, list servers are replacing face-to-face committee meetings. But E Mail lacks social cues. Lyman likens this to a bandwidth problem; E Mail lacks tone of voice, facial cues, and body language for this reason. Nonetheless, "this new means of communication may help us to see new things."

While electronic mail ties together a community--"the word of electronic mouth"--it has, as well, produced an information overload. Lyman sees the librarian's role as a 'conservator of knowledge.' "More and more it will be our mission to 'find' knowledge and decide on a qualitative basis what to throw away. …

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