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The Evolving National Information Network–Potential Impact

Commission on Preservation and Access

The Evolving National Information Network

Potential Impact

The document life cycle

To assist in understanding the consequences that a ubiquitous national information network could have on preservation and access to scholarly material, it is useful to examine the life cycle of a document and how a networked world might change the way scholars produce and use documents.

Scholars in almost all fields develop and share information in a remarkably similar fashion. The author typically starts a publication by developing an outline of the area she wishes to cover. Using the distributed computing environment supported by the national network, she might well make the outline accessible to a small group of co]leagues. The scholar then produces a rough draft of her paper and, at some point, shares that draft with a few close associates and colleagues. Before the advent of the personal computers and the network, the paper was typically a typed script and reproduced via photocopier and facsimile. In the networked world the paper is already in digital form and stored on a file server. The draft will therefore be shared with other scholars by providing them with the network name of document. They will retrieve it, perhaps printing a copy locally, through their own workstation, which will also have access to the file server via the network.

After gaining feedback from colleagues, the scholar will typically present a version of the paper at a scholarly conference, perhaps distributing copies not for attribution. In some cases, the paper will be incorporated into a set of conference proceedings and be published for the first time. While that publication is today accomplished by producing a paper copy of the proceedings for distribution to the attendees, the network will allow the paper to be included in a catalog that references the file server on which the final copy of the paper is maintained. After further collegial comments, the scholar is likely to enhance the paper and submit it to a professional journal in her field for peer review and publication. Usually, by this time, the paper has been read and the material is familiar to as many as a hundred other scholars working in closely related areas.

Only with its proceedings or journal publication does the paper enter a public bibliography and become available to students and scholars in libraries throughout the world. The delay from the initial creation of the paper to its broad availability is partly due to its iterative refinement. Scholars do not wish to provide their papers for broad distribution until they are confident that they have thought through all of the issues in a careful fashion.

Barriers to scholarship

There are, however, other delays in the process, often as long as a year or more, that are simply a result of time constants built into the current review and journal publication process. The library acquisition and cataloging process can often add additional time delays, especially to information that ultimately finds its way into book form rather than into a scholarly journal.

Unfortunately, libraries are under increasing budgetary pressure that increases the difficulty of providing a comprehensive set of periodical subscriptions and purchasing the full set of scholarly monographs published in all of the fields covered by the modern university. As a result, the process of scholarly publication and distribution of scholarly information are becoming steadily less adequate.

Publishers are also under economic pressures and are finding it very difficult to interrupt this trend. The cost of publishing materials continues to increase and these cost increases must be recovered with steadily smaller publication runs. The specialization of certain publishers in scholarly materials means that there is less and less opportunity for substantial cross-subsidization of scholarly publications by more popular and profitable publications. Furthermore, while the publication process could be organized differently to substantially reduce costs, publishers are presented by a set of antitrust rulings from collaborating to achieve those new approaches.

Libraries are challenged by the cost of acquiring materials. Recent studies by the Association of Research Libraries found that the price of serials has increased over 5O%, in a three year period. Many libraries are finding it impossible to keep purchasing all of the serial titles currently in their collection. Rather they are being forced, by the price increases in serials, to make a decision between buying books monographs) and a reduced number of serials. The Association for Research Libraries found that many of their member libraries were opting to maintain their expenditures on serials at a constant level (thus reducing the number of serials purchased) while reducing the monograph budget. The result is that scholars are handicapped by the less reliable and timely link between the development of new knowledge and its eventual appearance on the library shelf.

The network-enabled model

An electronically facilitated publishing environment could have a positive impact on the price a library would pay for information resources by potentially reducing or eliminating some of the steps currently mandatory in the publication process.

Electronic publishing also has the real potential of increasing the currency of information in the libraries.

Universities, working through their libraries, information technology organizations and, where available, university presses, are likely to be able to provide a new direction for scholarly publication. Most university scholars already produce the early drafts of their publications on personal computers that are increasingly tied together through networks that allow for the transmission of papers within the university and their subsequent sharing among scholars. We are beginning to see the emergence of standards for the production of publication quality information, not only printed text, but also pictorial and graphic information. Modern laser printer technology allows on-demand printing with quite acceptable quality. In other words, the technological structure for electronic publication is already in place in many universities and will shortly be in place in almost all institutions of higher education.

Some modest organizational changes and investments would produce an environment in which individual scholars could use these capabilities to write and publish their scholarly work and acquire the scholarly work of others. Electronic publication mechanisms could be created which would interact directly with the scholar and depend on the library for direct “publication.”

For example, when the scholar had refined her paper to the point that she wished to make it available to other scholars that she didn’t know, the library could catalog he unpublished paper so it could he found and read by scholars throughout the community. In order not to overburden the cataloging staff; the scholar herself would interact with an expert system that would guide her through the development of a preliminary cataloging record that would be inserted in the library’s online catalog with a special notation indicating it had not yet achieved the status of a formal catalog record.

When the scholar decided that she wished to submit the article to a journal, she would send electronic mail to the editor of the journal suggesting that the journal’s panel of reviewers review the article. She would, of course, send along an electronic copy of the article. The review panel might well suggest further changes in the article but, assuming that it was finally accepted for publication, the article would simply be included in the table of contents of that electronic journal.

The library would be notified electronically that an addition had been made to the table of contents of the journal. At that point, the informal catalog record developed by the faculty member would be reviewed by the journal and by the library preparatory to inclusion in the formal electronic catalog of the library. The paper would then gain the status of full publication. A similar process would occur in the case of a book publication, but with a publisher (perhaps a university press) replacing the journal review board.

