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

3.7.5 Interfaces

A major barrier to the widespread use of electronic publications is the wide variety of interfaces at different levels that confront anyone who wishes to use different types of electronic systems and resources. First there is the actual means of communication with the computer, which can be a keyboard or keypad, a mouse, a touch-screen, or even, in the not too distant future, voice recognition. Next, in the case of keyboard- and mouse-operated systems, there are the different means of giving instructions to the system. Here the basic choice is between command-driven operation and graphical user interfaces (GUIs). The latter, which are now widely accepted, at least bring a certain degree of standardisation to the way in which applications have to be approached, but they cannot overcome the basic interface problem of creating a bridge between an extremely complex and powerful system and an inexperienced (and often impatient) information seeker.

A further problem is that there are differences in the command sets used for different databases and hosts (inhouse and commercial), and different CD-ROMs. This is difficult enough for the information professional, who is motivated to learn how to cope with all these different interfaces. It is inevitably more intimidating for the end user, who may only need to use such systems on an occasional basis. Even if he or she can learn enough from a quick scan of the manual or the help screens, it is unlikely that the system will be used at its full efficiency. The growing popularity of the Internet, with its enormous diversity of information resources, will undoubtedly give rise to more problems in this area, and the development of global standards for interfaces is to be encouraged.

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