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IUCr 1999 Triennial Report - Report of Committee on Electronic Publishing, Dissemination and Storage of Information

In the triennium, the Committee on Electronic Publishing, Dissemination and Storage of Information (CEP) constituted a small and very active technical working group. The Committee suffered a tragic loss with the death of Professor E.N. (Ted) Maslen on 2 February 1997. In his role as Chair of the Working Party on Crystallographic Information, then as Director of Archiving and Crystallographic Information and then as founding Chair of this Committee, Ted guided the IUCr's publication and archiving activity into the electronic era through a tangled maze of options and opinions. The CEP was reinforced on 21 December 1998 by the appointment of L.M.D. Cranswick as a member.

A publishing consultant's study of activities of the IUCr was received in January 1996. The consultant recommended the use of SGML favouring a DTD modelled on the Elsevier Art(icle) DTD and conforming to ISO 12083. This is now the manner in which documents are treated in the editorial offices.

During the Seattle Congress, a microsymposium devoted to the Internet was organised by two members of the CEP, and the Committee's then Chair 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 contained a talk from G.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.

In the period 1996—1999, on-line services based on the Internet have followed such a rapid and widespread development that it was not considered necessary to organise similar events in association with the Glasgow Congress.

Within the triennium, the CEP has expended considerable effort on the implementation and deployment of the IUCr web information service. This has been nurtured into a system with a unified design with content arising from distributed sources of information. A high priority is set on providing up-to-date information of use to the whole crystallographic community. During its meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, in August 1997 the IUCr Executive Committee delegated editorial powers for IUCr web services to the CEP. The information service needs its content to be increased by input from collaborating providers from the crystallographic community.

Within the triennium, deployment of mirror servers for the IUCr information services has passed from the stage of the non-existent to that of a fully functional, highly optimised set of mirror sites. The development involved not only overcoming the technical difficulties and improving the efficiency of file transfer but also of producing the policy documents detailing the responsibilities of site managers and National Committees. This policy was approved by the IUCr Executive Committee at its meeting in Lisbon in August 1997. The latest improvements involved a considerable restructuring of the file system at the Chester site. As part of this strategy for mirror sites, the IUCr has acquired the Internet second-level domain name iucr.org, permitting a unified naming of Chester and the mirror sites. The deployment of the mirror-site system depends on the good will and involvement of the IUCr members (i.e. the National Committees for Crystallography) in providing equipment with network connectivity to act as mirror sites for their country or region. Some regions of the world are inadequately covered at the moment, depriving crystallographers of a very important resource.

The CEP identified a need within the community for discussion forums operated by means of an e-mail list server. In early 1998 this became operational and the CEP drafted a Policy Document on Creation and Management of Discussion Lists, which received the approval of the IUCr Executive Committee. The IUCr list server provides facilities for e-mail-based discussion lists on topics relevant to the IUCr and the field of crystallography. At present the server is only lightly used.

A major revision of the World Directory of Crystallographers (WDC) was started at the beginning of 1996 and the National Editors were invited to prepare their data to be ready before the end of 1996. Subsequently, the tenth edition of the WDC was published and made available in printed form through a limited print run. The WDC was also made available for on-line consultation using a web interface on an industry-standard public-domain directory service. It has become apparent on many occasions that the procedures for updating the WDC were obsolescent. Consequently, a functional specification for a new implementation of the WDC as a relational database using technology parallel to, but not directly integrated into, the IUCr editorial-office production database is currently at the discussion stage. The design of this database is centred around the need to allow rapid, but supervised, updating of records in a secure manner. It is intended that it should be possible to consult the database on-line by a variety of the most popular industry-standard protocols.

The conversion of the Chester editorial office to electronic publishing using full-text SGML mark-up is virtually complete (apart from Acta Crystallographica Section C, which uses an entirely different production stream). The in-house production relational database is fully operational. The electronic on-line distribution of the IUCr's six journals will require an infrastructure that the Chester office is not in a position to provide itself, indeed in the same way that the printing, mailing and subscription administration for the printed journals is sub-contracted. The negotiations with the publisher (Munksgaard) for the electronic distribution of the IUCr's journals are continuing.

The CD ROM is an attractive medium for electronic publication. The CEP is supportive of L.M.D. Cranswick's NeXus project. In this, CD ROMs are produced just-in-time upon request in small quantities on a low-cost burner and are distributed to crystallographers in developing countries lacking a reliable Internet connection. The content contains a 'virtual' WWW of crystallographic information drawn from the IUCr information services and elsewhere, and a selection of public domain software of general use and for crystallographic applications. Over 40 CD ROMs have been distributed in this way. The CEP is collaborating in the project to produce the CD ROM for the Glasgow Congress. The CD ROM will contain the Congress Abstracts, material from the sponsoring organisation, a selection of the IUCr information services and a digitised copy of an out-of-print book. The

CD ROM will be distributed to participants and will also replace the three-yearly printed supplement to Acta Crystallographica Section A containing the Congress Abstracts. The project will afford valuable experience in the production of CD ROMs and in the scanning and digitisation of books by a commercial service. The latter will be useful for the digitisation of all back numbers of the IUCr journals.

Contacts are being pursued with some other learned societies and publishers concerning the checking of their crystal structure data. It is projected that the web interface and criteria used for the checking of these data for Acta Crystallographica Section C could be adapted to the needs and requirements of the other interested parties as individual joint developments with participation in costs.

Three members of the CEP (Y. Epelboin, H.D. Flack and B. McMahon) accompanied by S.R. Hall and A. Authier attended the ICSU Press/UNESCO conference on Electronic Publishing in Science held in February 1996 in Paris. 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 CEP met during the Seattle Congress. H.D. Flack visited the IUCr Editorial offices, Chester, UK, in November 1996, November 1997 and November 1998.

H.D. Flack, Chair

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Updated 6th June 1999

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