|In the course of researching this column, I conducted a very scientific
poll on the gender differences in the use of the phrase "I told you so."
The male half of the polling group held to the opinion that women said
it much more often than men. He even stated that when men used the phrase,
they applied it in a different manner—more in a male-bonding way than in
a negative or critical sense. The female half of the polling group agreed.
Well, she agreed that women used the phrase more, but contended that the
reason was because they were more frequently right. When faced with this
argument, the male half of the group thought that it could help explain
Actually, at this point, the male interviewee seemed to stray from the
original research topic. He saw the issue as part of a larger gender trend
that he referred to as "gunnysacking." A gunnysack argument, according
to him, was an approach used primarily by wives (which could include married
mothers). In the course of the description, his language sometimes rose
above grumbling and muttering to attain a certain grim eloquence.
Gunnysacking, he explained, is the process by which an arguer—usually
of the female persuasion—pulls out instance after instance from across
a vast expanse of time to win an ongoing dispute. I pointed out that this
might simply illustrate a gender propensity for building strong, viable
databases and applying aggressive knowledge management techniques. His
counterarguments focused on low currency standards and unreliable relevancy
ranking algorithms. In any case, I felt that the gunnysacking discussion
strayed too far from the original inquiry of the poll.
And I told him so.
So what's the connection between polling and this column? Well, for
years now I've been trying to warn all and sundry of the new day coming,
of the new information world order that was emerging and endangering those
who ignored its arrival. If I say so myself, some of my predictions have
already come true. Well here come two more. (They should never have put
dates on my quotes in The Quintessential Searcher. It gives me an
PILA Piling On
In the merry month of May, the Publishers International Linking Association
(PILA) announced plans to expand CrossRef (http://www.crossref.org),
its master database of links. Instead of linking only from citations to
the full-text articles that are available on hundreds of publisher Web
sites, PILA has initiated a CrossRef Search Project that could ultimately
introduce full-text searching of articles by all participating publishers
onto each publisher's Web site. The 122 publishers already in the CrossRef
database will each be able to choose whether they want to take part in
the new full-text service. PILA will also seek separate funding for the
What could be more pleasant than improving the effectiveness of retrieval
by adding myriad more access points than simply the information contained
in a citation? Well, I agree. It would be pleasant for users everywhere.
But how pleasant for secondary abstracting-and-indexing (A&I) services?
CrossRef does not charge for searching its database. You can perform searches
and read bibliographic citations for free. In many cases, you can even
read the abstracts for free. On the other hand, today's CrossRef database
does not offer any kind of subject indexing or value-added coding and categorization.
But a CrossRef that draws on the full text of journal articles will ramp
up its utility exponentially. Although such a full-text database may not
always parallel the advantages offered by the most sophisticated secondary
services, it could get darn close. In any case, it would clearly possess
other advantages that the A&I services don't have—i.e., the ability
to recall an article using full-text-only cues such as an odd term appearing
on the fourth page of a piece or the name of a conference hotel. And of
course it will link to the full-text article.
More importantly, if the policy of charging nothing for searching and
retrieving citations (including some abstracts) persists in the new full-text
service ... Well, let's get real here. I hope you guys who only have A&I
coverage to keep you warm live in the Sun Belt. Pushing those shopping
carts filled with your worldly goods can tire you out fast when the streets
fill with slush.
But don't listen to me. Cling to the faith that has gotten you this
far. Keep believing that the world cannot do without you, that your archival
holdings are sturdy vessels that will keep you afloat. (I can remember
just a few years back when some of you argued that the Net and its Web
were fads that would someday fade away. Let's hope no one is still singing
that tune.) Actually, the archival holdings will probably come in handy.
However, unless a sudden surge for collecting antique research overwhelms
the sci-tech arena, archives will certainly not allow secondary services
to continue to live in the manner to which they have become accustomed.
