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The impact of electronic publishing on library services and resources in the UK

2.10 Document delivery

At present approximately 21 million document delivery transactions a year are processed worldwide, of which some 3.5 million are handled in the United Kingdom (mostly by the British Library Document Supply Centre). The great majority of these transactions involves the photocopying of requested journal articles and subsequent delivery of the photocopy through the mails. Requests are generally received by the service centres either on pre-paid request forms or, increasingly, by online request. A small but growing number of documents are retrieved in bit-mapped electronic form, notably those available via ADONIS, but of these most are printed out and delivered by post, or sent by fax. Very few as yet are delivered as a bit-stream to the requester's work-station or PC. However, present technology readily permits electronic delivery of materials existing in electronic form, whether bit-mapped or character-coded, and also permits scanning into electronic form of printed materials, and it is probable that electronic delivery of documents over networks will soon become the preferred mode of servicing document requests. A number of experiments have already confirmed its efficiency and effectiveness.

Recently a new type of document supply service, known as CAS-IAS systems, has emerged to build on established document delivery activities. CAS-IAS stands for a combination of Current Awareness Services and Individual Article Supply, and implies, in effect, one-stop services which provide online access to contents tables of selected current journals (usually in excess of 10,000 titles) coupled with online ordering of relevant items. The agencies supplying these services include library suppliers, library utilities, major libraries and publishers. At present, the main sources of requested documents are national libraries, and the documents themselves are delivered by fax. Some providers are seeking rights from publishers to store their material in electronic form, to save time and cost in accessing and transmitting articles through networks, but progress in this area is slow. Publishers wish to ensure that their editorial and commercial operations are not compromised by a loss of revenue, even though the potential degree of loss is very difficult to assess.

The unit cost of document delivery ranges from $10 to $20, the price often including a royalty payment of about $5 to the publisher. This level of cost can make the use of a document delivery service a financially attractive alternative to subscribing to an infrequently used journal title.

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