To facilitate this new approach to scholarly information, libraries would install facilities that provide for the printing on demand of electronic publications. Scholars, through their professional societies, would organize review panels that decide whether or not a particular paper already in electronic form meets the standards of quality required to be admitted to the table of contents of an electronic journal. University presses would distribute electronic versions of books for on-demand printing.

The library would not only avoid many of the costs involved in subscribing to a printed journal or buying a book, but would also become a more integral part of the active scholarly life of the university by capturing publications for broad access at an early stage in their creation.

Higher education, working cooperatively, could create a new model for the publication of scholarly information that would substantially reduce the time lags currently experienced, reduce the costs and thereby increase the coverage and comprehensiveness of accessed information and encourage more cross-disciplinary communication.


This document life cycle has a number of implications for preservation and access to library materials. The first, and most obvious, is that digitized information can be preserved essentially forever with adequate attention to periodic copying to new media.8 Thus, each individual digital copy of a document can be preserved indefinitely. Further, since the network will, in order to promote efficient access, maintain multiple copies of each document in use, the probability of losing all copies is statistically very small in spite of the normal disasters which have destroyed so many valuable items in the past. The steadily declining standards for and cost of digital encoding and transmission of documents is providing an increasingly attractive substitute for physical conveyance of hard copy or microfilm. Finally, since the network will provide every user access to a “perfect” copy, local possession of a copy can be based strictly on frequency of reference rather than on accessibility.

Universities as a human knowledge repository

The most difficult issues will arise regarding documents not in continual use. The system will naturally operate to preserve information for which there is frequent demand. Unfortunately, the system, unless specifically designed for preservation of all materials held, will have a tendency to lose access to unreferenced information. As information is increasingly less used, it will be migrated to storage technologies less and less suited to rapid access. A very small number of master copies could eventually be stored in inactive archives well away from the information processing facilities. Even if the storage is done on archival quality media, the technology for reading and copying the media will have a limited lifetime. As a result, a program that regularly renews digital copies of unreferenced material will be necessary if it is to be preserved in digital form.

While the network will make it feasible for this copying to be concentrated in a few locations with special facilities and funding, this new approach to preservation will require a quite different organization and funding approach. The document will have to be thought of in terms of its maintenance cost as well as its acquisition cost These costs will be incurred only for documents not in use, so the motivation for preservation will not be driven by demand for access in the present, but will have to be thought of as an investment in potential access by future generations. In today’s environment, only research libraries have undertaken the responsibility of preservation of little used documents. There is no apparent likelihood of the network and associated digital storage technology relieving higher education of its responsibility in this arena.

Broad knowledge access

Higher education

Smaller institutions of higher education have a special challenge in maintaining library collections sufficient to support the quality of their programs. One very significant advantage of a highly networked environment that includes electronic library resources is that the distinction between the resources held by a large research university and the smaller institution could be minimized.

Smaller institutions often find it difficult to provide laboratory and research environments that meet the demands of high quality faculty. The ability to collaborate electronically has the potential of providing these faculty members with the ability to participate in significant collaborative activities. This also has the potential of increasing the number of scientists, engineers and scholars who actively work on significant projects.


The educational environment of the United States, and indeed its future workforce, is totally dependent on the quality of the K-12 educational environment. The demands currently placed on the K-12 system are outstripping the ability of this system to meet the additional requirements being placed on it. Meeting those demands by expanding traditional resources, (e.g., more teachers, more classes, more specialization and more materials) is clearly beyond the fiscal means of most school districts. Extension of the network could facilitate increased productivity of the currently available resources and bring higher quality services to the student, teachers, and administrators of these schools. Support from a broad coalition of government agencies, universities, and businesses has allowed substantial pilot use of the network in support of K-12 education. Preliminary results from those pilots show immense potential.


The educational and library resources required by scholars, students and others, are not geographically centered in any location. Current restrictions on both people and materials make it particularly difficult to ensure that the best resources are being used. The electronic environment described in this article helps to remove these boundaries and restrictions, particularly if we continue to work diligently for international telecommunications collaboration among educational institutions library networks, and national libraries.

The university

University mail service, copying etc.

In many U. S. universities electronic mail has already replaced much of the paper-based internal mail service. The electronic distribution of items that would previously have been copied and sent through the normal mail services have evolved so that the inclusion of spreadsheets and graphics is feasible. Items can, of course, be printed if needed. The majority of items sent electronically are probably never transferred to paper.

The Collaboratory

The ability to communicate and share significant quantities of all types of information is now resulting in significantly changed patterns of behavior. There are instances of papers being jointly created by individuals who are not only geographically separated but who have never met in person. This collaborative behavior is possible because of the existence of networked facilities. This environment in which the collaborative behavior is explicitly enhanced is being referred to as a collaboratory. Collaboratory experiments have the real potential of increasing the number of high quality scientists working on an experiment or bringing together the best and the brightest to solve a problem in spite of the physical barriers that often preclude such collaboration.


The underlying structure of the university is based on the interests of its scholars and the needs of the students of the university. The interests of scholars are simultaneously becoming more specialized and interdisciplinary resulting in simultaneous requirements for increased depth and breadth of knowledge. The electronic environment will assist the professor and student alike in assuring that the knowledge base available to that person is vast and with sufficient research, that she has the ability to effectively navigate this vast environment. The resources of the university will thus shift from that of a warehouse of information resources to allowing the available resources to be effectively used. Many of the activities of the university will be fundamentally altered as a result of this paradigm shift. As one example, the ownership of information items will become less important than our ability to effectively and efficiently access and use the

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