Three important questions about electronic publishing

Some time ago Jaromir Malek asked three important questions about electronic publishing on the web. To paraphrase they are:

1. Are there standards for citations to information on the Internet?

2. How does one deal with the ever changing location of information on the web? How can you find an article if it is moved from one server to another, and therefore has a new URL?

3. Are specialized digital libraries developing to archive scholarly information?

The good news is that substantial progress is being made in each of these areas.

1. Citation format for e-publications have been discussed in the library profession for a number of years, and there are several respected style manuals available at most library reference desks that give good guidance to authors on citing Internet resources.

2. As for the location of e-publications changing servers on the web, this problem has several solutions already. Some use what are called PURLs or persistent URLs. OCLC, for instance, hosts a PURL server. This server "resolves" the location of where a document lives on the net and takes you to it automatically, even if it moves from one server to another.

Some publishers are using DOIs or Document Object Identifiers, unique numbers assigned to each unique published object. These numbers are stored in a server that knows where on the net to find the specific document.

Another system, SFX, was developed by Herbert von de Sompel from the University of Ghent. SFX finds the document you want by using Open URLs. Publishers and indexing/abstracting services assign these short identifying scripts to each bibliographic item, and then servers running the SFX software at local libraries find articles on the web. The main advantage of this system is that it distinguishes between the various copies of a document on the web and can lead you to the specific copy needed. Since multiple copies of the same article may reside on the web at different locations, SFX enables researchers to find the exact copy they desire.

3. Many specialized digital libraries are being created on the web. The Los Alamos National Laboratory established a "preprint" server for High Energy Physics a number of years ago. Any researcher can deposit his or her article on this server (known as the XXXArchive) and enable others in their field to have rapid access to it. An email system notifies researchers each day when new material has been deposited. This Physics Archive now is accessed each day by many thousands of individuals from all over the world.

Other "preprint" archives of this type are being developed in Psychology, Economics, and, I hope, one day in ancient Near Eastern studies. New metadata standards are being developed for electronic archives to allow search engines to "harvest" information from worldwide digital archives across many disciplines.

Other electronic libraries are in development: one, called BioOne, will host over 50 small society journals in Biology that will be merged into a single database of articles. Columbia University Press publishes Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO) that has monographs, journals, conference proceedings, calenders, and chat devoted to the study of International Affairs. I hope that within a decade there will be hundreds of specialized scholarly digital archives available to researchers.

Paul Gherman

University Librarian
611B General Library
419 21st Avenue South
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN 37240
Office: (615) 322-7120
Fax: (615) 343-8279

© Paul M. Gherman

(October 17, 2000)

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