Contemporary Library Issues: The National Scene, 1980
Page  1

contemporary library issues the national scene martin h cummings md director national library of medicine dean bidlack faculty of the school of library science and students it is a pleasure and an honor to be asked to address the representatives of one of the nations premier schools of library science more importantly you represent the future of the profession and if the course of future events can be gauged by the ferment of today that future will indeed be exciting i must tell you at the outset that i am not a librarian by training but a physician and only by the blessing bestowed on me by the civil service that is in my role as director of the national library of medicine can i speak to you ex cathedra on matters relating to libraries there are a number of important contemporary national issues that in the years to come will be affecting all of us who are concerned with libraries of these the event that has had the most visibility in the last year is the 1979 white house conference on library and information services in addressing the conference president carter closed with these words as we spread the word about libraries and learning and democracy and understanding and communication and progress presented at the convocation of the school of library of science university of michigan ann arbor november 6 1980

Page  2 2 and harmony and peace through your own work you can remember that youve got a friend in the white house just barely i might add or if reagan wins well we'll have to see about that it took 22 years from the time of the first proposal that there be a white house conference on library and information services to the conference itself in november 1979 even by washington standards thats slow nevertheless the timing was fortunate few people in 1957 could have foreseen the computer and telecommunications technology that is now having such a great impact on the ways libraries operate and we stand today on the threshold of an era that will see even more remarkable advances in the miniaturization of computers in satellite communication networks and in the application of such new technology as fibre optics and videodiscs this excitement permeated the conference and even found its way into the flnal report submitted to president carter the world will feel the effect of these changes far into the future the report said but many people only now are beginning to perceive these changes as the harbingers of a new and revolutionary stage of civilization the information age the delegates to the conference approved a total of 64 resolutions ranging from the very general for example

Page  3 3 support of the first amendment of the constitution to the very specific such as a tax incentive for authors and artists to donate their works to libraries there were resolutions urging libraries to become active in improving the literacy of citizens in improving access to information to populations not adequately served such as minority groups the blind and the physically handicapped and in using advanced technology to improve information services to users of libraries one important resolution voiced the delegates support of the national library and information services act which had been introduced earlier in the year by senators javits and kennedy and several of their colleagues that legislation now modified as a result of the recommendations made at the white house conference would replace existing legislation for federal support of public libraries which expires in 1982 the national library and information services act will not be acted upon in this session of congress however president carter in a message to the congress this past september 26 promised to submit new legislation that will be concerned with such issues as barriers to information access for the handicapped and disadvantaged library networking and resource sharing the role of large urban libraries and research libraries as centers for library resource networks and new information technologies

Page  4 4 the president indicated that most libraries are local institutions and that the responsibility for supporting and operating them is a function of state and local government his is a clever way to inform you that few federal dollars will be available to support libraries he acknowledged however that there is a proper role for the federal government in helping libraries to provide access to all in providing leadership to develop new technologies and services and in encouraging resource sharing among all types of libraries to ensure that library programs get the attention they deserve the president said we created an office of libraries and learning technologies in the new department of education headed by a deputy assistant secretary it is this office that will be responsible for implementing many of the provisions of whatever legislation replaces the existing library services and construction act another part of mr carters message touches on the special responsibility of the federal government in ensuring that its information is made available to the people i would cite the freedom of information act the watergate audio tapes and the abscail video tapes to demonstrate that remarkable strides have already been made in opening up the federal government to the public a cynic might also cite the defense departments stealth project as an even more remarkable instance of disclosure the president however was alluding specifically to a

Page  5 5 new office within the office of management and budget that is working closely with the agencies libraries and the private sector to develop policies on the management and dissemination of information by federal agencies the principal policy will affirm the key role of federal depository libraries and require that scientific and technical information which results from federal funds be made available as widely as possible to the public on a cost-recovery basis the last section of the presidents message to congress dealt with the new information and communications technologies i hope you will pardon my pride when i say that the use of satellites for transmitting information and videodiscs as a storage medium both of which were touted by president carter for their potential impact on libraries are technologies we at the national library of medicine have been utilizing for many years in the area of satellite communications for example nlm conducted experiments in alaska and the pacific northwest begining almost 10 years ago in 1971 a voice transmission network was put in place using nasas at ats-1 satellite to bring reliable two-way communication between distant native villages in alaska and public health service physicians at a centrally located hospital a more powerful satellite the ats-6 allowed this network to be upgraded a few years later to include two-way video as well as voice communication later in the seventies we made use of the most powerful communications satellite ever the communications technology satellite cts

