Letters

Biomedical journals not dead yet

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.311.7009.879 (Published 30 September 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:879
  1. S E Quinn,
  2. G S Kenyon
  1. Lecturer in otolaryngology Consultant in otolaryngology Royal London Hospital, London E1 1BB

    Electronic publications are hard to access

    EDITOR,--We are sure that the paper free electronic dissemination of scientific journals is further away than Tony Delamothe and Ronald E Laporte and colleagues envisage.1 2 Computer literacy is not widespread, even in the United States, and is not helped by the computer industry, which often seems to conspire to make the use of personal computers an ordeal. Manuals are often written without simple sequential instructions to help the uninitiated, and this combined with repetitive, and often unnecessary, upgrading has not facilitated wider understanding.

    For individual users the mystique and “technobabble” are never more apparent than when they use a modem to access remote services: the initiation strings and download protocols that are vital for successful connection are often impenetrable. Moreover, on line running costs are often high, and even those who connect to a network are often disappointed with the interface that they receive. For example, CompuServe charges $25 an hour for database searching and has indifferent interface software. Equally, while the BMA's Medline service is an advance, it is not supported by a graphical user interface, and, although it can be menu driven, success requires considerable practice. Indeed, this system itself declares that inexperienced users will find only 15% of the information available about a particular topic.

    Against this background we agree with Christopher Zietinski, who suggests that there are huge problems inherent in replacing traditional books and journals with electronic systems to the Third World.3 For library access by a large number of borrowers, however, that idea will surely come to fruition eventually. But until the costs of accessing networks come down and the quality and efficiency of the interfaces provided improve, we believe that widespread individual use will not progress. It may also be that, as with facsimile machines, individual as opposed to corporate use of such technology will always be small, whatever marketing skills are used to convince people otherwise. Certainly, we believe that predictions of the death of the traditional format for biomedical journals are premature and that paper journals will continue to have a role for most individual users for some time.

    References

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