WWW Administration - Universitätsbibliothek Bielefeld


Ms. A. Iljon, European Commission, DG XIII-E/4

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honoured to be the first speaker of the conference and to be thus given the opportunity to set from the start a European dimension to the topics that will be discussed, and their implications.

Library networks and electronic publishing is a vast and all-embracing subject-matter. I would like to focus my presentation on the setting, then on the players and their roles and finally on the actions and orientations in Europe for the present, and hopefully for the future - insofar as the future is already contained in our present or rather because our present will enable and shape our future.

For those of us who have been associated with the on-line information world, the concept of the information society is not a new one. In fact it has been around as a "vision" for at least 30 years. But the vision then was based on dreams of what, in theory, the technology could provide, without taking account of or predicting how the technology itself and its market would evolve. That is the prerogative of a vision and its metaphors.

Leaving aside the rhetoric that has and still surrounds the concept, we are at last entering the information society. There are sufficient signs that that is so wherever one looks. We have been talking of convergence between communications and computing for a long time. This is now taking effect on the marketplace precisely because it is no longer an isolated technological phenomenon: The convergence is broadening to include other things such as office equipment (or the tools for day-to-day operations), electronic information vendors (who have been around for quite a long time) and the media and publishers themselves. The technology available today already makes new things possible and even relatively easy; it breaks down the barriers to entry into new marketplaces by new players; and more especially it empowers the users of the technology over the original developers and suppliers. In other words electronic products and services are on the threshold of becoming common place and of no longer being technology-led; this applies equally to information products and services.

Other signs are highly visible in the policy and legislative arena. Information society - or whatever else one calls it (the global information infrastructure, the information superhighway, etc.) has become a "mot-d'ordre" for politicians and it has swept around the world in the last 2ę to 3 years like a high wind. The G7 (the seven most influential nations in the world) has focused on it; the European Commission has issued a report on it under the authority of Vice President Bangemann; each country is examining in detail its potential and its economic, social and legal implications - not the least being the United States, under the impetus given by Clinton and Gore. In Europe there are a multitude of new initiatives, such as the Call in France on the "autoroutes de l'information", the Danish and Finnish reports on the information society, the various fora spawned by the Bangemann report and many others.

It would appear that after a relatively long gestation and small increments of change we have effectively taken the quantum leap into the "information age".

This is the setting. The "information society" is a fact of life and no organisation in the public and the private sectors, even the most conservative one can afford to ignore the phenomenon, least of all those whose primary concern has to do with knowledge and information: in other words libraries and publishers. These two "institutions" (for want of better word) are amongst the most traditional because they have an undisputed role in society which has evolved over centuries and therefore they have the most to lose if their way of working is disrupted. This is not to say that technology has not been used by either to facilitate and support their way of working. On the contrary, it has made publishing easier (and even reduced the costs) and libraries have had to use it to support their operations and their services - albeit not always in the most original and efficient way. Ironically, although we are on the doorstep of the information society with its electronic connotations, the new technologies, as they were called in the '70s, have enabled the increase in the volume of traditional printed publications several fold in the last 25 years or so; and this has correspondingly increased the burden on libraries to process it. This is not likely to change overnight of course. However, the setting I have described above is already like a grain of sand in an oyster shell, beginning to form a new object, a new way of doing things and a new reality. Electronic publishing is still a comparatively tiny percentage of publishing and not much is known about it in practice. It also means different things to different people. But like the pearl in the oyster shell, it cannot but take substance. Similarly, library networks, first the human and organisational ones then the electronic ones which developed initially to share resources and share the burden of processing and acquiring all this new literature, now have the duty to begin providing the means of accessing other information resources, those electronically available. They have to start thinking and going beyond their initial use of sharing house-keeping duties.

