Introductory Thoughts to the European Conference

John Cowley
1991 Serials: The Journal for the Serials Community  
I should be in Paris right now meeting a French colleague and working out the future of serials supply throughout Europe, including the UK. However, a heavy cold and an earlier heavier fall of snow prevented this meeting. Instead I am marooned at home, comforted by the scratchy but incredibly passionate sound of Benjamino Gigli caressing his way around Verdi, Puccini and Donizetti. This has given me time to ponder on some signs and indications filtering in from a wide range of library contacts.
more » ... Though I am currently totally committed to my company's aims and ambitions I cannot ignore my thirty-eight years as a librarian, most of all my time in the academic sector, and am deeply concerned about the stresses and predicaments which exist across the full range of information operations across Europe. On the one hand I feel invigorated and stimulated by the possibilities presented by new technology; on the other, my cynical side warns of past excitements and promises which came to very little. This is perhaps best witnessed from the viewpoint of the consumer. The academic, researcher and student have a simple need for the immediate or prompt provision of information in order to stimulate thought, guide new directions and, mundanely, assist the completion of an overdue essay. It is my experience that libraries singularly fail to achieve this process consistently, despite the incredibly dedicated efforts of library staff and the expenditure of large sums of library budget. Readers who are currently engaged in serious study will understand my point. Access to crucial information, much of it contained in journals, is often not easy, despite the services of the British Library. The problem is not uniquely European, of course; indeed we may be better off than some. Students in other parts of the world have equal or worse problems. I met a graduate in Sydney recently who was devastated by his failure to obtain a First. His tutors had indicated that his course work was of undeniable quality; unfortunately, his dissertation was over-ambitious and depended heavily on access to several key research papers from around the world. The student failed to realize the time-scale involved and had to write his magnum opus without the benefit of access to some seminal literature. Hence his disappointment when final results were announced. But students not having ready access to key readings is quite commomplace. Despite reserve collections, photocopies and the like, access to important literature in not guaranteed to be instant or even easy. Looking outside the academic scene, how easy is it for ordinary citizens to access information, even when they can formulate their needs clearly? To obtain a better society we need to solve this kind of difficulty. Given that collection building and access are fraught with problems can librarians turn to information technology for a solution? Access to specific information, some of which changes by the hour, is surely best achieved by electronic means but this, in turn, suggests that users know what they want and how best to obtain it. Systems become overloaded, the help of the intermediary is not always available, information education is still neglected and, with the tendency to introduce charges for electronic services costs become a problem. In any case, it is not certain that librarians can any longer afford the necessary
doi:10.1629/040116 fatcat:b5kxpvvvxzcanm7q6r4xnmkuzm