CBE Views, 9(1):12, Spring 1986


Will Full-Text Electronic Publishing Bypass the Need for the Secondary Services?


It seems to me that we need to redefine the term "secondary services." Let us assume that a single mammoth vendor like MEAD or DIALOG stores the full text of all papers published. Will that be the new "secondary service"? Are you therefore asking whether there will be a need for printed indexes and abstracts or whether there will be a need for electronic versions of todayís conventional secondary services? To the extent that secondary services use authorsí abstracts without modification, it would seem to me that such a massive data base could be assembled by one or a group of full-text vendors without the existing secondary services.

However, the value added by an indexing service is to be found in a variety of ways (standardization of nomenclature and abbreviations, etc.). This kind of work will always be needed. Software will have to be written in order to unify the many different conventions used in naming and citing authors. Foreign languages will have to be dealt with, until English is universally employed.

The original question also implies a subquestion: can one search full text as effectively as other surrogates? Systems of automatic analyses of text will increasingly be sought after. These artificially intelligent and expert system software packages will have to do the job that is now accomplished by trained indexers and others. This is not an easy task. After 30 years we do not have automated abstracting that really works, but we will get better.

It seems to me that, long before any single on-line vendor has access to all of this, compact disk (CD) storage will be upon us. In that case, we have to ask whether individual scientists will prefer to search full texts on CD on their own microcomputers, using appropriate searching software.

I donít think we know enough about the efficiency of full-text searching yet to answer these questions. I am sure that there are many advantages to full-text searching, but it is not clear whether this will be cost effective, except for limited personal use. Although I am able and willing to search my own text files with software like Sci-Mate, it would be quite different were I searching through millions of documents written by others.

Eugene Garfield
Institute for Scientific Information