Sites Unseen: Spies íRí Us and More
by Jim Ashling
The Web site of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), or MI6 as it is better known, must rate as one of the most surprising new sites launched in 2005. The home page (http://www.mi6.gov.uk) features a photograph of the service's new Thames-side HQ at Vauxhall Cross, and, in case you are viewing the site from a closed, darkened room and have lost track of what time it is, it also has a world globe that rotates in real time and lets you view both the daytime and nighttime hemispheres.
Illustrating just how much times have changed since spies exchanged code words and information during the Cold War (usually on chilly park benches in Berlin or Vienna, Italy), the site can be viewed in English, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, French, and Spanish. For some reason, however, it isn't available in German.
The site provides useful information, such as the fact that the chief of the SIS is known as "C." This is because the first chief, Mansfield Cumming, used the letter as his signature. Other sections of the site are devoted to Legislation and Accountability, History and Records, and Careers. If you are considering a career with SIS, the service requires "a 'can-do' approach and determination to get the job done." Although the site states that gathering secret intelligence requires staff members that "thrive on challenge," a formal qualification in librarianship or information science doesn't appear to be essential.
Perhaps the SIS site's launch won't come as much of a surprise in the U.S. After all, the CIA has had an extensive Web site for years (http://www.cia.gov). Aside from having similar sections as the SIS site, the CIA site has interesting links such as the CIA's Homepage for Kids, the Iraqi Rewards Program (in Arabic only), and the George Bush Center for Intelligence (that's the former President Bush, in case you were wondering). The invaluable online edition of the CIA World Factbook (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook), which comprises a collection of maps and statistics for every country of the world, is probably the site's most wellknown and widely used feature.
The Russian KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti) no longer exists; it was dissolved in 1991. However, the present Russian state security service, the FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti), does have its own Web site (http://www.fsb.ru). Unfortunately, it is exclusively in Russian. You can, however, get some idea of its content by rolling over the hotlinks to display English URLs.
EUSIDIC Web Site Relocated
The European Association of Information Services (EUSIDIC) lost its original .org domain to a financial services provider and had to reregister its Web site at a new address (http://www.eusidic.net). The original site was put up for sale when the association failed to renew it on time.
EUSIDIC postponed its annual conference, originally planned for October, since conference and registration information on the Web was temporarily unavailable. The 2005 annual meeting will now be held April 9–11, 2006, at the original location (Innsbruck, Austria). Its theme will be "Integration versus granularity of information resources: Interoperability and interconnectivity of services, systems, and media manifestations."
Frankfurt Grows Even Bigger
The Frankfurt Book Fair opened on Oct. 19 with a record 7,223 exhibitors from 101 countries. That's a 4-percent increase in exhibitors over 2004. Trade visitor numbers increased significantly too. To put this event's size in perspective, consider that the fair's floor space was nearly 558,000 square feet, that's more than 12 times the size of the Grand Hall at Olympia, London, which is used for the annual Online Information Exhibition.
Fair director Juergen Boos believes that the event is approaching its potential size limit, since virtually everyone that is likely to exhibit is already doing so. However, event planners hope to expand the event by adding more science and specialist information sectors as well as by holding a Frankfurt-sponsored book fair in Cape Town, South Africa, in July 2006. The Cape Town fair is set to be the first in a series of annual 4-day shows and will be cosponsored by the Publishers' Association of South Africa (PASA). Details are available at http://www.capetownbookfair.com.
The Facts About Open Access
Open access publishing in the U.K. received a small boost in October with an injection of cash from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), a body that is supported by public funds from the U.K. higher and further education budgets.
Three publishers were awarded a total of £84,500 ($150,000) under the third round of JISC's open access program. The chosen publishers and relevant titles are:
• Institute of Physics Publishing (New Journal of Physics)
• International Union of Crystallography (Crystallography Journals Online)
• BMJ Publishing Group, Ltd. (Journal of Medical Genetics)
All three publishers have received funding from previous rounds of the program.
Lorraine Estelle, JISC Collections team manager, said: "This programme continues to provide us with much-needed evidence about the impact of open access models of publishing on the conduct and dissemination of research. We are delighted that sustained investment over three years has proved successful for these journals, and we look forward to making the results of the full evaluation of the programme available to the academic and research community in due course." The evaluation is expected to take place in early 2006.
