Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial Introduction to Issue 30: Centering the Periphery - A New Equity in Information Access?

Philip Hunter introduces Ariadne issue 30.

Welcome to the December/January issue of Ariadne.

A focus of this issue of Ariadne is the Open Archives Initiative and the wider implications of the techniques and technology associated with it. A major impetus behind the take-up of the OAI idea is the wish to make research available more widely and more quickly than before, and also to counter the problems created by the nature of existing academic publishing. As David Pearson writes in our lead article on digitization strategy, ‘….librarians who have to subscribe to the major groupings of scientific journals know only too well, a situation has developed in which a few publishers have an economic stranglehold; scientists produce research which is published in journals which have to be bought, ever more crippling subscription rates, by the institutions where many of the scientists are themselves based.’ Stevan Harnad has graphically illustrated this situation elsewhere (‘For Whom the Gate Tolls’) by pointing out that the authors of research may find themselves in the situation where they have no access to the published version of their own research. Pearson also mentions the copyright problem: ‘Copyright over this material has also been cunningly controlled by the publishers, who have often required authors to sign their rights away. The establishment of new groupings like SPARC and PubMed, trying to bring control back into the community that creates the work, and make it freely available on the Internet for wider public good, is a heartening response but the battle will not be easily won….’

The Open Archives Initiative builds on the pioneering work of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Pre-Prints Archive (New Mexico), which was created for the benefit of the physics community (the Archive is now located at Cornell University and known as arXiv). Where once the the community which benefitted from a pre-print archive was confined to the subject of physics, the Open Archives Initiative envisages the application of the idea to the whole of the research community. The Los Alamos archive itself now covers mathematics and computer science as well as physics. Universities around the world are now in the process of setting up their own metadata repositories and full text archives.

Leslie Chan and Barbara Kirsop highlight some of the possibilities of the application of OAI ideas worldwide in their article ‘Open Archiving Opportunities for Developing Countries: towards equitable distribution of global knowledge’. They say that ‘the [Los Alamos] archive has become indispensable to researchers world wide, but in particular to research institutions that would othewise be excluded from the front line of science for economic and sociological reasons….’ And that: ‘a key benefit for developing-country scientists is that global participation could take place without further delay. The academic communities in poorer countries can take advantage of servers anywhere in the world offering OAI services, without the need to set up their own independent servers or maintain them.’ They also note that the scientific community at large has: ‘…become aware of the many benefits conferred by open archiving, such as the removal of the cost barrier to high-priced journals, the reduction of time in announcing research findings, and the provision of access to all with Internet capability….’

Chan and Kirsop also address the quality control question about open archiving, pointing out that ‘scholarly archives, while possibly containing both refereed (postprints) and non-refereed material (preprints), nevertheless provide clear options for readers to selectively retrieve material. The experience of physicists/mathematicians who have used open archiving for a number of years shows that quality of research is not jeopardised by the process, since researchers that submit material are concerned with their reputation and professional credibility and that their work is open for review by their peers around the world….‘vanity publishing’ by individuals must be distinguished from the institutional or author-archiving of preprints of papers submitted for peer review.

While there has been a lot of publicity about the Open Archives Initiative as an idea, there has been much less on the actual implementation of OAI archives. Ariadne hopes to remedy this to some extent over the next few issues. In the meantime we have an article by Pete Cliff, Systems Developer for the Resource Discovery Network, which explores the RDN’s use of the OAI metadata harvesting protocol (‘Building ResourceFinder’). UKOLN developed a Perl implementation of an OAI repository, using two scripts: one to convert the records from the gateway database format, to Dublin Core XML records, and the other to function as the OAI front end to the repository. So far the RDN’s OAI repositories are not available outside the RDN, but it is envisaged that access might be offered to RDN partners, and possibly beyond.

There are many other interesting contributions to this issue of Ariadne, and these include: Jenny Rowley’s introduction to the ‘JISC User Behaviour Monitoring and Evaluation Framework’; Nicole Harris’s report on current developments in the ANGEL project (‘Managed Learning?’); Brian Kelly’s look at Mobile e-Book readers in his regular Web Focus column; Phil Bradley’s regular column compares two popular search engines and suggests that Alltheweb has overtaken Alta Vista in terms of general usefulness; Neil Beagrie and Philip Pothen report on an important Digital Preservation day in October 2001 (‘Digital Curation’); Philip Pothen also contributes an item with Simon Jennings on developments at the Resource Discovery Network (RDN); Penny Garrod contributes her first column as Public Libraries Focus at UKOLN, and writes in fine style; Paul Browning and Mike Lowndes explore Content Management Systems and provide a systematic look at the various options. The article summarises and updates a recent JISC-funded TechWatch report which provides the kind of objective assessment of the issues not in abundance elsewhere; we also have a report by Jennie Craven on a pre-conference session at IFLA in Washington which looked at accessibility issues for the blind and visually impaired.

Thanks again to Shirley Keane (for assistance with the Newsline section). Thanks also to those who supplied trip reports, enabling us to put together another substantial ‘At the Event’ section for this issue. Congratulations are also due to Marieke Napier who has moved on from Cultivate Interactive Magazine to become UKOLN’s QA Focus/NOF-digitise Advisor.

Suggestions for articles for issues 31 to 33 are now being considered. Article proposals should be sent to: ariadne@ukoln.ac.uk.

Enjoy the issue.

Philip Hunter
Ariadne Editor