Patricia Layzell Ward

Am I expecting too much from secondary services now that there is a choice of delivery methods? Or, are the publishers not adapting the production process to take advantage of e-compilation and delivery? I’m not sure of the answer to the questions, but setting down some thoughts on the subject might alleviate recent frustration.

In the past decade we have become accustomed to being able to access information via the Internet from the office, or at home. Sitting at the PC, we can follow up subjects and gather a great deal of information in a short space of time and at a comparatively low cost. It carries a charge but saves time, and it is not dependent on the need falling within the hours during which a library or information service is open to users. It is a huge benefit - and yes, the information provided via the sites may not be always up to date, or even always accurate. But use informs the searcher, who quickly discovers which sources are the more reliable. So, as a teleworker, this writer gains considerable benefit - and enjoyment - from using the WWW. It may be that this immediacy produces a halo effect on using information services online.

In using a number of secondary services available in an electronic format some frustrations are emerging. Many services are provided on CD-ROM - an excellent format for anyone who wants to browse extensively without the pressures of telecom charges mounting up. It may also provide the facility to make an instant print of articles needed for closer perusal. But, and there is a but, the user has ‘problems’ if the service is not updated frequently - they know that later information should be available.

The same problem applies to a number of the online abstracting services - that of how up-to-date the entries are, for the time lag can be months between publication and the availability of an abstract. Traditionally many abstracting services outsourced abstracting. The original print journals were sent through the post to abstractors working from home. This part of the process does not seem to have changed, but it may that the time has come to consider whether the services, which have high subscription rates, ought to reconsider whether to have the abstracting done in-house to ensure that abstracts are prepared quickly - within a matter of days - and uploaded for access by subscribers. This would improve the dissemination of information.

There is another frustration in using the electronic services - the quality of the indexing. This is dependent on the use of a good thesaurus, one that uses current terminology and indicates related terms. Browsing is not the same as that for hard copy, and it can be frustrating and time-consuming to search the electronic services, particularly given the increasing changes, and introduction of new terms and labels.

Now this sounds like a moan, and it is, but it always brings me back to two questions. The first is whether the Internet might have raised the expectations of searchers to too high a degree when it comes to searching other electronic sources. The second is whether the publishers have adapted their processes to meet the requirements of an increasingly critical group of customers. Am I being unrealistic? Do other users feel the same? I might be alone, or, on the other hand, the views could be representative of a large group of customers in an age of customer care.