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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2002

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Conference Reports

Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics Sessions at SLA 2002
June 8 - 13, 2002

Kizer Walker
Digital Projects Librarian
Engineering, Mathematics, and Physical Sciences Libraries
Cornell University

In June I attended the Special Libraries Association's 93rd Annual Conference in Los Angeles, where I participated mainly in the sessions organized by SLA's Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics Division (SLA-PAM). A full schedule of PAM Division sessions is available in the {May 2002 PAM Bulletin}. The {August 2002 Bulletin} contains minutes to the annual PAM business meeting conducted at SLA and reports on the PAM roundtables. What follows are summaries of PAM sessions I attended that are not covered in the Bulletin reports.

I should note that I am a new member of PAM and of SLA and the Los Angeles event was my first SLA conference. PAM plans a number of events and services for new members - I was impressed by PAM's hospitality and how seriously the Division takes its mentoring role. While I did not take advantage of the offer to be paired with a more experienced Conference Guide, I did enjoy the PAM Newcomers' Lunch, and the Daily Retreat and the Open Houses in the PAM suite provided fine opportunities to relax and get acquainted with colleagues in the Division.

I am a new librarian with an academic background at a rather far remove from the disciplines served by Cornell's Engineering, Mathematics, and Physical Sciences Libraries, where I work on digital preservation, archiving, and scholarly communications projects. Since my job also involves some pinch-hitting on the reference desk, I was happy to be able to take part in a pre-conference continuing education course, offered by PAM, on Physical Sciences Reference Fundamentals for Non-Scientists. The half-day course actually addressed reference service in math and computer science in addition to the physical sciences. Joe Kraus, Science Librarian at the U of Denver, Michael Fosmire, Physics and Earth Sciences Librarian at Purdue, and Carol Hutchins, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences Librarian, NYU presented; James Manasco, Engineering Librarian, U of Kentucky, was moderator. The presenters laid out the fundamental problems addressed by the main subdivisions of the disciplines covered and discussed how these problems frame the questions that researchers at different levels bring to the reference desk.

The program on Sunday, June 9 included a session on Information Access in Developing Countries moderated by Zari Kamarei (UNC Chapel Hill). Kamarei, Elizabeth Knight (U of Puget Sound), and Sunita Barve (National Center for Radio Astrophysics, India) presented.

Kamarei reported on experiences as a science librarian at the Isfahan University of Technology (IUT) in Iran from 1994 to 1998. Iranian academic libraries face serious economic and organizational impediments, according to Kamarei. As in libraries in other developing countries, Iranian scientific collections suffer from small budgets and an unstable rate of exchange (Iran falls through the cracks of some income-based publisher discounts on journal access to developing countries and Kamarei urges that the criteria be broadened). Inadequate infrastructure makes electronic access slow and expensive. The status of professional librarianship in the organization further hindered progress in IUT's library. The library director was not a librarian; the position was filled by a succession of professors rotated from different fields. These directors were trained by an assistant director who was a professional librarian.

Kamarei worked in Iran during a time of significant change in the country's university libraries. IUT opened a computer center in 1994, initially with access to a local network and databases, later with internet access. IUT's reference department was established in 1997 (many Iranian libraries still do not have one). A national ILL system for university libraries was established in 1998. The Iranian Ministry of Science has begun purchasing many journals. Kamarei noted that Iranian researchers are particularly dependent on libraries - the rate of exchange is such that a faculty member can spend a month's salary for a single book.

How can Iranian libraries improve? Kamarei proposed: Professional librarians should be placed in charge of libraries. Strong national library associations must be built. And more online and off-line resource sharing should be developed between Iranian libraries and libraries in wealthy countries.

Elizabeth Knight presented on the "Importance of Cultural Context in Information Provision in Developing Countries." She noted that typical approaches to information access in developing countries focus on tangible, technical issues such as technology infrastructure and national information policy. She pointed to attempts to impose patterns of development established in rich countries on poor ones and suggested that information access solutions for the former are frequently not scalable to the latter. She urged that local solutions to information provision be sought that make use of indigenous knowledge. And she insisted that the question of information access in developing countries is inseparable from larger problems of education, literacy, and poverty.

