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Cost of the Journal of Molecular Structure & others Albert Henderson 13 Dec 1999 13:52 UTC

pm Fri, 10 Dec 1999  Dan Kniesner <kniesner@OHSU.EDU> wrote:

> Albert Henderson wrote, in part, regarding Harold Varmus and his proposal
> for E-Biomed at NIH:
> >Perhaps E-Biomed fulfilled some dark campaign promise. It didn't fly of
> course. What's left is a runtish shadow of the utopian dream he offered.
> I cannot agree that E-Biomed is dead or that it is or was a utopian dream.
> Instead, E-Biomed is what we really need.
> Librarians in health sciences libraries who I've talked with were excited
> by and supportive of E-Biomed.  It is a breakthrough concept: linking the
> Pubmed citation database to full-text publications on servers and with a
> guarantee of archiving, all on a very large scale.  Only OCLC has been
> bold enough to offer a similar arrangement (its New FirstSearch).  The
> private sector in publishing has been comparatively timid and ineffective
> -- especially on the subject of archiving, which is of utmost importance
>  to us librarians.

In contrast I believe that E-Biomed represented a major threat
to libraries, librarians, librarianship, and the professional
information scientists who produce disciplinary database
services such as Medline, Biosis, Agricola, etc. I urge you
to look at the historical trend: downsizing for financial
gain and at the expense of the priority of knowledge. The
aim of administrators seems to shift dissemination spending
to various sorts of technology and eliminate the labor
and overhead of libraries and classrooms.

E-Biomed had the seductive attraction of being offered for
"free," as in "free lunch." There is no such thing as "free."
Like photocopying, which justified the decimation of major
library collections, the stunting of library growth and a
consequent closing of at least one famous library school, the
supposed boon would eventually backfire. Universities cut
library growth at the end of the 1960s based on the
proliferation of photocopy machines and the blossoming of "fair
use" to protect photocopy production in libraries. It was no
accident that the emphasis on dissemination by the National
Science and Technology Policy Act of 1976 was ignored and that
the NSF shut down its investigations into science communications
about the same time. The investigations of the Register of
Copyrights turned up some abuses of photocopying as substitutes
for subscriptions. They failed to note the slowing of library
growth observed by an NSF study prepared by B. Fry and
H.S. White.

- E-Biomed would justify further cancellation of subscriptions,
including database services, and the elimination of many library jobs.

- E-Biomed's automated indexing would fail to classify content and
to insert generic terms for jargon, thereby causing searchers to
miss essential information.

In additon to equating information communications with formal
publication based on peer review, E-Biomed would have had a
disasterous economic impact by adding to university financial
managers' sense that dissemination takes care of itself. As
you probably know in your daily work, dissemination does not
take care of itself. It requires the attention of human brains
like yours and mine.

E-Biomed had no budget to speak of and no plan for technology.
It was nothing but 'vaporware:' Just ideas that even its most
fervent advocates felt needed revising.

The E-Biomed promise of archiving was simply carefree talk.
'Archiving' has been the province of libraries more than
publishers. I was among the first editors in the 1960s to
demand neutral pH paper, based on an initiative of the Council
on Library Resources. I also investigated the three microfilm
technologies and made recommendations to my publishers to
choose the most stable. Digital technology has little to offer,
at this time, that can be proven as archival as paper or microfilm.
Anything on the market will probably be obsolete in less than a
decade. That is simply the state of the art, not the fault of

Thanks for your comment. Best wishes,

Albert Henderson