Page  6 6 under the librarys leadership a nationwide cts teleconferencing network was installed to experiment with new modes of professional education and disseminating the results of biomedical research over the last several years we have also been exploring the potential of videodisc technology it has been estimated that the contents of up to 108000 pages can be stored on both sides of one videodisc the size of an lp record at nlm we are now looking into the possibility of a system capable of storing a thousand such discs with online access time of a few seconds such a system if implemented would occupy less than a hundred square feet of floor space and contain a collection equivalent to several million journal issues the ability to store tens of millions of pages of text and graphics combined with a system to access and display this information at terminals in libraries around the country would be a true revolution in handling printed information from such a future system and the glittering potential it represents for libraries let me now turn to the proposal for a national periodical system ihe plan originally put forward by the national commission on libraries and information sciences was included in a favorable recommendation passed by the white house conference it was introduced into the congress last june as part of the education amendments act of 1980 and signed into law pl 96-374 by president carter on october 3

Page  7 7 the act establishes a quasi-governmental national periodical system corporation whose function is to assess the feasibility of a national system to provide reliable and timely document delivery from a comprehensive collection of periodical literature the national periodical system if implemented would acquire current and past periodicals make loans by photo reproduction and other means cooperate with existing networks and ensure that copyright fees are paid for articles copied the corporation will have a presidentially appointed board of directors to be equitably representative of the needs and interests of the government academic and research communities libraries the information community authors and the public a design for the national periodical system must be submitted to congress by december 31 1981 and would require joint congressional approval before it could be implemented the original concept was to develop a national periodical center largely duplicating the serial holdings of great universities and the library of congress the idea of a national system to provide document delivery services is certainly unassailable some 15 years ago we at the national library of medicine began to create a national system for document delivery and other services based on the health sciences literature-available in a group of large medical libraries the regional medical library network as it is called has been operating for over a decade and some two million interlibrary loan transactions are recorded each year in the network

Page  8 8 however the actss mandate to establish a comprehensive collection of periodical literature may well give one pause the idea of networking at local state regional and national levels is to increase the availability of widely dispersed literature resources one might argue that building a comprehensive collection thereby increasing libraries dependence on a single institution is antithetical to this purpose it may even serve to undermine the development of strong local resource-sharing arrangements which i believe are the best guarantee for rapid document delivery surely the library of congress is the only comprehensive collection this country needs a national periodical system to sum up is needed as to creating a new national periodical center on the other hand i would concur with an official at ad little who described it as an idea whose time had come and gone i turn now to an issue which has the publishing industry in an uproar and which has grave implications for libraries the uproar has resulted from a supreme court decision last january in a case with the unlikely title at least insofar as its implications for libraries of the thor power tool company versus the commissioner of internal kevenue according to the decision companies can no longer write down for tax purposes the value of their stock stored in warehouses the internal revenue service ever alert to new sources of income has extended the supreme courts decision by analogy

