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Magazines > Information Today > June 2003
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Information Today
Vol. 20 No. 6 — June 2003
Internet Insights
Digital Facilitators
By Péter Jacsó

"Digital facilitators" is not a term that you'll find in articles and conference papers. Given its special role, I use it to refer to an increasingly important information industry group, which should be differentiated from the traditional publishers, abstracting-and-indexing (A&I) services, and online information services.

What Are Digital Facilitators?

Digital facilitators assist publishers in digitizing their publications for the Web. They may offer additional services, such as hosting the publishers' digital journal editions, conference proceedings, and monographs. Such hosting also implies the authentication of customers to determine what services they qualify for depending on whether they are casual or registered visitors, or subscribers.

Importantly, digital facilitators offer their clients an abstracts archive of the primary published documents. This is especially valuable considering that even the smallest digital facilitators host at least hundreds of journals from dozens of publishers, providing one-stop shopping. The variety and mix of the publishers and publications hosted by a digital facilitator often make it unnecessary to run a search in a commercial A&I database, unless one needs a comprehensive search. Subscribers to the digital editions of the journals may then proceed to display the full articles.

The Best Digital Facilitators

There are a number of digital facilitators, but four of them stand out from the crowd: Stanford University Library's HighWire Press, Ingenta, Ingenta Select (formerly known as CatchWord prior to its acquisition by Ingenta), and MetaPress. They may be part of a publisher (MetaPress belongs to a division of EBSCO Industries, Inc.) or they may be totally independent of a traditional publisher, such as Ingenta. All four have good-to-excellent search capabilities, as well as intuitive and well-designed interfaces.

Nevertheless, there are important differences. For example, Ingenta does not search thefull text of documents, which can be quite a hindrance for qualified subscribers. Nor does it offer links to cited articles, as Ingenta Select/CatchWord does. MetaPress allows users to limit the search to the journals they subscribe to. HighWire Press has by far the best hyperlinking capabilities, including links to not only many documents cited by the article being read, but also from many documents citing the article being read.

The Benefits of Digital Facilitators

The easiest way to explain the benefits that digital facilitators can offer to publishers is to use an example that most readers of Information Today are familiar with: Information Today, Inc. (ITI). Excuse me if I sound suspiciously enthusiastic about the company (I don't get more perks for it), but I've been writing columns for several of its publications for more than a decade, and I'd like to see it succeed witha full-scale digitization of at least its most current archive.

ITI is the largest publisher of professional information technology journals, conference proceedings, directories, and other periodicals, such as the consistently top-ranked scholarly publication Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (ARIST). For a $100 subscription price ($80 for ASIST members), ARIST qualifies as the most-bang-for-the-buck information science publication with its content. It has significant monograph publication activity as well.

Accessible free of charge through the Web site's well-designed, consistent interface (http://www.infotoday.com)—which is particularly good for browsing and known-item searching—are some of ITI's feature articles, columns, and conference presentations; most of its editorial materials and news items; and abstracts from its Internet & Personal Computing Abstracts (up to mid-2000) of most of the ITI journal articles. Subject searching is offered by MondoSearch, a Web site search engine that comes with modest options.

For documents not available on ITI's Web site, the company authorizes copying of articles for a very reasonable royalty: $3.50 plus 50 cents per page—this pricing hasn't changed for at least a decade. This brings the royalty for copying the average column to about $5, while feature articles will cost you around $7.

Most non-ITI document delivery services charge twice as much for royalties plus $10 to $12 for shipping and handling of the print version of the ITI source documents (with a 2-week delivery time). In some package deals, aggregators make available the full text of ITI periodicals, but not the ones from ARIST or the various conference proceedings.

Now, enter a digital facilitator. With its help, ITI could make all of its publications (most of which are already digitized and adequately tagged for sophisticated, field-specific searching) fully searchable and available in Adobe PDF and HTML versions to print subscribers for a reasonable subscription surcharge. Pay-per-view customers could be charged, say, $10 a pop.

To increase traffic and pamper information professionals, abstracts of ITI publications could be made available free of charge to anyone. But—as is the case with most professional and general interest magazines—there are no abstracts in ITI's journal publications. However, EBSCO already offers comprehensive coverage of these ITI journals with free summaries (as EBSCO correctly calls them) in the Library Reference Center.

Beyond having an elegant interface and search engine in MetaPress, EBSCO (a longtime ITI partner) can bring those existing abstracts to the deal. With that software, ITI could immediately deliver even ARIST chapters, as well as individual papers from the many conference proceedings. Using digital object identifiers would make persistent links a reality, increase use and citations, and, for the future, minimize the nightmares caused by reorganizing sites. The latter happened with the ill-conceived and poorly implemented redesign of the ALA Web site. Many of the links to ALA journal articles were rendered useless, so the opportunity to finally implement a well-structured digital archive was lost (http://www2.hawaii.edu/~jacso/extra).

There's no upfront fee for MetaPress, which has proved its capabilities. The largest and best publishers in the information science and technology field have digitized their archives. Such a project would benefit everyone, except for the document delivery services. But I don't lose much sleep over them.

 

 


Péter Jacsó is associate professor of library and information science at the University of Hawaii's Department of Information and Computer Sciences. His e-mail address is jacso@hawaii.edu.
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