Sunita Barve discussed the state of astronomy libraries in India, drawing on the results of a questionnaire directed to the Forum for Resource Sharing in Astronomy (FORSA), an alliance of eight Indian institute libraries, established in 1982.

Barve described discounts on journal subscriptions offered by some publishers to Indian libraries, but noted persistent obstacles to equitable access to scientific information. Costs are still frequently prohibitive and the FORSA libraries are hindered by various technology barriers. Materials acquisitions are complicated by the uneven development of e-commerce in India - for instance, purchases cannot always be processed by credit card. Library staff are not always adequately trained in the necessary technologies.

Barve's talk detailed a number of advances made by the FORSA libraries in the areas of access provision and content development in the digital environment. For instance, the libraries have made a union catalog available online, and have digitized a significant amount of materials.

Barve ended with a list of expectations directed at international publishing and the international library associations regarding their relations with libraries in developing countries. From publishers, Barve called for further subsidy for journal subscriptions, free online access with print subscriptions, electronic access at lower cost than print, and alternative business models for consortia in developing countries. To the library associations, she appealed for enhanced communication and interaction, special short-term training programs, and increased funding for librarians from developing countries to attend international conferences.

Steven Gass of MIT moderated a Monday, June 10 session titled Assessing the Impact of E-journals on Libraries and Users: What's been Learned so Far. Haekyung (Hattie) Jeon-Slaughter, Research Director at Stanford University Libraries, reported on eJust, an in-progress electronic journal user study being conducted by Stanford and Highwire Press. Cecily Johns of UC Santa Barbara presented on the University of California's Collection Management Initiative.

The eJust study aims to understand users' behaviors and attitudes vis-à-vis electronic journals in order to inform future decisions about content, design, service, and prospective economic models. Taking journals in the life and numerical sciences as its object of study, the eJust project is gathering and analyzing data based on in-depth interviews, web-based surveys, and access logs. Most of those surveyed are members of US scholarly societies. Jeon-Slaughter discussed impacts of electronic journals on scholarly practice and on library collections and services. She laid out approaches to measuring costs and benefits of electronic and print journal collections in the library. EJust's interview and survey findings to date are available at

UC's Collection Management Initiative is a two-year Mellon-funded research project to seek long-range planning solutions to space problems in the UC libraries. The project is relocating to storage a selection of print journals for which the libraries provide electronic access; gathering cost, usage, and other data for print and print and electronic version of selected journals; and collecting information on user behaviors and attitudes with regard to electronic journals. Libraries at all nine UC campuses are participating in the study. For each selected journal a print copy (the control copy) is retained at one campus, while at another campus the print (the experimental copy) is removed to storage. Every campus has access to electronic copies of the selected journals. The study compares usage of print and electronic formats in light of these different levels of accessibility. Information about the project and a report on preliminary results is available at

It was noted in discussion that comparison of "use" between print and electronic materials is potentially problematic. Does each "use" of a single article in electronic format register as a separate use of a title? In print, one "use" entails pulling a title from the shelf, which might represent the use of multiple articles in that title.

Apart from the relatively self-contained PAM Division program, SLA offered a nearly overwhelming array of panels - up to six simultaneously over four days - reflecting the diversity of disciplines and interest groups represented by the organization. (SLA 2002 schedule and information is posted at {}). A noteworthy panel I attended outside the PAM umbrella concerned Copyright and Technology; copyright attorneys Billy A. Robbins and Robert E. Lee, Jr. presented on the implications for libraries of intellectual property law developments in the digital environment. The exhibit hall was continuously bustling. Vendor- and society-sponsored receptions were frequent and lavish. Networking was intense. And management "guru" and "icon" Peter Drucker gave the keynote address to a packed audience, his image projected from the podium to multiple giant screens.

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