Conference logo Networked Information in an International Context


9th and 10th February 1996 at the Ramada Hotel, Heathrow, UK


RICHARD WEST, Vice-Chancellor, California State University

This account was drafted for this report by The Marc Fresko Consultancy. It is based on notes taken during the presentation and slides used.


The costs of scholarly information are based on long experience with a print-based creation and distribution system. The global Internet, however, is already changing the economics of the information distribution system. Understanding networked information and its potential effect on universities’ costs for acquiring, storing and delivering information is essential in today’s information and technology-oriented world. New approaches to allocating institutional funds to recognise networked information are required if scholars and students are to benefit from new information technologies. Examining the functions of the scholarly information distribution process will indicate where changes in role and investment are required by universities if networked information is to be used successfully.


We can describe the knowledge infrastructure in terms of collection(s) of materials, methods of access, means of storage, channels of distribution and technologies for printing and display. In functional terms, it can be considered as equivalent to a traditional library. By contrast however, the Knowledge Infrastructure is radically different from conventional libraries in procedural and conceptual terms. In effect, we have the two completely different models of information management co-existing in parallel.

For any meaningful analysis on the Knowledge Infrastructure, we shall have to assume the existence of the Internet (or something like it). We will also find that the Knowledge Infrastructure demands close collaboration between traditionally separate constituencies such as campus organisations, technology groups and librarians.


The US has seen a major transition in management of the network over the last 18 months or so. The change has involved the emergence of the Internet as an entity in its own right. The models for its overall management and technical approach are being changed as it moves away from Federal Government control (under the NSF) towards a private market approach. Some academics feel some sense of loss as this privatisation proceeds; but the full financial and technological impacts of this evolutionary change - and of the rapid growth which triggered it - are still far from complete.

Today, the Knowledge Infrastructure is a priority for the current administration and Congress. The national technological infrastructure effectively extends down to the workstation level, but policy fails to recognise the demands of integrated functionality. The level of regulation is being debated; some want a competitive environment, though a regulated environment has real advantages. The Telecommunications Reform Act - a major piece of legislation — is an attempt to reconcile some of these conflicting demands; but competition will be central to the policy.

The current network operates on data packets, and is moving towards a market-managed technological environment. There are regulated local voice network services and also regulated local video distribution services. The trend is towards integration of these in the near future.

This change and debate inescapably raises the question of what the higher education community’s interest should be in the evolving national networking infrastructure.


Any model of scholarly communications must extend from the creation of information to its use, and must take in all steps in between. This can be done by expressing a model in terms of functions and performance attributes.

The functions can be summarised in the following list:

Note that a digital Knowledge Infrastructure has to provide equivalents to all of these functions if it is to be successful. Along with these key functions, we have to consider the following performance attributes:

Analysis with this model suggests that new roles and changed institutional behaviour will be required. It is also clear that there is a desperate need for investment in the technological infrastructure.

The success and survival of the Knowledge Infrastructure must be examined in the light of this model. We can, for example, analyse electronic journals, comparing haw they perform along the entire chain from creator to user, compared to the conventional paper scheme. One of our challenges is to make sure that all functions are performed well.


The marketplace for scholarly information is evolving rapidly.

The concept of intellectual property rights (IPR) is central; and the issues it raises are controversial. Fundamentally, we can identify three kinds of information:

Note that the paper model combines these three kinds of information successfully. There are two ways in which information is used, namely:

Fierce debate rages around what usage should be compensated and what should be uncompensated. The mechanisms for dealing with IPR for electronic materials are not yet fully developed, and where international transactions are concerned the level of development is even lower. The concept of "fair use" is creating a controversial dynamic; if anything, there is a trend towards a more conservative, more restrictive interpretation of fair use.

While issues and mechanisms are immature, we can be confident of one thing: there is no free ride in this electronic environment; we will get what we pay for!

Resource Sharing

Librarians have long been great sharers of information. Possibly because of this, perceptions about resource sharing are based on concepts allied to the paper model, and these perceptions are changing but slowly. Accordingly there is a tendency towards the premise that any savings will result from an extension of the inter-library loan model; and equally a tendency to view the acquisitions budget as likely to show savings. In fact however, due to the continued strength of private property rights in scholarly literature, libraries acquisitions budgets are likely to increase rather decrease.


To use the language of classical economics, the marketplace for journals is imperfect. The imperfection is due to the fact that there are no substitutable goods for many journals, as evidenced by the fact that librarians tend to reduce the numbers of subscriptions rather than subscribing to alternative titles when faced with price rises which exceed budget increases. The last few years have seen increases of !0% - 15% every year in the cost of journals. We can guess that increases cannot continue indefinitely; something is bound to change.

Information Pricing

Electronic media allow for a diverse range of pricing methods and policies. The question of how we will pay for information is now considerably more significant than it was with paper publications. The pricing schemes include:

There may be other variables too; for instance, costs for the same information may vary according to how new or old the information is when it is used.

It is important for us to recognise that the different approaches can lead to considerably different total costs. We can have some influence on costs, at least in some cases, by co-operating with other users to reap economies of scale. And it is clear that the general trend is towards licensing rather than acquisition. However, other issues are less clear cut: for example, if a licence payment is arranged, what happens when the licence expires? What happens if users are by that time "hooked" on using the information? Libraries should beware of low initial costs for licences.


Electronic information requires less storage space than information on paper (though realistically, at best we can only hope that it will reduce the rate of growth of library storage space). Furthermore, the cost of storing information electronically is less than the cost of storing the equivalent on paper (at least in the short term). So electronic materials can lead to savings in costs for storage, access and circulation of scientific and technical materials. We should look to these cost centres to provide additional funds for content acquisition.

In the US, the concept of needing to pay for archiving and preservation is still relatively young (because the history of the US is relatively so short). But archiving and preservation must be recognised as being of paramount importance, and funded accordingly.

Two conceptual changes will be enabled by emerging electronic technologies:

Most so-called "electronic" strategies today rely on the use of paper at some level. A good example is the SPIRES High Energy Physics pre-prints initiative, which is operating successfully on a large scale. Although it allows the production, circulation and storage of papers in electronic form, the authors still demand that the papers be published in paper form. The real savings of these technologies will only start to be realised when there is no paper stage.


All of these factors will lead us to revise our thinking about the relative importance and sizes of traditional library cost centres. Making investment decisions for electronic information rights in a networked world are complex.

Content costs will almost inevitably increase, and there is little that librarians alone can do about it. We therefore will need to find ways to accommodate the increased costs of information content. Possibilities may include:

Finally, the cost structures may affect collection policies, as there will be pressures to let these policies be dictated by usage more than before.


The above has outlined several of the issues and scenarios which will shape the future. Just when a new electronic models will rule is not known; certainly we do not expect any single model to dominate the scene for the next twenty years. Over that period the differing models will exist in parallel. This will lead to "unnecessary:" duplication of some activities — and hence higher costs. Consequently we will need funds processes to support all the models at once, and recognition of this increasingly expensive and complex environment is an essential element of any new strategy.

To close, there are some actions we can take to advance the situation positively. The actions are:

British Library R&D Report 6250
© The British Library Board 1996
© Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Bodies 1996

The opinions expressed in this report are those of the contributors and not necessarily those of the sponsoring organisations.


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This report of the conference was prepared by The Marc Fresko Consultancy Telephone +44 181 645 0080 E-mail

Converted to HTML by Isobel Stark of UKOLN, July 1996