But as those services close operations, selling their remaining archive
assets to primary publishers (or even PILA) could at least supply enough
funds to buy some shopping carts.
The bottom line is that primary publishers have apparently decided there's
not enough room in the lifeboats for secondary services. The secondary
publishers saw this coming 2 years ago when PILA first began. Almost before
the organization could get off the ground—driven, if you remember, by terror
over the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central (aka E-biomed) initiative—fistfights
broke out between members over allowing A&I services access to the
CrossRef link database. The scholarly societies that create some of the
best such databases, as well as some of the most-distributed primary journals
in their fields, made it clear that refusal to include A&I services
in CrossRef's bounty would be a deal breaker for their participation in
PILA. But deals were made and PILA went forward. In a conversation with
a senior member of one of those society publishers, he predicted that the
issue could sink CrossRef Search. Nonetheless, secondary services seem
to be marching backward. True, many of the commercial scholarly publishers
have secondary services of their own, but they remain peripheral in the
Besides, CrossRef Search is a good idea. It could bring in a lot of
users. At least it could help retain the users who are still left. Remember,
the real enemy is outside. Primary scholarly journals face a daunting task
of competing with Google, .gov/.edu/.org sites, preprint servers,
and the wholesale diversion of scientific communication onto the Web and
the Net. It's Google that'll get you if you don't watch out. With open,
effective access to published scholarship widely available through CrossRef
Search, publishers could remind today's and tomorrow's Web-borne scholars
of the existence of primary publishing sources—a reminder that's becoming
more and more essential to publishing's survival.
So what can secondary services do now? Well, while you still have the
chance (do you hear your biological clock ticking?), re-engineer your efforts
to handle today's and tomorrow's problems, not yesterday's. Let CrossRef
take care of the basic archiving work. Integrate whatever value you add
with the new database. After all, most of you have not written your own
abstracts in decades; you rely on author abstracts from publishers. ISI
came late to the addition of abstracts and uses only author abstracts.
Yet it reports that of the 5,943 journals covered by Science Citation Index,
95 percent have abstracts, a figure that drops to 67 percent for Social
Sciences Citation Index and only 7 percent for Arts and Humanities Citation
But more than anything, focus your efforts on building services that
identify, track, archive, access, and promote Web- or Net-based scholarship.
That's the hole in the ozone that scholars and the information professionals
who attend them face today. That's where we need the help. That's the marketplace
(which is filled with new players that we find hard to trust—for now) we
feel drawn to more and more. BioMed Central has already crossed into the
trust zone. Others will follow. We need vision, imagination, a sense of
mission, and endless flexibility in means to reach goals set in iron. Do
good and do well! Virtual virtue! After all, online shopping carts mean
e-commerce revenue flows. At this point, you secondary services have little
choice. The future is only months away.
24/7 or Bust
But that's not all the merry month of May brought to our attention.
On May 20, OCLC and the Library of Congress announced that on June 3 they
would launch a beta test of QuestionPoint (http://www.questionpoint.org),
their new collaborative reference service. For a chump-change price of
$2,000, any library could gain both the tools to create its own 24/7 digital
reference service and access to a Global Reference Network of colleagues
around the world. This development could be the moment in time that future
historians in our field will mark as the point when the virtual library
was really born.
It's a scary time for librarians and their vendors. If we do not offer
such services we face a dismal future of irrelevance. We will become mere
servants of the books that were our tools, instead of the agents and guardians
of our clients' information world. On the other hand, librarians who live
and work in the protection of walled libraries can feel the cold winds
blow as "wall-less" library services emerge. Vendors who sell to librarians
may also feel the chill as answers from products that are sold to one library
begin to serve patrons from many. Vendors must worry that librarians who
get used to obtaining their answers from a virtual reference desk may find
purchasing some products unnecessary and even redundant.
