Running the Boston Marathon: SLA 1996
Feldman, Susan E., Searcher
Location is everything, according to real estate brokers. The same appears to hold true for delivery of information services, if this year's SLA exhibits are any indication. In 1996, vendors seem riveted on the "Where" of finding information. All of the major, and most of the smaller, information services made the leap to the Web. This is in marked contrast to our impression in October 1995 that Lotus Notes had become the delivery medium of choice.
The new movement toward the Web proves the triumph of pragmatism over altruism. Standards such as Z39.50, HTML, and SGML have been around for years. Last year, no one cared about conforming to them. Proprietary solutions allowed improved functionality and features, most vendors claimed. HTML was confining and a pain to create. Browsers were too limiting in their presentation of materials, and besides, the Web is stateless, so you can't build sets or create a search history. ("Stateless" means each interaction is a fresh one. The system holds no memory of previous searches and will not support search sets.)
Enter the ubiquity of the World Wide Web. Now everyone has a Web page. Suddenly, users can create search histories and the Web need not be stateless. There are so many automatic HTML creators that it's hard to choose among them. EBSCO has discovered Z39.50, and so has Ovid. Disclosure is going everyone one better and creating its pages in SGML, not just HTML, betting that they can move ahead of the game as everyone migrates to the full-scale SGML, instead of its subset version, HTML.
No one has arrived at a standard for presenting graphics, however. At least I didn't see any stampedes. Some set vices provide text only. Some provide graphs and charts in Adobe Acrobat's PDF (Portable Document Format) format. Some present an exact bit-mapped replica of an original, printed periodical page. Most vendors think graphics are a good idea. Some only care about "nongratuitous" graphics -- those bearing information, like tables, rather than just decoration.
The information industry is hedging its bets, though, if our gallop through the SLA '96 conference exhibits is any indication. Old delivery media will not die soon-- or fade away. Want to dial Lexis-Nexis direct? No problem. How about telnet-ing to KRI/Dialog? Go ahead. Groupware delivery of news for your LAN or Intranet? No sooner said than done. A veritable smorgasbord of delivery methods lies before hungry users this year. If there was any theme for this collection of conference exhibits, it was that data collection sits squarely at the center of a multiplicity of access methods. Users can choose whichever mix they prefer.
On the Run
I ran two floors of exhibits at a gallop and still had time for a couple of programs. Here are some highlights:
The Boston Chapter of SLA staged a notable welcome. They dished up chowder on Sunday to anyone who entered the exhibits area. I joined the Chowder and Marching Society and marched on to Floor 1, only to be caught immediately at the Disclosure booth, which lurked, with Dow Jones beside it, as a fascinating Scylla and Charybdis at the entrance. I must admit it, the fancy coffee at the Disclosure booth drew me in first.
Academic Press is jumping into the Internet with both feet. Their three-year IDEAL project is putting 175 titles, starting with 1996 issues, on the WWW, and adding 2,000 articles each month. Access will involve site licensing agreements with academic institutions and library consortia. End users can get "unlimited viewing, searching, copying, downloading and printing for personal research or company internal business purposes," but no interlibrary loan is permitted outside a consortium.
Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (BNA)
BNA offers a 30-day trial of its products, available through Lotus Notes Newstand or the Internet (http://www .bna.com/newstand). …