Another study on the effects of open access on scholarly journals has already been published. "The facts about Open Access" was released Oct. 11 on The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) Web site. The research was conducted by the Kaufman-Wills Group and was sponsored by ALPSP, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and HighWire Press/Stanford University Libraries. The report can be downloaded or ordered in print form from http://www.alpsp.org/publications/pub11.htm.
Key findings from the study include the fact that 41 percent of the studied open access journals were running at a loss and 24 percent were breaking even. Surprisingly, the study found that OA journals received little income from author charges; advertising and sponsorship provided substantial support.
ALPSP concluded, "From the evidence it seems by no means certain that Open Access publishing is a financially viable model for all; however, there is clearly widespread recognition that a better model (or models) is needed to provide wide and speedy access to research findings in the interests of science, and a considerable amount of experimentation with various alternative models is taking place."
BioMed Central's Matthew Cockerill issued a response to the report, claiming it contains significant factual inaccuracies. He stated, "The two most serious problems with the report are that it inaccurately describes the peer review process operated by BioMed Central's journals, and it also draws unjustified conclusions concerning the long-term sustainability of open access journals."
While the debate continues, The Wellcome Trust announced that as of Oct. 1, 2005, all papers from new research projects funded by Wellcome grants must be deposited in PubMed Central or UK PubMed Central (once it has been formed) within 6 months of publication. The move comes as part of a drive from the U.K.'s biggest medical research charity to push forward open access publication of scientific literature.
Despite the recent flurry of interest in open access surrounding the ALPSP report, the topic has generally waned in U.S. and U.K. conferences—it was hardly featured at all in the Online Information 2005 agenda. Yet in developing countries, open access remained a major talking point. In September, the 9th World Congress on Health Information and Libraries (http://www.icml9.org) was held in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. The conference resulted in the creation of the "Salvador Declaration on Open Access: the developing world perspective." In developing countries the issue isn't about journal profits, sustainability, or peer review; it's about a simple desire for equity. In that environment, access to scientific literature is seen as a universal right.
The Salvador Declaration urges governments to:
• Require publicly funded research to be made available through open access.
• Consider cost of publication as part of the cost of research.
• Strengthen local OA journals, repositories, and other initiatives.
• Promote the integration of developing countries' scientific information into the worldwide body of knowledge.
The rich nations may have moved on to this year's hot topics (blogging, wikis, podcasting, VoIP, Internet TV, etc.) but in the developing world, an expectation was created that open access would assist worldwide social and economic development, not simply redistribute research funds between a handful of relatively wealthy university libraries and national research institutions.
Europe Sets Aside Millions for Digitization
In June 2005, the European Commission launched an initiative called i2010: European Information Society 2010. Its aim is to foster growth and jobs in the information society and media industries. According to a press release, "i2010 is a comprehensive strategy for [modernizing] and deploying all EU policy instruments to encourage the development of the digital economy: regulatory instruments, research and partnerships with industry. The Commission will in particular promote high-speed and secure broadband networks offering rich and diverse content in Europe."
In September, as a part of i2010, the commission unveiled a digital libraries initiative to make Europe's written and audiovisual heritage available on the Web. A key area of the initiative is scientific information. A communication foreseen for 2006 will set out the specific challenges for digital libraries in this area, such as the need to handle and store huge quantities of digital data, and will also discuss the role of the supporting infrastructure and the actions to be undertaken at the European level.
In order for the commission to obtain the views of all key parties involved, it issued an online consultation; the deadline for replies is Jan. 20, 2006. Final recommendations and proposals will be announced in June 2006. The commission is making £36 million ($43 million) available for research to develop systems and tools that support accessibility and use over time of digital cultural and scientific resources and a further £60 million ($72 million) for research on making national collections interoperable with multilingual access. The funding is part of an overall £149 million ($180 million) budget set aside for eContentplus, a 4-year program (2005–2008) designed to tackle organizational barriers and promote take up of leading-edge technical solutions to improve accessibility and usability of digital material in a multilingual environment. For all details of these programs and an opportunity to participate in the consultation, go to http://europa.eu.int/information_society/activities/digital_libraries/index_en.htm.
Jim Ashling runs Ashling Consulting, an independent consultancy for the information industry. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Send your letters about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.