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Vol. 26, No. 2

December / January 2000

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Annual Meeting Coverage

Track 4:

Knowledge Dissemination

by Donald W. King

Knowledge dissemination is somewhat different from the other tracks of the 1999 ASIS Annual Meeting in that knowledge dissemination, broadly defined, encompasses all the services and products discussed in the other tracks. I think of knowledge dissemination as all the processes necessary to communicate information from its creators to its users. Note that Linda Smith has made a distinction among data, information, knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Here I take the "fuzzy" approach letting information serve as a generic term for data, information and knowledge. However, I will limit the discussion to recorded information because ASIS members tend to be largely concerned with communication processes involving recorded information. I will also give some examples from scientific scholarly publishing because I have recently been involved in an analysis of trends related to print and electronic journals. [Sources of citations and data may be found in: Towards Electronic Journals: Realities for Scientists, Librarians and Publishers. Carol Tenopir and Donald W, King. Washington, DC. Special Libraries Association (in print).]

Communication processes basically deal with two primary components:

  • information content and form and
  • the media used to convey the information.

 Information content conveys the meaning of messages. Information form is described by format or type of information (for instance, text, mathematical models, numeric data, coded data, imagery, graphics) and structure or expression of content (for instance, language, syntactic and semantic structures, type of model, type of graphics, structure of tables). As mentioned, a number of processes have evolved to add value to communicated information or to be provided in required forms. These processes might be characterized as

  • composition of the information, such as writing articles, formulating mathematical models, coding data;
  • transformation of information content (changes through subject and text editing), format (e.g., preparing a text description of a map, converting a mathematical model to a database or table) and information structure (for instance, translation of language, converting one mathematical model to another);
  • description and synthesis ranging from HTML coding, indexing, cataloging and abstracting to preparing synopses and state-of-the-art reviews;
  • logical access through reference and retrieval; and
  • evaluation and analysis of information, such as article manuscript selection and refereeing and that done with library collection development, screening and annotation of search output.

 All of these processes serve to improve information attributes (i.e., to make it more concise, comprehensive, usable) or to make the information more available and accessible. Examination of past ARIST chapters, JASIS articles and, indeed, Track 4 and the other tracks of the Annual Meeting shows that ASIS members collectively are involved in all these information-related processes.

 In order to meet a variety of user information needs and requirements, a multitude of communication channels have evolved to communicate different types of information. Some channels include interpersonal or oral means of communicating, but here we are more concerned with channels of recorded information, such as journals, e-mail and books. In Track 4 alone some of the channels covered included books, journals, dissertations and theses, Web pages, reports, clinical trial data, video and art objects again demonstrating the wide range of interests of ASIS members. Each channel has its own range of distribution means and media. As examples of distribution means, journal issues are distributed through personal and library subscriptions, and separate copies of articles are obtained through ILL, document delivery, preprints, reprints, vendors, aggregators and colleagues. Looking at media, journal articles are found in paper issues, microform, photocopies and electronic through Internet online, fax and CD-ROM. Thus, there are a multitude of channels and channel distribution means and media that form special niches which satisfy needs and requirements of information creators and users.

 Media-related processes can be generically described as

  • recording, such as composition of page masters, implementing HTML standard formats, input to computer storage and CD-ROM disks;
  • reproduction or multiple copying of a medium, for example, printed paper journal issues, CD-ROM and photocopies;
  • physical transformation or conversion from one medium to another, for example, paper to microform, paper to digital, digital to paper;
  • storage to provide access to the medium over time such as library shelves, digital libraries or computer files;
  • preservation to ensure long-term availability of media, such as paper treatment by Library of Congress and restoration of digital media; and
  • physical access or delivery of the various media, such as paper and electronic subscriptions, article separates through photocopies and electronic access through terminal display and printouts from the Internet, Intranets and local area networks.

  Track 4 papers cover every one of these processes, as have ARIST chapters and JASIS articles in the past. Thus, ASIS members have an abiding interest not only in all the information-related processes, but also the technology or media-related processes.

 Knowledge creation, dissemination and use is a large enterprise requiring extensive resources. For example, the science scholarly journal system in the United States currently expends about $45 billion per year. Of the total, scientists expend approximately 9% for authoring and 78% in time spent obtaining and reading articles. But while communication processes involve about $3.2 billion for publishing, $2.0 billion for library services and $600 million for other intermediary services, these dissemination aspects of communication are far outweighed by the author and reader resources. These facts have some significant implications.

