Book Review: Three Views of the Internet

Ann Marie Cunningham, Wendy Wicks, eds. Three Views of the Internet. Philadelphia, PA: NFAIS Report Series no. 3, 1993. vi + 105 pp. Price unknown. ISBN 0 942308 425

HTML version of a book review which appeared in the Journal of Information Networking, vol. 1, no. 3 1994. Text may differ slightly from print version, content remain intact.

Somewhere in the beginning of 1993 NFAIS, the National Federation of Abstracting and Information Services, held its annual conference. Exactly when and where, nor information on NFAIS is given in the report. Part of this conference was an Internet Program, for which speakers from three organisations, OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), CNI (Coalition for Networked Information) and Elsevier Science Publishers, were invited to write a position paper and to engage in a panel presentation. Aim of this program was to "... help database publishers formulate a working concept of the network and identify their roles as primary players on the network scene." The report contains the three papers, the panel presentations, a short discussion, an extensive and timely bibliography as well as a thorough index.

For OCLC, Larry L. Learn wrote the paper while Martin Dillon spoke at the conference. In his rather technical paper, Learn looks at the Internet as one possible network solution for libraries cooperating in cataloguing through OCLC. This creates a dilemma for OCLC as this organisation has invested in a private network solution and is 28 percent dependent on telecommunications charges to its members for revenues. On the other hand there is a dilemma for member libraries which see the Internet as a solution which is for free. Wether this will stay so remains to be seen. Martin Dillon draws a comparison between present (print) libraries and the Internet as an electronic library. He illustrates his point by referring to Gopher and concludes, rightly, that it is a poor tool for locating resources. The Internet -as an electronic library- could gain if the expertise of database publishers, librarians and publishers were combined in a manner similar to the way these players operate in the present print-based information cycle.

This could be labelled as a modernizing strategy, one of the possible reactions to the changes being brought about by the Internet in the system of scholarly communication. As Paul Evan Peters of CNI points out in his contribution, modernizing strategies seek new solutions to old problems. Two other possibilities are the innovating and the transformational strategy. Innovating strategies try to solve problems previously unsolved. In this regard, Peters refers to WAIS, Gopher, WWW, Z39.50 as a basis for a "personal, individualized window on the world of information." The shift is from secondary (references or pointers to) information to primary information and to information looking for inquirers rather than researchers looking for information. Transformational strategies address future information problems which we are not even aware of today. Peters sees the human genome project and the Sequoia Project of the University of California (global climate change) as examples of " `co-presence' of people and knowledge" made possible by the Internet. Peters ends with a short overview of US political factors.

The title of Karen Hunter's paper, "An electronic field of dreams: journal publishing and the Internet", puts Peters view of the Internet into perspective again. Elsevier is actively engaged in exploring the possibilities of the Internet as is evident from the TULIP project. At the same time, Elsevier is very aware of the dangers involved for the present "publishing ecosystem". Hunter mentions three political factors regarding use of the Internet, which hinder publishers investment decisions. These are the NSF's Acceptable Use Policy, the possibility of future charges for use, and system control and maintenance. Besides these factors there are other matters to be concerned, of which intellectual property rights is probably the hottest issue, especially in light of the "access versus ownership" discussion among librarians. Hunter asserts that if publishers want to stay in (electronic) business, they have to find ways to add value to electronic products. Possibilities are faster dissemination, adding experimental data and hyperlinking with scholarly discussion next to the more traditional publisher's function of ensuring quality.

The three views of the Internet presented in this report are certainly worthwhile for those of us involved in deciding about our institution's future course, although I must admit there is not much not being said or written before. The central question remains how the position of the present players in the information chain, scholars and students, primary and secondary publishers, subscription agents and libraries will alter in the coming decade. Several scenarios are possible with one constant factor: the scholar's position will become ever more central. The role of the other players will remain to be discussed for a while.

Hans Roes
Tilburg University Library