LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SERVICES IN ASTRONOMY
Scientist in charge :
INSTITUTO DE ASTROFISICA DE CANARIAS
C/ VIA LACTEA S/N
38200 LA LAGUNA - TENERIFE SPAIN
INSTITUTO DE ASTROFISICA DE CANARIAS
Contract N° :
The third conference on Library and Information Services in Astronomy (LISA III) was organised by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias and held from 21 to 24 April 1998, at the Conference Centre at Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife, Spain. The conference theme, "Managing Change Gracefully", emphasised the vast changes librarians and information professionals are facing today, with the recent advances in information and communications technologies.
LISA III which received financial support from the European Union under the TMR programme, was attended by 100 participants (astronomy librarians, information professionals, computer specialists, publishers and astronomers) from 23 countries.
This conference is the third in a series: LISA I was held at the Naval Observatory in Washington in 1988 at the time special libraries were starting their automation, and astronomical and bibliographical databases were developing rapidly. LISA II was held at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Garching, Germany, in 1995, when the World Wide Web (WWW) was being implemented in research institutes. In less than 3 years, WWW has greatly changed the way libraries are used and has become an essential tool for providing good scientific information, and special librarians have had to adapt their traditional methods to this new environment. The aim of LISA III was to analyse the current state of the art of information maintenance, retrieval, delivery and preservation as well as to learn from invited experts the directions in which the profession is moving.
The conference programme was divided in 9 sessions during which 36 invited and contributed lectures were presented to the attendance. During the poster session, a total of 20 posters were displayed.
In her key-note address, Ann Okerson from Yale University, got us directly to the point: information providers offer many types of electronic products and librarians and information specialists have to deal with this new environment to fulfil their commitment, that is providing and preserving information for the scientific community.
During the first session, astronomers and astronomy librarians had an opportunity to talk about what they want and expect from each other. One conclusion of this session was that this kind of dialogue between the two parties is essential for the librarians to be able to respond to all the information needs of the astronomers, and for the astronomers to better use the resources of their libraries and their librarians.
The second session focused on automated information discovery. In the digital environment, with so much information available on WWW, discovering the relevant information is not so easy. That is the reason why so many search engines and tools are constantly being developed to search the WWW. In astronomy, several groups of computer specialists and astronomers are working to develop more specific tools to retrieve astronomical information published electronically and create automatically links between the different sources. Other tools are being developed to mine the information retrieved and obtain a list of really relevant documents. The development of these tools is based on the definition of standards, the use of metadata that identify the different parts of a document and standard names to design astronomical objects and references.
The next four sessions covered different aspects of electronic publications. With the advent of WWW technology, electronic publishing has become a reality. Astronomy is among the leaders in having moved to the electronic resources, probably because astronomers use massive volume of data that need to be easily and rapidly exchanged. The big astronomical and bibliographical databases, such as SIMBAD (Set of Identifications, Measurements, and Bibliography for Astronomical Data) produced by the CDS (Centre de Données Astronomiques de Strasbourg), in France, NED (NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database) in the USA, and the more recent ADS service (NASA Astrophysics Data System) with its abstracts service, have co-operated with the publishers of the most important journals in astronomy to create an interrelated system of information in astronomy, easily accessible, at any time, from any part of the world, thanks to the WWW. At present, an astronomer can for example search for an astronomical object in the SIMBAD database and retrieve all the data available about this object, obtain a picture of it and the bibliography that references it, as well as get an abstract (through CDS or ADS depending upon the publication) or even the full text of the articles (through CDS or ADS or the publisher).
This system of information is based upon the use by all the parties involved, of common standards, protocols and standard names that allow the interconnectivity of the different resources and facilitate the maintenance of mirror sites (WWW servers that contain the same information) located in different parts of the world that speed up the response time.
The role of the librarians in all this is important although end-users can ignore it. Publishers do not offer their journals free even when they are not- for-profit publishers, and librarians have to deal with them to subscribe to the journals (paper and online versions) and to sign site license agreements to allow access to the online journals for their institutions. These site licenses vary a lot according to the publishers as some of them introduce restrictions often unacceptable for libraries, particularly those concerning conditions of access, copyright and interlibrary loan. The key-note speaker emphasised, at the beginning of the conference how site license models had been greatly improved, in 1998, thanks to negotiations between publishers and libraries, and especially consortia of libraries. But negotiations are still open as not all the problems have been solved and each new site license poses new problems.
