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Depto. de Astronomía, IFUG, Guanajuato, C.P. 36000, Mexico
At Max-Planck Institut für Radioastronomie Bonn (MPIfR), Germany (1976-86) I became used to both a good library (complemented by the Astronomische Institute of the Universität Bonn) and an excellent librarian (of the pre-electronic information age). In the early 1980s, the Fachinformationszentrum (FIZ) Karlsruhe started to offer a service providing a monthly extract of the latest literature on a user-specified combination of keywords (a ``user profile''), which at that time was free of charge for users at MPIfR. However, due to the comprehensive collection of journals and preprints received at the MPIfR library in the field of radio astronomy, there was hardly any article listed by FIZ that I had not seen before. It was mainly the biannual volumes of Astronomy & Astrophysics Abstracts (AAA) which always offered some new references to me, although with the usual delay of about eight months after the end of the nominal half-year period covered by each edition of AAA. During this ``pre-Internet'' age, any exchange of bulk data or information was much slower and more tedious than today. I recall that the computing center provided about two major astronomical catalogs (to be interrogated via batch jobs). Requesting additional catalogs implied long delays, exchange of tapes, or the conversion of formats, to be compatible with local hard- and software.
In 1987/8, at the Instituto Argentino de Radioastronomía, facilities were profoundly different due to economic limitations. The collection of journals was limited to the very core journals, which arrived irregularly, and often with several months of delay. However, during a visit to Córdoba (Argentina) I enjoyed the astronomy library when working on a project that required browsing many years of the core journals in astronomy. Tables and chairs in almost every corridor of the library allowed one to study the volumes right next to the shelves.
I entered the Internet age (then ``BITnet'') when working at the Astronomy Department of Instituto de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE, Brazil), which had a decent collection of astronomical journals but was rather poor in preprints. By access to electronic mail, from 1989 on, I came across the listing of preprints received by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and distributed as the ``STEP sheet'' every two weeks by its librarian. Due to this unique service, I felt again up-to-date in astronomical literature, and together with the electronic mail directory of astronomers (the RGO Email Guide, by C. Benn & R. Martin), it allowed me to obtain reprints or preprints from the authors rather efficiently. It is amazing that until today I manage to surprise some colleagues when telling them about the STEP sheet of which they had not heard before. However, for older and rarer literature, I used to visit the library of Instituto Astronômico e Geofísico (IAG, São Paulo) with its exceptional collection of journals and observatory reports from all over the world. It was there that I discovered the usefulness of the journal Current Contents of Physical, Chemical & Earth Sciences to browse the contents pages of recent issues of virtually all relevant journals in astronomy. Email allowed me to get hold of an article of interest usually within weeks. In some cases librarians of large astronomical institutions were kind enough to send me copies of articles I did not have access to, usually upon my request via email.
Exchange of electronic copies of articles via email was still in its infancy in 1990 both due to network limitations and format incompatibilities. When I received the first email containing an article written in TEX, I had to carry it on a diskette to a friend who happened to have TEX installed on his PC. Within less than a year of its first use, email had turned indispensable for me to maintain collaborations and be alerted about the latest preprints. It allowed me to start an international campaign to safeguard tabular data from published journals in electronic form, which soon led to the most complete collection of radio source catalogs in existence (§4.2.), and email led me to find an opportunity to continue my research at Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC, Tenerife, Spain) in 1991. IAC possesses the biggest modern astronomy library in Spain, with a large variety of astronomical journals including physics, electronics and computer sciences, and volumes of recent proceedings in astrophysics. During my two years at IAC, none of my many suggestions for purchasing books were rejected. IAC also had a large collection of astronomical newsletters providing material for a review article on ``Network Resources for Astronomers'' (Andernach et al. 1994). In the spring of 1993 the World Wide Web (WWW) had been created by researchers at CERN, and it was only due to the up-to-date level of software maintained at IAC, that I was able to access the information (offered only on WWW) about the ADASS-III meeting I was going to attend.
In 1992 the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL, USA) and the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA, Trieste, Italy) started to keep mirror archives of electronically submitted preprints. Initially these were limited to the fields of theoretical cosmology and particle physics, and were not known to many astronomers (including myself), but have now become impressively popular for the deposit and circulation of astronomy preprints (§4.1.).
At the Observatoire de Lyon (1993/94), I enjoyed its excellent collection of astronomical journals, many of them available back to the very first volume. What I did not recall from the other libraries was the full collection of Astronomischer Jahresbericht, the predecessor of AAA from 1899 through 1968. Despite this I recall the disadvantage that the main room with journals and textbooks had no table or chair where one could study (and not even space for it) and the next decent copy machine was two floors up. Observatoire de Lyon also had a good viewing facility for the Palomar and ESO/SERC Optical Sky Survey. Much of this can now be done with the Digitized Sky Survey on WWW, but the original survey plates, prints or films still offer a finer detail e.g. for morphological classification of galaxies and should by all means be preserved.
In 1995/96, working at the IUE Observatory in Spain, I saw the advent of electronic journals like ApJ Letters, soon followed by the New Astronomy and the ApJ. I was surprised to find that some large data tables in MNRAS were still published on microfiche, in fact as late as early 1997, at a time when microfiche copiers had practically disappeared from astronomy libraries. When trying to get hardcopies of several data sets published on microfiche over the last 20 years I found that STScI was among the few institutions that still had such a machine available! For how much longer will these machines exist?
