Monday, May 08, 2006

Best of Show--What's a Serial When You are Running on Internet Time

The NASIG meeting like most library related meetings is filled with good information offered by knowledgeable people. The one five star presentation this year was made by T. Scott Plutchak, the Director from the University of Alabama Medical School. Scott has a background as a medical library Director, a recent Editor of a Society publication, and an active member of many associations. I heard him give a good speech at the Charleston Conference in November and was looking forward to hearing him at NASIG. He lived up to every expecation.

His speech "What is a Serial When you are running on Internet Time?" provided a well thought out answer to this difficult and troubling area. Many of us in the serials indusry have been wondering about the role of the serial as a format and Scott's presenation provided a clear vision on the future.

According to Scott, the line between a journal, book, and database in the electronic world is being redrawn if not eliminated. We are living with an outdated definition of the serial. Our IT folks would consider all of this electronic information a database. As more and more publishers begin offering an integration of journals and books on the same platform like Springer with Springerlink, the future of the serial as a separate format is limited. However print will not become extinct but find a unique niche.

We are in the first stages of technology development with our shift from print to electronic format. We have simply replicated the existing print products. Almost all of the e-journal offerings from publishers provide desk-top delivery of the traditional print product in electronic form. But hold on to your hats as we are now entering the first stage of innovation to be followed by real transformation. The serial as we know it today will be subjected to radical innovation with the integration of actual data, multimedia programs, and other technology laden features. There is every expection to consider the coming transformation of the serial will have as large an impact as the invention of movable type. Individual articles may become much more like abstracts with far more links to the original research data so that researchers can see and work with the original research data. Expect today's format to change quickly.

With all of this change brings new pressures on the articles within our traditional serials format. One immediate problem is version control. There is a NISO/ALPSP Working Group on Versions of Journal Articles underway to try to deal with the "article of record" problem. Consider the author that submits an article for publication, the publisher completes the final version and publishes electronically. The published version is up on the publisher site, the author version may be up on the University Institutional Respository, or local web site or blog, another version could be deposited on PubMedCentral. In the end, there could easily be three to five different versions of the same article. What happens when an author makes changes or corrections to their original article? The control of all the different versions is a major issue facing our community. What is the version of record or does it makes any difference? I know that publishers have changed articles after publication and so do authors. In the print world this was easily controlled but a new day is here.

Aanother factor affecting the future of the serial is an outgrowth of the failed NIH Public Access Policy (less than 4% of the eligible articles have been posted with NIH researchers following the same pattern) which was a volunteer program to get researchers to deposit their papers on PubMedCentral. While it has just been submitted to Congress, a strong bipartisan bill requiring federal agencies to require researchers to post research results on the internet was introduced on May 2, 2006. The Cornyn-Lieberman bill would require federal agencies that fund more than $100 million dollars in external research grants to require researchers to post their electronic manuscripts of peer reviewed articles publically available in an Open Access vehicle via the Internet. While it is early in the legislative process it has strong bipartisan support and an army of patient and health foundations behind it such as the Genetic Alliance, Muscular Dystrophy, and 67 other groups. The impact of this legislation could forever change the channels of scholarly communication.

In the final analysis, all of the changes will not improve or provide libraries more resources. Scott recommends that librarians get out of the library and work on building relationships with faculty and university administrators to sell their story. Our job is not to build a better library but to use our unique skills to help our community manage knowledge.

Dan Tonkery


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