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

3.6 Standards

3.6.1 Format standards

Individual records

The transmission or exchange of textual information calls for different kinds of standards, depending on the quality and complexity of what is being sent. At the simplest level, basic electronic mail systems use a limited character set (ASCII) for sending and receiving text with little control over the appearance of the final product. Records in word-processor formats can usually be exchanged only between people who have the same word-processor software. For the transmission of text in a way that enables the recipient to reproduce precisely the original layout of a document, there is increasing interest in the use of Standard Generalized Mark-up Language (SGML), which is the ISO standard for the description of electronic documents. This has even become the accepted input format for some text retrieval systems such IBM's BookManager.

Humanities scholars have made their own contribution in this area, through the Text Encoding Initiative, which was established to address the problem of proliferation of differently encoded texts for their research. Archivists have a particular need to develop standards for the transmission of structured information in context, which has already led to the development of the International Standard for Archival Description (ISAD), and will require much further work and consultation in the future.

The problems of standardisation become more complex when electronic publishing involves graphics, sound or motion pictures. Here again the level of standardisation is closely linked to the quality of information transmission that is needed for different applications.

Media standards

Standards have been established for the way in which data are recorded on CD-ROM, which have made possible their now wide acceptance as a publishing medium. The situation remains to some extent fluid, however, as new developments permitting higher storage densities come onto the market. New standards will be required for other new electronic publishing media as these try to secure a foothold in the marketplace.

3.6.2 Quality standards

Publishers of conventional books and journals have established rigorous editorial control processes over many centuries that serve to maintain the quality of the end product. Purchasers of information in electronic format expect the same standards, which at present are lacking. There is a need to establish a code of practice that would cover:

(a) The operation of a peer review system using expert, but not self-selected, referees.

(b)The inclusion of a date of receipt of the contribution by the publisher, and the date of acceptance.

(c)The provision that the composition of the document is stable, or that it is the definitive version and would not be subsequently modified.

(d)The availability of an archive for the journal, preferably independent of the publisher, and assuring so far as is practicable permanent storage of the information. This might be linked with the introduction of a system of legal deposit.

(e)The introduction of a universally accepted system of identifiers attached to electronic articles or similar items in order to facilitate the unequivocal selection of that item. It is also desirable that a system be introduced to facilitate the navigation of an electronic text, for the retention of page numbers may no longer be appropriate. Should a system for line or paragraph numbering be favoured?

(f)Alongside the introduction of a universal system of document identifiers to facilitate retrieval of that item from a store, each item should be tagged or labelled in such a way that the tag is recorded by the retrieval system and is presented to the end user, so providing for the recovery of any copyright fees payable. It may be necessary to arrange that the tag be presented on the viewing device throughout the time that the item is in use, and that it is always included in any printout. This principle, alluded to in the Follett Report, is applicable to all media.

Electronic versions of conventional journals are beginning to appear and these will carry the high standards of the parent publication. To a considerable extent, these will form a bridge between the conventional journal and the purely electronic journal. They will also serve as a test bed for launches in this area.

In recent months, a member of the Working Party (Alan Singleton, of Institute of Physics Publishing) carried out a small-scale survey, among selected publishers and others, of the need for and content of some guidelines for electronic journals, including most of the elements listed above. The response was generally favourable.

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