Since 1996, I have worked in a small but growing Astronomy Department at Guanajuato University, Mexico. Although various donations of sets of journals had been collected by the founders of the Department before my arrival, I was surprised that I was the first person to show an active interest in putting all these donations together, as soon as we found space for them. Apparently, NASA's Astrophysics Data System (ADS) article service could already satisfy most of the needs of our department members, and it required a person of ``special'' interests to go after the needs of the library. While this may show a (perhaps temporal?) tendency (or even a need) for modern researchers to survive without a library, I continue my contacts to obtain further donations to complete our physical library, and wish to take the opportunity to thank several members of the audience who have donated material to our department. In my current position, I am also responsible for the library for the first time, and admit that I do not fulfil many of the requirements proposed further below.
Details and URLs on many more information resources in astronomy can be found in Andernach (1998). In the URLs quoted here I omit the http://.
The following list of requirements for the functionality of a physical library may seem all too obvious, but as I do not often find them, I mention them anyway.
The library should be a study room rather than a storage room, and should invite one to look at more than just that piece of literature one is searching for. Tables and chairs should be present in various corners to allow one to read and work next to the material found. Obviously a copy machine should be reasonably close. The item searched for should be easily locatable at any time, and without the presence of the librarian. Ideally, the library catalog should be searchable in electronic form, accessible from any user's desktop (including one in the library itself), e.g. via the WWW. The search program should be self-explanatory, and the code for the physical location of a certain book or item should be clearly marked on the shelves. The current location of books on loan should be made known to the interested user, either by replacing the book with a card containing the name of the user who lent the book, or by indicating this user in the catalog record. A publicly accessible ASCII file with the library catalog, if not too large, is much better than nothing. Access to the library should be possible at all times, including nights and weekends, perhaps via a key or access code outside normal working hours. The reaction to books disappearing should NOT be access restriction, but ``razzias'' through the staff offices, and strict measures should be applied to users who do not adhere to the rules.
For very literature-demanding research a computer terminal in the library would allow users to interact directly with their files.
In addition to the shelf with the most recent issues of journals, the recently acquired books should also be displayed separately for at least a couple of months. Alternatively a listing of new acquisitions could be distributed to the users on a regular basis. Newsletters and other ``grey'' literature should be archived and made available to users if possible. Duplicate items should be kept and a list be posted to networks of librarians.
The appearance of more and more journals in electronic form has stimulated an intense discussion about the problem of how to safeguard their content for future generations (e.g. Grothkopf 1997). I shall not enter this discussion here but only mention a few practical problems I encountered while using them.
However, when one needs ``grey literature'', proceedings, etc., or one wants to measure the productivity of researchers, either from their publication records or from citations to their papers, the ADS, and even commercial services become incomplete, especially for proceedings papers.
In reaction to the recent threat that AAA may stop publication in 1999 (www.eso.org/libraries/iau97/libreport.html ), some astronomy librarians performed a comparison study and found that, in particular, information about conference proceedings and observatory reports found in AAA is missing from ADS and even from the commercial service INSPEC. For many years, astronomers have been waiting for the AAA to become available in electronic form. Only a few weeks before LISA III the Astronomisches Rechen-Institut (ARI) announced ARIBIB, a database of references from AAA since 1983 (Demleitner et al., 1998). ARI plans to prepare in electronic form the content of AAA (excluding abstracts) back to 1899 from Astronomischer Jahresbericht. This will be an invaluable tool at least for those astronomers working at institutions subscribed to the printed AAA. Hopefully these privileges can be levelled out in future via funding organizations, perhaps in a similar way as has gradually been achieved in the past to provide free access to SIMBAD. Drawbacks of most bibliograhical services are their incompleteness and large delays in the inclusion of conference proceedings. The ADS now makes an effort to include references to conference papers even before they go into print. It is desirable that such papers may be retrieved by the names of the editors or the conference title, and be linked to the full table of contents of the volume.
I have tried to identify some areas in astronomy information systems and archiving methods that merit future improvement. In astronomy, the evolution of these systems trace a delicate path between economic interests of publishers and activities of individual researchers, librarians, or funding organizations to create non-profit systems for the astronomy community. The voluntary effort of a handful of astronomy librarians has provided important contributions to general information services, stimulated by efficient and instantaneous means of communication (Email) and ``publication'' (WWW). I hope that conferences like the present one will stimulate further concerted activities of that sort. It is important to maintain an active communication between publishers, astronomers, and librarians to guarantee that new products like electronic journals continue to serve their consumers well.
I am indebted to the meeting organizers for a travel grant, and I would like to thank A.P. Fairall for his careful reading of the text.
Andernach, H., Hanisch, R. J., Murtagh, F. 1994, PASP, 106, 1190
Andernach, H. 1998, ``Internet Services for Professional Astronomy'', in Astrophysics with Large Databases in the Internet Age, eds. M. Kidger, I. Pérez-Fournon, & F. Sánchez, Cambr. Univ. Press, in press, astro-ph/9807167
Demleitner, M., Burkhardt, G., Hefele, H., et al. 1998, these proceedings,
Eichhorn, G. 1997, Ap&SS, 247, 189
Grothkopf, U. 1997, Ap&SS, 247, 155
Next: Following the Road to Effective International Sharing of Information
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Previous: Helping the Astronomer Stay Up-To-Date
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