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E-Journals: Stirring the Waters Birdie MacLennan 06 Feb 1992 05:03 UTC

Electronic publications were the topic of lively and provocative
discussion at at least two of the meetings I attended at ALA-
Midwinter:  the LITA/ALCTS Serials Automation Interest Group, and
the recently formed ALCTS Electronic Publishing Discussion Group.
Both forums were filled to capacity.  In the first forum, Gail
McMillan (Virginia Tech.) and Marilyn Geller (MIT) gave an
overview of work being done at their institutions to facilitate
public awareness of, and access to, e-journals.  In the second
forum, Barbara Winters (Wright State U.) led a discussion that
underscored the need for an ALCTS group to monitor developments
in the area of electronic publishing.  A healthy show of hands,
in this forum, indicated that a large number of people in the
audience were involved in some kind of work to accomodate this
relatively new medium at their home institutions.

Having easy access to an e-mail account and being a beneficiary
of information from numerous e-publications and discussion
forums, I do not question the ripening of the e-medium and/or the
promise that it holds as an alternative to printed sources --
particularly as I watch this year's round of subscription cuts.
Nonetheless, an innocent conversation with colleagues from
reference and collection management departments at my home
institution has led me to wonder if I might not find some tactful
way to play devil's advocate in the current wave of e-journal
controversy.  Here goes:

While many institutions seem concerned with a need to dive head
first into making e-journals as accessible as possible, I wonder
if there are institutions out there that are purposefully
dragging their feet on this issue because: (a) they lack staffing
and/or resources to make e-journals available, (b) they're not
convinced that e-journals could/should fall into the scope of
their missions, (c) they're not convinced that the medium is
"there" yet (i.e., too much text; not enough easy translation of
a graphics capability that is so often necessary in science &
technical literature), or (d) other reasons that haven't been

Informal dialogue with public services staff has indicated that
there's been no demand for public access to e-journals here.  My
perception is that people are encouraged to get e-accounts, offered
guidance on use the networks and the resources they offer, and
taught to go after whatever interests them in a given, or variety
of subject area(s).  If and when there is a need to do more than
this, presumably we'll hear about it and move to make a more
public form of access available...  In the meantime, we're
watching... and waiting... and involved in many other projects
that demand our attention.

What are other people/institutions doing?  I'd be particularly
interested in hearing from some of our overseas colleagues on
this one...

             Birdie MacLennan
             University of Vermont

P.S.  This commentary is my own and does not necessarily reflect
      the views of my institution.