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4. The electronic library of the future

4.1 The Future of the Technology

4.1.1 Computers and Storage Media

When we deal with images and video of high definition, requirements for their transmission, processing, and storage become far more severe than those met by the current microcomputer systems. The developments that took place in these areas in the past, however, are remarkable, and it is still possible to predict the near future by extrapolating earlier development. It is even forecast, though some might think it too optimistic, that the supercomputer of a few years ago will be available in a laptop type before the turn of the century.

Along with this development, storage capacity of optical media will become much higher. According to a forecast, within a few years, recording density of optical discs will reach a level of 20 Gbits per square inch, more than 20 times that of the present ones.

4.1.2 The Extension of Networks

Communication networks will be set up in many more parts of the world. At the same time, data will be transmitted at a much higher speed from one point to another in the near future. This will enable even moving pictures to be transmitted as digitized data through lines. A project closely related to this is the broad-band ISDN, which will be dealt with by another speaker.

Proliferation of networks adopting different protocols may cause anxiety among people in the library community. But, Internet, "a network of networks," has solved most of the problems that relate to the interconnection of disparate networks.

4.1.3 Hypermedia Systems

The media can be classified by their linearity, i.e., whether only sequential access to information chunks is possible, and by their degrees of integration of different forms of presentation, i.e., characters, sound, still images, or moving pictures. Figure 1 shows where each form of "publications" can be placed.

If, as Vannevar Bush pointed out, a non-sequential multimedia approach is more tenable by human minds, a large part of the media currently provided through libraries might gradually be replaced by hypermedia. For this to happen, however, a far broader band width than that of the current networks and user appliances that enable the user to operate systems with ease would have to be developed.

4.1.4. More Intelligent Systems

The information needs of a user can be met at varying levels of satisfaction. The level of satisfaction is determined by the way the answer to a question is provided. There are many types of answers, as shown in figure 2. (See also Lancaster [20].)

Figure 1 Classification of media by linearity and by degree of integration

Figure 2 Types of answers to a question

deduce answer to question


provide answer regardless of its location


provide answer from stock


refer to document possibly containing answer

Up to the present, libraries have been concerned primarily with the preparation of tools that refer users to documents that may contain the answer to a question. Library catalogues, though many of them have been computerized, are tools to indicate the presence or absence of the documents sought. Referring users to potential sources of information should not be the final goal of the library. In parallel, the library should develop systems that can be used by the user without help. We can do many things to make our systems more intelligent.

The intelligent gateway is one of them. Another is an automated reference/referral system based on knowledge-base system, which is one of the applications intended to realize the deduction of the answer to a question shown at the top of figure 2.

4.1.5 Personalization

The library is not only a place where a collection of publications that is supposed to be of common interest to its users is stored. It should also provide the individual users or groups of users with services they need.

The same applies to the electronic library. If a user could create his own library when and as needed by putting together the necessary parts of the collection(s), he could have a virtual, personal library, or even an ad hoc working library that lasts only for the period it is required. A similar idea was included in the Songoku project, but this has not yet been realized.

4.2 Problems To Be Tackled

The forecast advancement of technologies related to various processes of information transfer might lead us to predict that ubiquitous personal computers connected via networks to any information source regardless of its location will soon make it possible to obtain any required information in a matter of seconds. But, the future is not necessarily programmed to be rosy. It is up to us to make the future a real golden age of knowledge.

Problems to be tackled for the betterment of information transfer are multifarious. The author will deal briefly with some of them: bibliographic control, information gaps, and the right to information.

4.2.1 Bibliographic Control and Universal Access

For the library community as a whole, bibliographic control has been a task of great importance to be carried out as a prerequisite to making required materials available. The preparation of a national bibliography that contains the secondary information on documents published within a country has been an essential part of the efforts. Arrangements for legal deposit have also helped the compilation of national bibliographies.

A number of libraries have started to provide services based on on-line databases and new media like CD-ROMs. In addition, it is predicted that, in the future, many more publications will be available only in electronic form.

Bibliographic control has tended to be limited to visible entities. Because many computer files such as CD-ROMs, floppy disks, and ROM chips are stand-alone products that can be purchased by libraries, they may be treated in similar fashion to conventional audiovisual materials. But, what about online databases or videotex? What about the many databases mounted on a computer that is located abroad and accessible on-line from any part of the world? We need to discuss universal access rather than bibliographic control [8].

Efforts are being made by computer specialists to facilitate access to computerized information and human resources located at different sites. With the advent of a network of networks such as Internet, which connects and makes accessible many disparate networks, this sort of tool has become indispensable.

The CCITT X.500 standard is one of the traditional directory services that rely on hierarchical organization, but recent projects aim at enabling more flexible and efficient resource discovery in very large network environments [29].

4.2.2 The Information Gap and the Right to Information

The term "information gap" refers to the fact that certain people or countries are in a better position than others to obtain required information. This may occur between people or regions within a country or between countries. Many people are concerned that the technology gap will worsen the situation because many countries cannot afford to invest in the research and development of advanced computer and communications technologies. They fear that in the future, when most publications become available only electronically, many people will be excluded from access to knowledge.