The problem of archiving electronic publications was also discussed. At present, in most cases, libraries subscribe to both the print and electronic version of the journals, the print version being considered as the one to be archived and preserved. However, it is obvious that electronic versions of journals contain much more information than print version, as they usually have links to other information resources. So, preserving the electronic versions with all their links, their electronic features and their additional information on a long-term basis is a very important task that nobody has yet solved. The discussion pointed up the need for all the parties involved (the publishers, the librarians and the scientific community) to work closely and co-operatively as we get more and more into the electronic future.
In the seventh session, use and abuse of information resources were discussed and one of the conclusions was that although new technologies have optimised the access to information, especially in astronomy, not everything is (or will be) available online and not everything is easy to find online. In astronomy, with databases like SIMBAD and abstract services like ADS, there is a potential danger that scientists miss important papers just because there are not available online or at least not referenced. So, it is even essential to preserve the other information resources (books, journals only available in paper, astronomical bibliographies, observatory publications, etc.) and scientists have to bear in mind that these other resources exist and can be useful for their research. In this sense, the eighth session, a panel presentation on the usefulness of historical materials, revealed how important it is to preserve the older materials not only for future works on history of astronomy, but also for current research.
The last session was dedicated to the collaboration among libraries and librarians. Two different but similar projects were exposed by a German and a French librarians. Their libraries receive special funding from the State to acquire most of the literature published in astronomy so that they can provide efficient interlibrary loan and document delivery services to the scientific community of their respective countries. Another interesting presentation was by a librarian from India, where several astronomical institutions are developing a network of astronomy libraries to optimise resources, reduce costs and collaborate to improve their services.
Finally, the conference closed with an open forum on optimising communication amongst astronomical librarians in the digital age. The discussion stated that good communication exists amongst astronomical libraries world-wide thanks especially to the e-mail distribution lists like Astrolib maintained by the librarian of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the U.S.A and EGAL (European Group of Astronomy Librarians) maintained by the librarian of the Royal Astronomical Society. Nevertheless, all participants agreed that it is important to organise conferences like LISA III, each 3 or 4 years, because they enhance the opportunity for closer co-operation between librarians, as well as publishers, databases providers and astronomers.
3. FINAL ASSESSMENT REPORT
The first point that should be emphasised is the unique nature of LISA conferences since it is rare that librarians, astronomers, publishers and computer specialists get together in a non-adversarial atmosphere to discuss common needs and aims.
The financial support of the European Union through its TMR programme allowed 18 young Europeans (aged 35 or under) to attend this Euroconference.
From the organisational point of view, LISA III has been a success. All participants have enjoyed the nice atmosphere and the modern facilities of the conference centre at Puerto de la Cruz. The coffee breaks that were taken in a beautiful garden with a superb view above the sea enhanced interpersonal contact amongst participants. Many interesting discussions started there.
The one day visit to the Teide Observatory and the headquarters of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias and, of course, of its library were also very much appreciated.
From a scientific point of view, LISA III has been very interesting and useful for the participants. The programme was very complete and covered all the aspects of Library and Information Services in Astronomy. The various sessions about electronic publications and publishing were certainly the core of the programme. During these sessions, one strong theme was the explanation of the interconnected nature of astronomical information systems. The various talks about the journal links, the Astrophysics Data System (ADS) and the Data Centres brought everyone up to date on how well linked astronomy is, and how easy it is now to move among information sources. Since astronomy is among the leaders in moving to the electronic resources, this is a glimpse of the future in which everyone will soon share.
The session on the electronic journals emphasised the infrastructure needed for making and preserving links. Since astronomy is such an international enterprise, it is particularly important that the many resources in many countries be able to inter-operate over the Internet. Many of the fundamental problems inherent in making these interconnections have been solved. Everyone attending the conference went away with an understanding of the progress which has been made in the three years since LISA II. And also, everyone became aware of the role that standard names and standard protocols play in making it possible to inter-link the various astronomical information resources.
Future work should focus on relating astronomical resources to the resources of other related disciplines and this poses the problem of how to adapt the standards used now in astronomy to the standards used in the other disciplines.
Finally, the discussion on archiving of the electronic versions made it very clear that preserving the electronic record is a difficult task, and one which can not be accomplished fully and effectively by saving the paper versions alone. The problem will become more acute as more and more electronic publications become available and www technology evolves. The solution will require that all the parties (publishers, librarians and scientists) work closely and co-operatively. The future of the knowledge is in the balance.
The conference proceedings have been published in the ASP (Astronomical Society of the Pacific) Conference Series, vol. 153. The publisher kindly allowed the editors to make available an electronic version on the WWW at the following URL addresses:
http://www.eso.org/libraries/lisa3/ and http://www.stsci.edu/stsci/meetings/lisa3/.
Conference n° 1 :
LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SERVICES IN ASTRONOMY III
Conference n° 2 :
Conference n° 3 :
Conference n° 4 :
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