I periodici elettronici in biblioteca

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Enrico Martellini


For some years now, libraries have faced an unfavourable economic climate, determined on the one hand by shrinking budgets and on the other by the growing amount of information the scientific community expects to be able to access: the outlays required to satisfy users' information needs now far exceed any single library's economic possibilities.

In this framework, the new technologies can play an important role in overcoming the crisis, both as regards the more strictly economic aspects, and as regards the response to the users' needs which are increasingly demanding, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Problems such as the choice between access and ownership, between paper edition or electronic edition of documents have thus become a common subject of discussion among librarians.

The world of journals would appear to be in particular ferment, as the phenomenon of electronic journals increases in significance. The data show that the number of electronic journals is rapidly and constantly growing. They already offer many possibilities, or at least one imagines they can do so in the near future, vis-à-vis paper journals.

Obviously the long list of advantages cannot lead one to overlook the host of problems encountered by those who decide to opt for electronic journals. If the problems deriving from the very nature of electronic journals are generally well highlighted, less attention would appear to have been paid to the repercussions these problems have on the daily work of librarians who are charged with ensuring the availability of e-journals for the users.

This article draws on the experience gained in these years by the Library of the Scuola normale superiore at Pisa. Here, the activation of the service, particularly during the first phase, turned out to be somewhat complicated, and the greatest difficulties emerged in the ambit of relations with publishers, of organisation of the workstations and of information to the public.

From the very outset, relations with publishers, either because of the novelty of the electronic medium, or of frequent changes in editorial decisions, were from quite problematic. This despite the trend towards slimmer administrative procedures. Efforts to constantly improve the product offered concern not only the administrative aspect; many publishers, in fact, no longer limit themselves to offering a simple electronic version of what has been published on paper, but seek to insert the electronic journal within a organically structured service, which also includes additional services. Of interest is also the role played by the so-called "aggregators" who offer an intermediation service which merges the publications of various publishers; thus the single publisher no longer has to create and maintain his own autonomous system, and the final user can turn to a single aggregator to obtain access to different titles grouped under theme.

Slimmer administrative procedures allow libraries to focus on the equally problematic aspect of the organisation of service to the public.

This is an aspect which requires careful planning from the very outset, so as to avoid regrettable inconvenience to the users. It is, for example, important to have a clear picture of the IP addresses to abilitate to read electronic journals, or else to organise workstations for the users not only as regards logistics and equipment, but also maintenance. Last but not least is the problem of information to the public which, however, consists not merely in laying down the criteria regarding how to inform, but also the precise definition of what the information's content should be. The first doubt which arises for those charged with informing users of the electronic journals available in the library is whether the information should be limited only to those journals which are paid on some way or another and hence cannot be consulted by those who are not subscribers, or whether it should also embrace completely free electronic journals, accessible by anyone even outside the library.

The management of electronic journals can no longer be considered a mere appendix of the more general management of paper journals: maintaining relations with the publishers, the need for close links with the data processing centre, the instability of many situations, the need to contract the use licences, the continuous innovation of on-line journals, the problems of information to users make it necessary to organise a specific service, particularly in view of the inevitable increase which these tools are destined to enjoy. Closer collaboration between libraries and publishers is increasingly inevitable, not only in view of leaner administrative procedures, but also to ensure that the needs highlighted in the field can be assimilated more rapidly: first and foremost the definition of standards as regards the software to be used and the solution of the problem of data storage.

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