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IUCr 1996 Report - Sub-committee on Electronic Publishing, Dissemination and Storage of Information

It is with the deepest regret and with a profound sense of loss that we have to report the death of Professor E. N. (Ted) Maslen on 2 February 1997. In his role as Chairman of the Working Party on Crystallographic Information, then as Director of Archiving and Crystallographic Information and then as founding Chairman of this Committee, Ted guided the IUCr's publication and archiving activity into the electronic era through a tangled maze of options and opinions.

During the period 1993-1996, the EPC was comprised of over 20 members drawn from all circles with an interest in electronic publishing be it far or near. This provided an excellent discussion forum but tended to slow down practical applications. During the Seattle Congress, the IUCr Executive Committee decided to appoint a smaller and more technical committee comprised of the following people: Y. Epelboin, H. D. Flack, E. N. Maslen (deceased), B. McMahon (IUCr Research and Development Officer) and P. R. Strickland (IUCr Managing Editor). The members of the former Committee are thanked for their interest and activity which helped to put the electronic publishing activities of the IUCr on a firm footing. In the rest of this report, we give some details of the activities of the EPC during 1996.

Four members of the EPC (Y. Epelboin, H. D. Flack, S. R. Hall and B. McMahon) attended the ICSU Press/UNESCO conference on Electronic Publishing in Science held in February 1996 in Paris for which A. Authier was one of the co-organizers. The conference brought together interested parties from learned societies, publishing houses and libraries in a series of formal presentations and working groups in which the technical, economic and social effects of electronic publishing in science were discussed. The complete set of articles from the conference may be viewed at http://www.lmcp.jussieu.fr/icsu/Information/Proc_0296 and the impressions of one participant are available at http://www.unige.ch/crystal/ahdf/rpt.eps.paris.html. User communities are different from one branch of science to another and a publishing technique adopted by one may not necessarily be applicable to another. In face of the worldwide falling number of library subscriptions to journals and supplementary costs necessary to convert to electronic submission and delivery of journals and other information services, scientific publishers are presented with a very difficult problem.

The consultant's study of publishing activities of the IUCr was received in January 1996. The consultant recommends the use of SGML favouring a DTD modelled on the Elsevier Art(icle) DTD and conforming to ISO 12083. The EPC gave due consideration to this document, in particular to the desired form in which documents would be submitted and archived.

The EPC met during the Seattle Congress and was informed of the introduction of the all electronic CIF-access papers by Acta Cryst. Section C. The EPC favoured electronic delivery of individual papers in the IUCr's journals but at a fee calculated to encourage annual subscriptions. Access should be by a password system capable of being monitored. Further, a comfortable majority of those present considered that a pre-print server for journal articles was not in the interests of the IUCr.

During the Seattle Congress, a microsymposium devoted to the Internet was organized by two members of the EPC and the Committee's then Chairman E. N. Maslen gave a very clear exposition of the Science, Technology and Economics of Electronic Publishing in Crystallography, and Y. Epelboin spoke on Internet Resources for Crystallography. The microsymposium also presented a talk from George D. Purvis, an outsider to crystallography, on The Role of the World-Wide Web in Computational and Pharmaceutical Chemistry and finished with short presentations on two hot subjects on the Internet, Java and VRML, both likely to have impact on the area of electronic publishing. Further, a workshop on the Internet was run to give participants hands-on experience.

Considerable effort has been deployed in improving the information content of the WWW servers for crystallography. The Chester WWW server now displays the contents of the IUCr journals in a most useful and attractive format and a service for searching the Tables of Contents is rapidly approaching the beta-test state. General information on the IUCr (e.g. Annual Reports) and its Commissions is being expanded with help from student labour. Contacts have been made for other IUCr documentation to be made available over the WWW. Preliminary tests on setting up mirror sites are under way. The WWW server gives clear and up-to-date information on the preferred formats for submitting articles to the IUCr's journals. The unofficial Crystallography World Wide server based in Geneva and mirrored at approximately ten sites around the world now also benefits from IUCr financial help for document preparation assuring its longevity. The EPC will investigate the way to amalgamate these two WWW services and to constitute an IUCr WWW Editorial Board.

In November, H. D. Flack visited the Editor-in-Chief of the Union's journals in Manchester and subsequently spent three days at the Chester office in discussions with the Managing Editor, the Research and Development Officer and the Executive Secretary.

World Directory of Crystallographers (WDC) - Tenth edition

In 1995, the keyword list to be used for entries in the database of crystallographers was updated. There are now more than 2000 keywords for the 500 that existed in the previous edition. Statistics were calculated for keyword use in the previous edition to aid in establishing the new list.

Updates to the database are made on demand by the IUCr R & D Officer. Moreover, a major revision started at the beginning of 1996 and the National Editors were invited to prepare their data to be ready before the end of 1996. The intention was that the next printed edition should be delivered by July 1997. To this end, national editors of WDC met during the Seattle Congress and the necessary instructions were once again distributed. A way was also sought to continuously update the data. As always, the ability to keep within the agreed time schedule depends critically not only on the activity and organization of the regional and national editors but also on the willingness of all individuals to act promptly and accurately on requests for information updates. It is clear that assembling the data has become too heavy a burden for volunteers in a number of places and it is necessary to find new ways.

A trial has been made using the Internet to collect updates to the WDC. P. Boyle has kindly designed a Web form to allow registration by individual scientists but with a system of verification left in the hands of the appropriate national editor. This has been tested in North America and France and although successful its use leads to the following conclusions: The software should be redesigned to trap errors and inconsistencies in the data input as with the present system it takes too long to correct them. No proper identification is made of the person who submits the entry. It would be useful to be able to output the data in an intermediate format so that they could be used at a national level prior to the production of the CIF needed by the IUCr.

New software will be written in Paris at the University P. M. Curie based on software for the Crystallographic Software Database maintained on the SInCris server.

SInCris

SInCris is a Web server devoted to crystallography and material sciences opened in October 1995. By agreement between H. D. Flack and Y. Epelboin, SInCris is a complement to the information available on Crystallography World Wide in Geneva and the IUCr server in Chester. SInCris has been financed by the French Higher Education Agency and the Research Agency (CNRS). SInCris is a mirror site for Crystallography World Wide and acted as a mirror for the Seattle Congress.

One of the main sections of SInCris is a database on crystallographic software. This contains more than 350 entries and received more than 60 000 queries in 1996. A forms-based interrogation and retrieval of the database allows access to the information by keywords. SInCris works in close collaboration with the IUCr Editorial Office in Chester for the software section of Journal of Applied Crystallography.

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Updated 14th February 1997

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