Page  9 9 if warehoused stocks of power tools may be assessed at their full valuation so may books in the words of the irs it doesnt matter whether theyre widgets gadgets cars or books what are the practical consequences of this ruling it seems to me inevitable that the cost of books will go up as a direct result backlists held by publishers will be reduced and numbers of copies initially ordered for printing will likewise be reduced slow selling books such as the classics of literature and scholarly treatises would suffer the most publishers have said that it is unlikely that herman melville and william faulkner or for that matter any author who took a considerable amount of time to develop an audience would have stayed in print for very long under these circumstances to make matters worse the iks ruling is retroactive to 1979 this will distort the 1979 income of book publishers and to avoid a devastating tax penalty they will be forced to dispose of their reserve stocks of books either by forced sale by incineration or by consignment to the shredding machine-the grim ripper as one oower tools may be assessed at their full valuation so may books in the words of the irs it doesnt matter whether theower tools may be assessed at their full valuation so may books in the words of the irs it doesnt matter whether theyre widgets gadgets cars or books what are the practical consequences of this ruling it seems to me inevitable that the cost of books will go up as a direct result backlists held by publishers will be reduced and numbers of copies initially ordered for printing will likewise be reduced slow selling books such as the classics of literature and scholarly treatises would suffer the most publishers have said that it is unlikely that herman melville and william faulkner or for that matter any author who took a considerable amount of time to develop an audience would have stayed in print for very long under these circumstances to make matters worse the iks ruling is retroactive to 1979 this will distort the 1979 income of book publishers and to avoid a devastating tax penalty they will be forced to dispose of their reserve stocks of books either by forced sale by incineration or by consignment to the shredding machine-the grim ripper as one oower tools may be assessed at their full valuation so may books in the words of the irs it doesnt matter whether theyre widgets gadgets cars or books what are the practical consequences of this ruling it seems to me inevitable that the cost of books will go up as a direct result backlists held by publishers will be reduced and numbers of copies initially ordered for printing will likewise be reduced slow selling books such as the classics of literature and scholarly treatises would suffer the most publishers have said that it is unlikely that herman melville and william faulkner or for that matter any author who took a considerable amount of time to develop an audience would have stayed in print for very long under these circumstances to make matters worse the iks ruling is retroactive to 1979 this will distort the 1979 income of book publishers and to avoid a devastating tax penalty they will be forced to dispose of their reserve stocks of books either by forced sale by incineration or by consignment to the shredding machine-the grim ripper as one outraged correspondent described it in a letter to the new york times one publisher is about to destroy a million books the potential effect on libraries is not difficult to imagine needlessly rising costs and unavailability of titles

Page  10 10 what is being done to avert this there have been vigorous protests to the irs ruling by the association of american publishers the association of research libraries and the authors league also bills have been introduced in the congress to nullify the irs ruling as it relates to books if you have ever had your tax returns audited you know that the internal revenue service is no mean adversary and we can only hope that these actions combined with the solid support of the library and publishing communities will be successful let me now turn from a threat to commercial publishing to a threat to publishing done by the federal governments own agencies i am speaking of a bill introduced into congress that would place government publications including scientific and technical works-under the direct control of a politically appointed board that bill fortunately died in committee but i would not be surprised to see it resurrected in the next session all federal government printing and binding responsibilities now rest with the government printing office distribution is managed by the superintendent of documents which operates 2b bookstores a subscription and mail-order sales service and a depository library and free distribution program one

Page  11 11 reason this system has worked is that federal agencies with gpo approval have developed their own printing and distribution mechanisms to serve the needs of their special constituencies the national publications act as it was called would replace the government printing office with a national publications office headed by a presidentially appointed national publications commission the chairman of this commission would have total authority to regulate the distribution of all government information whether in printed audiovisual or machine-readable form it is my view that investing such monopolistic power in a single body is both managerially unrealistic given the enormous volume of information put out by federal agencies and philosophically repugnant given todays emphasis on open government i hope the proposal remains a dead issue but i wished to bring it to your attention in case it is disinterred in the next session of congress these various library-related issues that i have touched upon today although important pale by comparison with the one great overriding factor that will influence the professional lives of all of you in this decade we perceive its details only dimly now but its inevitability is clear that factor may be summed up in one prosaic word technology it has already influenced tremendously our operations at the national library of medicine the worlds largest repository of health-science literature online search and rapid retrieval

Page  12 12 of citations to biomedical journal articles books reports and audiovisuals has changed profoundly the nature of medical librarianship almost two million searches are done each year on our data bases at more than 1500 institutions around the world the number of citations in all these data bases is approaching five million the next decade will see even more dramatic applications of new communications and information technology the nlm recently dedicated a remarkable new ten-story facility adjacent to the existing library this new structure is known as the lister hill national center for biomedical communications and within its walls we are conducting research and development programs that we hope will revolutionize the way medical knowledge is acquired stored retrieved and disseminated professor gwendolyn cruzat of your own faculty was recently appointed by secretary harris as a regent of the national library of medicine since i may fairly be charged with prejudice in favor of the library you might wish to get a dispassionate assessment from professor cruzat in the classroom this leads to my last point that it is in the schools of library and information science that we must prepare information managers to make optimum use of the new applications of technology the time is not far off when archival storage of printed and audiovisual materials will be replaced by videodisc card catalogs by computer terminals and interlibrary lending

Page  13 13 by electronic networking and it is you the librarians and information managers of tomorrow on whose shoulders it will fall to make it work thank you