This is also the opportunity to mention a more profound issue of the information society. Can our new electronic information society only be concerned with ephemera and have no memory, leave no trace for future generations ? How can we ensure proper archiving of and long-term access to valuable intellectual record ? In Europe we have begun to look at this problem in the context of national deposit collections of electronic publications since some countries already have deposit laws which include electronic material. Under the aegis of CoBRA a study was launched at the beginning of 1995 and a workshop was held in Luxembourg in December 1995 to initiate a first discussion between national libraries and publishers on the study findings, and in particular some of the issues which each will have to face. From the point of view of the libraries these include, for instance, selection policies and bibliographic control, not to mention cost implications; from the point of view of publishers, they include the mechanisms and rules for deposit as well as the value-added support services which libraries could be allowed to provide. The report of the study will be published by the European Commission in 1996 and the dialogue initiated will be pursued by CoBRA in one of its working groups. In the US this matter has been taken up by the Commission of Preservation and Access and RLG, via a steering committee representing a broad range of interests which has produced a report examining the technical implications of the archiving of digital information. The solutions are not yet found but at least first steps have been taken.

The fact that the technology has become common place and has opened the door to a plethora of potential new players at all levels can be witnessed by the take up and evolution of the Internet and its constellations - ranging from the Web to the leisure industry. And the next generation is already taking all this for granted! These factors create pressure on the establishment to respond to the new requirements: I suppose that that is what change is all about - when the big tankers have to rethink some of their strategies.

The libraries and the publishers have key roles to play to bring some order in the turmoil generated, otherwise it will get worse. They can't afford to make the wrong choices either because they work for both the present and the future. The difficulty lies also in the fact that both ways of working will have to cohabit, the printed publications one and the electronic one - and necessarily so for a long time to come, so the approaches will need extra sophistication. The stakes are rather high. Just as aeroplanes have by and large displaced ships in order to satisfy the need for faster transport, publishers and libraries might be displaced by others to satisfy the ever-growing hunger for faster information. One already hears the terms "virtual libraries" and "digital libraries", and anyone can become a publisher on the Web and exercise their freedom of expression.

I believe that both worlds have now become conscious of the impending change, and are beginning to address the issues and confront the challenges. These issues are multiple and complex and affect many players, not only libraries and publishers. This means that common solutions must be found. The very fragmentation of both the libraries and the publishing worlds may be a disadvantage in economic terms, but it must also be seen as an opportunity for flexibility and dynamism, for experimentation and innovation so that a critical mass of experience can be acquired. Issues range from a more efficient allocation of limited resources to legal ones which regulate the framework in which the information society must operate (for instance IPR and copyright; privacy). Yet others are socio-cultural ones, including those related to education and training and the new skills required of people. There are also many technical issues, not the least being more efficient systems for the creation, management and access to information and correlated services, the basic need for interoperability and standards and the special problems related to the compound use of several media to present a single comprehensive message. The convergence of technologies and players is also the convergence of issues which one can no longer attempt to resolve in isolation.

European Commission programmes and policies cannot dictate the changes that should occur. They can provide an orientation and as far as possible a coherent framework; they can provide a stimulus and an impetus and act as a facilitator for common solutions. They should complement national programmes. They can provide seed money to permit dialogue, co-operation and experimentation. This is logical since none of the issues are any longer the exclusive province of one or other domain, one or other player, one or other country, or a single industry. Not surprisingly there are also a range of EU programmes and subprogrammes addressing different facets or aspects of them. For instance, although there is no single programme dedicated only to publishing as a specific domain, there are relevant electronic publishing projects being supported under various R&D programmes, each programme focusing on a different aspect - be it on information engineering, education, or aspects of communication or hard- and software. One finds such projects under the new IT programme, under the advanced communications programme and under several sectors of the Telematics programme. The future INFO 2000 programme will also focus on the "content industry", a concept at the heart of publishing.

