Journal of Documentation 26 (4): 372-373 (December 1970)

Letter to the Editor

Cost effectiveness measures of information services for R&D managers

Dear Sir,

The article by Brookes1 on Photocopies v. Periodicals will undoubtedly become a classic. It is refreshing to see a growing awareness of cost—effectiveness. As I mentioned recently2 in discussing the work of Bloomfield3 there is a great need for such basic studies. I might also mention an important related study by M. Phillips.4

For the R & D director or corporate manager, however, Brookes has only begun the process of measuring cost-effectiveness. While the special librarian may only be concerned with stretching his budget, the R & D manager may wish to take a different approach than measuring just the 'relevant' articles as required by Brookes' method. Many articles are examined or ordered whichdo not prove to be 'relevant'. Since there is no objective measure of relevance one can use, I suggest that Brookes may be overly conservative.

In actually operating any SDI or current awareness service there are other hidden cost, factors which must be evaluated. The time required to determine interest or relevance from a title or abstract is not trivial, and neither is the time required to obtain a journal issue or a photocopy from whatever source. The basic solution to this problem is to provide SDI which the actual documents are supplied together with the SDI printout. At ISI this is called ASCAmatic5 and is extremely popular, especially' where true cost-effectiveness has heel) determined by the R & D manager. We have observed that it is cheaper, in the long run, to provide all documents in advance even though only one-third to one-half may prove relevant or useful. The ASCAmatic subscriber may obtain twice as many tear sheets as he might Otherwise: order but he saves all the direct and hidden costs of ordering. He also is able to judge more quickly the possible value of the document. In a large number of cases he can scan the abstract or the summary. In certain fields, like chemistry, there is no substitute for graphical information. He can then discard papers found to be useless or unworthy of filing or further examination.

An extremely important 'intangible' to the R & D manager is the frequent occurrence of a memory gap even when a photocopy service is quite rapid. The bench scientist may be called away, go on holiday, etc., and upon his return may forget why he ordered the article in the first place'.

What the role of the special library journal collection will be when such personal journal servicesare adopted is hard to predict. The journals acquired by ASCAmatic users will be of a wide variety which serve purposes not easily measured even by rationalized criteria of relevance.6 Thus, few UK libraries will give up Nature because of its news content. Most libraries will continue to receive journals which are scanned by patrons page by page for awareness and other reasons.

In such cases SDI reports can exclude such items from the report or in the case of ASCAmatic, deilvery of tear sheets can be suppressed.
 Yours sincerely,
Added later :

Institute for Scientific Information,
325, Chestnut Street,
Philadelphia, Pa. 19106, USA.


1. back to text  BROOKES, B. C. Photocopies v. periodicals—cost-effectiveness in the special library. Journal of Documentation, vol. 26, I970, p. 22-99.

2. back to text  GARFIELD, v. Commentary on current awareness publications Spec. Lib., vol. 61 (5), May-June 1970, p. 25 1.

3. back to text  BLOOMFIELD, M. Current awareness publications—an evaluation. Spec. Lib., vol. 60 (8), 1969, p. 514.

4. back to text  PHILLIPS, M. Supplying documents for an SDI program: an inventory problem. Presented at Special Libraries Association Annual Meeting, Montreal, 1969.

5. back to text  GARFIELD, E. ASCAmatic—the personalized journal. CC/LS, vol. 11 (31), 1968, p. 5.

6. back to text  ROWLANDS, D. G. The Unilever research SDI system. Inform. Stor. Retr., vol. 6, 1970, p. 53.