Another issue related to the information gap is the right to information. The idea that, while this right is not without limits, people must have access to certain categories of information has been well established within the public library community. Recently, however, there has been a gradual increase in the number of public libraries that try to recover the costs of online information retrieval services from fees paid by users. If the tendency develops, only those who can afford to pay for it will be able to obtain required information.

Although there are some proposed solutions for these problems, such as the establishment of information funds or the provision of information coupons, the author will leave these problems to the panels, which will consider them in detail.

5. Conclusions

If we trace the history of information transfer, we will find many attempts to collect, organize, and make available the world's knowledge to those who want it. The Royal Society of London, the Institut international de bibliographie (the predecessor of the FID) and H.G. Wells's World Encyclopaedia are but a few examples.

Today, given the advanced technologies such as high-performance microcomputers and workstations, optical discs for mass storage, high-speed interconnected communications networks, multimedia systems, almost within our grasp, we are in a far better position than our predecessors to expect that any person will be able to access information sources at any place in the world from wherever he or she resides. But, this can be said only from a technical point of view. The economic feasibility comes next. Moreover, the technical and economic possibilities do not necessarily mean that any existing new technology immediately comes into our daily lives. There are other factors, such as political, social, and psychological ones. Much work remains to be done to make the golden age of knowledge a reality.


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The discussion on session 2B began with an intervention by N. Streitz, who wanted to know what the actual usage of databases was and whether they were cost-effective; to his knowledge, "most of the scientific and technical databases are subsidized by governments." N. Dusoulier explained that all databases in scientific and technical fields were in fact underutilized, but that when talking about cost-effectiveness, one should take into account the revenues derived from the various by-products, such as CD-ROMs and publications produced from these very databases. She confirmed that, with a few exceptions, databases in these fields are subsidized by governments or scientific societies.

Next, F. Thompson took the floor to state that "databases can be a costly trap" because once a corporation has invested in the creation of a database, its obsolescence can cause real difficulties; and yet bringing the database up to current technology could be very costly. N. Dusoulier agreed that maintenance of databases is costly, particularly because technologies are moving very fast, updating databases is expensive, and the cost of securing qualified staff is high. This is why "so many databases are created and then disappear."

The next intervention was made by D. Torrijos, who wondered why cooperation in database production was disappearing. She thought that this kind of cooperation was especially useful for developing countries to enable them to actively participate in the production of marketable information products and eventually earn a share of the information market. N. Dusoulier explained that cooperation is not always cost-effective and enumerated some of the current difficulties. It is necessary to agree on the standards to use; one must write interfaces; input is often slow; and consistency has to be checked. Most database producers concentrate on core journals because of the high costs of processing and maintaining databases, as mentioned earlier a fact that reduces the need for cooperation. As to the share in the market, she added that it is difficult to find a simple way of sharing revenues on real input; the statistics on what is actually used in databases are not well known.

Continuing the subject, M. Dierkes asked two questions: Why is the establishment of databases on a regional basis so weak, and how should decisions on the fields in which to establish databases subsidized by public funds be reached? On the first question, N. Dusoulier thought that perhaps there was no clear incentive given by governments nor were there regional policies on the matter. However, she believed that in Europe, sharing the production of databases will be reached in a few years' time. Responding to the second question, she expressed the belief that the needs and requirements of users should be the driving force for making decisions.

Next, D. Lide focused on the issue of overlap in coverage of different databases. Is the overlap too high, in the sense that it increases total costs, or too low, in the sense that literature on the boundary between two disciplines is not adequately covered? In her reply, N. Dusoulier confirmed that in bibliographic databases the overlap is certainly high on core journals. On the other hand, on fringe fields, "we still have to evaluate the missing information." As to numeric and factual databases, she did not believe that there was a significant overlap.

The discussion then moved on to communication networks. G. Johannsen wondered what will remain of T. Kamae's concepts for the twenty-first century in view of the depression faced by most industrialized countries and assuming that "we need to share with the former East bloc and with the South." He wanted to know which were T. Kamae's priorities. The latter agreed that in the long term, depression was inevitable and consequently the project could be delayed. However, if the project is important to society, the greatest effort should be made to bring it into reality. Without any doubt, he said, regarding the question of priorities, the first choice for ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) implementation will be the business sector.

F. Thompson took the floor to ask when the large reduction in user costs would be realized, recognizing that initial conversion costs to fibres were very high. T. Kamae thought that it depended on what applications would be moved to broad-band ISDN. "If all television is moved to the telephone" he said, "this will happen much sooner." He recognized, however, that this move currently encountered many legal problems.

M. Takahashi then wanted to know what kind of research was being done to clarify the needs of those who would use the new technology in the twenty-first century? The paper's author explained that at present, only engineers were working on the development of ATM-relevant technologies. "We are planning to build a prototype ATM system," he said, "to demonstrate what can be done using available technologies first." On the basis of a common knowledge of the state of the art, specialists from different fields, such as the humanities and the social sciences, will presumably be able to have fruitful discussions on the social impact of new telecommunications technologies.

With reference to the overheads shown by T. Kamae, A. Sage wanted to know what specific interpretation was associated with the term "intelligent networks." T. Kamae explained that the term had roughly two meanings. The first referred to the type developed in the United States. The second, a broader sense, referred to a general network that has some kinds of intelligence, such as a language-translation capability.

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