 First, authors and readers must find the system extremely valuable to them, or they simply wouldn't expend their valuable time (and other resources) in writing and reading articles. Secondly, journal dissemination is reasonably efficient when compared with author and reader expenditures. Thirdly, the dissemination processes should be designed to help minimize author and reader time and effort. In fact, many of the processes mentioned above do just that. Editing and some syntheses are designed to make the information more concise, while reference and search systems serve to save readers considerable time, and evaluation and analysis are designed to keep unwanted articles and information from readers. The media-related processes are designed to speed information dissemination and facilitate its availability, access and ease-of-use.

 Despite the usefulness and value of communication channels such as scholarly journals, there has long been a concern with them. For example, in 1613 a scientist wrote that "[o]ne of the diseases of this age is the multiplicity of books; they doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of the idle matter that is everyday hatched and brought forth into the world." Concerns with the "information explosion" have persisted, particularly in the 1960s, but even today. For example, there is some evidence that electronic messaging is largely responsible for scientists having to spend about 150 more hours per year performing their work. Over three centuries science journals have grown at about the same rate as the number of scientists, although the relative number of journal titles published per scientist has dampened recently. However, the number of articles written per scientist has remained about the same over the past 40 years.

 In 1927, the American Association of Universities lamented that "[l]ibrarians are suffering because of the increased volume of publications and rapidly rising prices." Journal price increases have exceeded inflation since 1960, but much more so in recent years. Over the last two decades, prices have increased by well over seven times, but inflation and increased journal sizes explain only 56% of these price increases. The spiraling increases in price were largely triggered in the 1970s by high inflation, fluctuating international exchange rates and library budgets that severely lagged growth in science. Personal subscriptions dropped rapidly first (from 5.8 to 2.7 subscriptions per scientist) which reduced the expected number of subscriptions by 18 million or billions of dollars in lost revenue that publishers have sought to recoup through increased library subscription prices. Scientists have shifted their reading from personal subscriptions to library provision at a cost in their time. Libraries have lost because they provide less information at a greater cost, and publishers are being hammered for their "unfair" price increases. The unfortunate aspect of this scenario is that the overall cost per reading of the journal system has remained relatively constant over the past 20 years, although shifting costs from publisher and library to readers. (Exchanges of money such as subscription prices are excluded from the overall cost of system resources since their inclusion would result in double counting in measuring the system costs.)

 Many have concluded that electronic publishing and associated technologies are the salvation of the current problems with journals. Some have been led to believe the information will be "free" on the Internet or at least costs and prices will be significantly less. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that publishing costs will diminish appreciably because the small paper reproduction and distribution cost savings (i.e., $25 to $35 per subscription) are offset by increased technology-related costs required to digitize text and make it available electronically. However, there will be advantages to electronic publishing. Large article text databases, such as that developed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, will provide relatively inexpensive and efficient access to many of the over 100 million article copies that currently exist in the subterranean distribution by ILL, document delivery, preprints, reprints and photocopies distributed by scientists to colleagues. Publication should be faster and processing costs should be less for authors, readers and libraries.

 The advanced communication and publishing technologies are beginning to provide the opportunity to explore and develop new approaches to publishing. These new approaches include the following:

  • multimedia;
  • hyperlinks within and among documents;
  • reduced redundancy of information among channels;
  • provision of different levels and types of information, such as multiple journals, single journals, articles, titles and abstracts, sections, paragraphs, citations and back-up data;
  • trails of modifications and updates;
  • improved organization, control, identification, location and retrieval;
  • new article review and rating methods;
  • established usage data; and
  • selective dissemination of groups of articles.

 There are some matters that must be attended to, however. Future pricing policies may be the most critical aspect of future publishing. Readers and librarians must continue to have sound search and retrieval capabilities (beyond some of the popular, but questionable, Internet services). Retrospective digitization should be carefully coordinated between services and with current digital publications. It would be tragic to have incompatible digital publications, much like early railroads where each had a different track gauge, requiring passengers to switch trains every so often. Clearly, the future is unlimited for knowledge dissemination and ASIS members have the opportunity to contribute to it, as well as benefit from it.

Donald W. King is affiliated with King Research. He can be reached at 4115 Gullane Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48103; by phone at 732/327-9709; or by e-mail at

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