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Changes in Document Delivery at Infotrieve and The British Library
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Posted On June 23, 2003
Two major document delivery sources announced changes to their delivery systems during the Special Libraries Association annual conference—Infotrieve and The British Library. Not surprisingly, given the tight-knit world of document delivery, there are similarities in the announcements.

Infotrieve previewed its "next generation" technology, which it's calling "E-100." The E, naturally, is for electronic and E-100 promises to provide 100 percent electronic delivery to the desktop. According to Infotrieve, "virtually all articles and documents can be delivered directly to the computer screens of its customers worldwide."

The easy part of this comes into play when a library already subscribes to an electronic journal. E-100 simply links directly to the articles. This, of course, means that Infotrieve has in its database the library's subscription information and that the library is a registered Infotrieve customer. It won't work for a one-off request.

In cases where the library does not enjoy an electronic subscription, E-100 will either send a PDF document or a scanned image. The PDF documents can be read using any version of the Adobe Reader. Infotrieve guarantees copyright compliance either through its extensive network of agreements with individual publishers—the latest deal is with six biomedical publishers (American College of Physicians, The American Diabetes Association, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, American Society of Plant Biologists, Annual Reviews, and Current Science Inc.)—or its internal digital rights management software.

Delivery costs vary from $12 to $8.50 (depending upon annual volume) plus the copyright fee as determined by the publisher. Delivery by U.S. mail and Ariel is free. Fax delivery adds $1 per page while electronic delivery is set at $1.50 per document.

Another service Infotrieve was pushing during SLA was R.O.C.A. (Return on Content Assets). This extends the notion of just-in-time journal subscriptions replacing just-in-case subscriptions. An Infotrieve analyst will scrutinize a library's document request history; both internally and externally, and present a detailed cost-benefit analysis based on subscription costs, titles from which articles are requested, and the cost center initiating the requests. The R.O.C.A. report will recommend which journal subscriptions to keep and which to cancel. If Infotrieve determines that a library should cancel a subscription, it stands ready to supply individual articles needed by library users. Although not available at the booth, Almond Rocas have been circulated among the Infotrieve staff to publicize this product. While this appeals to the sweet tooth of staff, it may not make publishers happy, particularly those whose journals are read by employees, either through the library's routing system or when visiting the library, but don't have many individual articles requested.

What Infotrieve wasn't talking about was its decision to begin charging for its ArticleFind service. Beginning June 19, 2003, casual visitors to the Infotrieve site could no longer search the database to order documents. Instead they were asked to register. The registration is free, but searching ArticleFind costs $25 per month or $99 per year for one user, with unlimited searching and document ordering.

Over at The British Library, the news was "electronic delivery of over 100 million items from the world's greatest document supply collection direct to your desktop." One strategic partner in this development is Elsevier. Through its relationships with Relais International, Xerox, and Adobe, The British Library can send PDF copies of articles. However, these can only be read using Adobe's version 6.0 Reader or its e-book reader. According to Natalie Ceeney, director of operations and services, customers are satisfied with this. However, the service is still in beta and is not expected to fully roll out until the end of the year. Document delivery customers are split about evenly between libraries in higher education and those in corporations, with 2/3 of them being in the U.K.

Pricing is similar to Infotrieve's: $12 per document plus the publisher-determined copyright fee. Documents not in electronic form can be scanned and delivered electronically, but fax, courier, and mail delivery are available.

To ensure copyright compliance, the document delivery section of The British Library subscribes separately to journals. Even though The British Library is a legal depository, the document delivery arm does not access the depository collection. Each request starts from scratch. If you're the 15th library to request an article, The British Library will send you its 15th scan of that article rather than the first one, which it has archived. Furthermore, there are locks on the article. Retrieving the article is limited to one machine. You can't forward the article and you can only print one copy.

As a depository, The British Library holds over a billion items, many of which are already digitized. If that's the case, you could receive your document request in a few seconds. The standard delivery time, however, is 24 hours. Unlike Infotrieve, The British Library has no way of knowing what electronic journals an individual library subscribes to and, therefore, can't provide a link to them. Table of Contents databases from The British Library can, however, be embedded in a corporate intranet, with in-house journals flagged and an automatic highlight set on new materials your colleagues should know about.

Ceeney also indicated that The British Library was considering phasing out its relationship with Ariel. The technology doesn't handle large files very well and is not secure, in her opinion. RLG sold Ariel to Infotrieve last January.

In the rarified world of document delivery, competitors are also collaborators and customers. Infotrieve relies on The British Library for many journal articles although they are also competitive with them for other document delivery services. Individual libraries still rely on interlibrary loan, in essence competing with the likes of Infotrieve and The British Library. Document delivery lacks the sex appeal of online search technologies but remains an essential library service. Perhaps electronic delivery will change the image, but don't bet the farm on it.


Marydee Ojala is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher magazine, chairs WebSearch University, and is Program Development Director for Enterprise Search & Discovery.

Email Marydee Ojala
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