I would like now to concentrate particularly on our Telematics for Libraries Programme because it is the one which is most relevant to the context of the conference. Strictu sensu it is not an independent programme but an application area or sector of the more generic R&D programme for Telematics; but it is convenient to refer to it as a programme. The first one ran from 1991 to the end of 1994. Politically and in terms of budget it has finished insofar as no new actions can be launched under its work programme, but technically it is still very much underway since only about a third of the projects launched are now completed and the majority are only scheduled to finish at the end of 1996 or in 1997. It was what we called a start-up programme designed to mobilise, build up a momentum and generate hands on experience and a learning curve which could start a process of change to modernise libraries and their services. The structure of the work programme attempted to cover the principal issues which preoccupy libraries in order to encourage as broad a participation as possible from across the European Community. Library networking was the central but not the only concept of the work programme. Without counting workshops and other similar events, some 80 actions were launched altogether, of which 51 are shared-cost co-operative projects, three are rather important concerted actions or "platforms" (CoBRA, ECUP and EFILA), as well as a number of specific studies. The impact of the technical results is not yet fully felt, since most projects are still on-going but the diversity of the topics addressed and technologies experimented with is in fact rather impressive. May I refer you the October 1995 issue of the journal "Program" (vol. 29 nÝ4) for an overview. A number of our projects have to do inter alia with issues relevant to aspects of electronic publishing, such as access to, or delivery of electronic publications. Some of those projects will be presented in papers during the course of this conference. Many projects have had to address the copyright issue, even if they could only find a temporary solution, for instance for the duration of the project. However diverse, all these projects cannot alone resolve all the technical economic, legal and even service problems of all libraries, they can only serve as indicators, pointing to a solution, or as foundations or building blocks for a more comprehensive approach.

The first Call for Proposals issued for the new libraries programme in March 1995 has yielded a short list of 14 new projects and 6 concerted actions. The next Call for Proposals is scheduled this year, probably in June 1996. The first Call served, so to speak as a bridge between the two work programmes since one must recognise that it takes some time for a new approach, however elegant on paper, to be fully apprehended in the reality of everyday preoccupations.

Let me describe in some more detail then what our new programme, which is underway since last year, is about. Library networks and interconnected library services is still the centre-piece but in a more ambitious and integrated fashion, since the key objective is to help create a modern libraries infrastructure as an integral part of the larger information and communications infrastructure. Its work programme is divided into 3 action lines:

This tripartite structure assumes that more and more information will be available electronically, whether it is generated by publishers, by other information providers or by the libraries themselves. It assumes that integrated services will have to be provided both locally and in a distributed environment. Moreover, it assumes that libraries cannot keep aloof from all the other networked information activities which are emerging in parallel to the traditional publishing chain and are having an impact on scholarly communication. One of the explicit priorities is to create new alliances both with traditional partners (such as publishers and distributors) and with new partners (such as network service providers). New alliances mean new dialogues, new synergies and new ways of working together. There is room for such new alliances throughout the detailed "Call Topics" of the current work programme, as it is obvious that libraries cannot successfully resolve the problems connected with electronic publishing in the broad sense, either in isolation or unilaterally. These technical problems are very diverse and range for instance from authentication and preservation of electronic documents to authorisation, cost recovery and economic models, from standard formats to open architectures.

The programme should provide the opportunities to experiment in service environments and thus prepare for future usage. It is not designed to resolve the enigma of electronic publishing per se (be it mono or multimedia) nor its engineering problems upstream. For that purpose the Information and Language Engineering sectors of the Telematics Applications Programme are more suitable contexts.

Publishing is an international business and networks have made information ubiquitous. Even in serving their local users, libraries have to network to provide access to that ubiquitous information. Electronic information is precisely that which will break down the illusion of self-sufficiency. What are the key areas to work on: How to marry effectively past practice and usage with the new possibilities; how to ensure really open approaches which will not cut off arbitrarily promising avenues; how to set policies which contain the seeds for the future as well as enable the present; and last but not least how to adapt the legal and regulatory framework so that it facilitates achievement and does not become a barrier to progress. Librarians and publishers have jointly to find new solutions, new platforms for synergies and a common vision for the future. The work that we have started upon is for everyone, and the contributions from all countries are valuable. That is the European dimension.

Sekretariat der Bibliothek der Universitšt Bielefeld