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

3. Impact on libraries and information services: key issues

3.1 Introduction

From the Working Party's discussions it is apparent that there are differences in the degree of impact of electronic publishing on different types of libraries and information services, but in general terms they are concerned with the same problems. All are under increasing pressure to achieve more with less resources; if electronic publications can enable them to improve and extend the scope of their services in a cost-effective way, then they will want to take advantage of these possibilities.

It appears that academic libraries are the most heavily committed to the use of electronically published services, particularly online databases and CD-ROMs. They are required to provide high- quality services to large numbers of students, who can be trained (more easily than the public at large) to use information tools such as CD-ROMs. They also have to provide support to researchers who must have access to information services which, in practical terms, can now only be provided with the aid of electronic sources. So far as document supply is concerned, electronic methods have become essential to the operation of the access policy which academic and other libraries have to pursue. Some measure of the importance of electronic resources to university libraries is given by the growth in average annual expenditure on online access and CD-ROMs from £12,000 in 1988 to £50,000 in 1993.(ref10)

Public libraries are showing increasing interest in electronic publishing products and services. Many offer online searching services, several provide access to CD-ROMs and to information on diskettes, and at least one has an operational CD-ROM network available for public use. The tendency at present is to provide services of this kind, at a cost, in the context of services to business and education rather than the general public, but this picture may change.

Special libraries make use of electronically published products and services to a varying degree, depending on their subject field. In some fields of science and technology, such as the pharmaceutical sector, industrial and research libraries regard EPs as very important information resources. Business information services also are heavy users of electronic services. Archivists in the future will themselves be electronic publishers of descriptive catalogues, and whole or part archives, leading eventually to a radical transformation in the way that original source material is administered and consulted.

The traditional concept of a well-found library is now obsolete, for it is no longer possible for an academic or industrial library to cater for all the needs of its users from its own stock. As a recent study (ref11) concluded, the reduction in the range and quality of book and journal collections in academic libraries is irreversible without the injection of large amounts of public money (a most unlikely circumstance), so that new methods of information retrieval, alongside the fostering of better library management and usage, are being pursued to correct some of the deficiencies. The Follett Report (ref12) has explored the funding of libraries in the UK in depth, and looks toward electronic methods of information provision as a means of satisfying the expected demand. Electronic publishing offers much for the library of the future, but gives rise to a considerable number of major issues, which are discussed below.

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