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
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
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
Accessible free of charge through the Web site's well-designed, consistent
is particularly good for browsing and known-item searchingare 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 pagethis
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
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. Butas
is the case with most professional and general interest magazinesthere
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.