On the other hand, wise vendors and wise librarians recognize that,
for them too, the enemy is outside. Google will get you if you don't watch
out. To remain relevant and stay alive in the new information world order,
we have to offer online services and offer them to one and all around the
clock, probably forfree. Librarians have less trouble with that free issue,
an old ideal. We have more trouble with serving patrons beyond our constituency
limits, but even there we could come to dream large.
Vendors know that if the libraries go under, they will too. Or will
they? As the digital collections develop into full-featured tools that
combine the output of vast numbers of established sources (see CrossRef
Search), and virtual reference desks allow one to tap large talent pools
of information professionals (see QuestionPoint), could vendors bypass
the librarians? Could they go to deans, city fathers, and CEOs and offer
to supply the digital equivalents of full-scale library service with the
flip of a switch? Such bundled digital library services wouldnever need
landscaping, building contracts, or employee perks.
Library vendors as librarian employers? Arrgh!
My senses accelerated by paranoia, I perused the QuestionPoint contract
terms line by line and—aha!—found a suspicious development. The question-and-answer
pairs collected and archived by the Global Reference Network (known as
the Global Knowledgebase) are copyrighted to OCLC. Well, well. They're
at it again. Apparently, OCLC still wants to apply Christopher Columbus
copyright practices ("just stick the flag in the ground and say the magic
words to make the conquest official")—the same practices that caused all
the controversy when it proclaimed ownership over WorldCat, a database
developed in partnership with library members. Now OCLC wants to extend
its conquests into all the virtual reference desks that are connected to
QuestionPoint, even those of non-OCLC members.
When I queried OCLC, it had an explanation. Each QuestionPoint library
develops its own local Q & A knowledgebase, which belongs to the library
entirely. On a question-by-question basis, library members decide what
to send to the Global Knowledgebase. When a Q & A pair arrives, it
takes its place in the queue and gets evaluated, edited, and possibly augmented
or even merged before going into the Global Knowledgebase. OCLChas copyrighted
this filtered and enriched file. The Library of Congress, as OCLC's partnerin
QuestionPoint, acquires a perpetual licenseto the file.
According to Chip Nilges, OCLC's director of new product planning in
reference and resource sharing, the company wants the copyright so it can
integrate "answer sources" with other WorldCat products and pursue co-marketing
opportunities. For example, that dream of a library answer service living
large on a Google home page(or at least the Google Answers home page) would
require clear ownership and a straightforward contract arrangement. Small
Net newbie firms—even large ones—would probably never want to deal with
involved multi-member library consortia negotiations. OCLC would have a
better chance of making such effective deals, but to do so, it would need
clear title to the database.
But what if OCLC tries to use the copyright to restrict access in order
to pursue its own sales goals? Its staff bristles at the suggestion. Truth
be told, OCLC has already begun testing revisions of its long-standing
library-only policy for access to WorldCat. Did you know that the Web sites
for Alibris, the American Book Exchange, and the American Antiquarian Book
Sellers Association link to WorldCat? If the out-of-print online booksellers
do not have a specific title, a user can click over to WorldCat, enter
a ZIP code, and get the name of the nearest library that owns the book.
Usage from these sites has grown tremendously; the service now runs about
150,000 queries a month. Nor is this the only WorldCat-to-the-world initiative
But even if OCLC drifted into a robber baron state of mind, the QuestionPoint
arrangements would leave it vulnerable to counterattack. After all, the
local QuestionPoint knowledgebases remain in the complete control of local
librarians. If a rebellion against OCLC's use of its copyright for the
Global Knowledgebase broke out, new "global" collections could be developedfrom
the raw data, new spinoff products could be designed, and new marketing
alliances could be formed.
Librarians have begun a long march, but we've passed the first steps,
indeed the first 10 steps. So, vendors of the library marketplace, care
to go for a walk?
[Editor's Note: For more on QuestionPoint, see the NewsBreak
on page 50.]
Barbara Quint is editor in chief of Searcher, contributing
editor for NewsBreaks, and a longtime online searcher. Her e-mail address