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Library and Information Services in Astronomy III
ASP Conference Series, Vol. 153, 1998
Editors: U. Grothkopf, H. Andernach, S. Stevens-Rayburn, and M. Gomez
Electronic Editor: H. E. Payne

Open Forum on Optimizing Communication Amongst Astronomy Librarians in the Digital Age

Jeanette Regan
Australian National University, Astronomy Branch Library, MSSSO, Australia


Conferences are held to enhance communication between colleagues. This final session of LISA III was presented as the opportunity for participants, as well as those unable to attend, to express their concerns and to make comments or suggestions regarding future communication amongst astronomy librarians, publishers and researchers.

A list of discussion topics was distributed both at the conference and by email (on Astrolib) so that responses could be made either in person or in written form.

1. Introduction

The final session of the conference was introduced by a list of topics (statements and questions) distributed to participants on the first day of the conference and posted on Astrolib, which was unfortunately delayed due to some unexpected technical problems. A copy of the distributed list of topics can be found as an appendix.

The following summary is not only from the conference discussion, but also includes responses from four participants who submitted their suggestions in writing at the conference and 10 responses that were received by email. Three of the latter were from Chinese librarians who also sent messages of support to the conference.

2. Topic 1

Direct publishing of LISA conference proceedings on the Web
The response of the audience was definitely in favour of traditionally published proceedings rather than exclusively electronic format. The reasons given were:

The question was asked as to how many of the audience had referred to previous LISA proceedings recently. A large number of the audience raised their hands.

3. Topic 2

Who will be the safe keepers of information and knowledge in the global astronomical community?
The topic was not discussed during the Open Forum because it had been fully discussed during the conference, although with no definite answers. The views of a number of delegates are expressed with the following extracts from written contributions:

4. Topic 3

Communication between astronomy librarians
All participants and written responses were very much in favour of future LISA meetings, with a consensus of a three or four year interval between meetings and a suggestion to hold LISA IV in the Pacific area.

The development of discussion groups initiated with papers or comments posted on the Web was more controversial. All written responses commended this suggestion on either an annual or biannual basis. These views are summarised by the following statement.

However, this was not the general opinion expressed by those who were able to attend the conference and so a summary of their responses now follows.

The session was closed with applause for the last comment made by an astronomer: ``I see this as a very useful conference because it establishes more cooperation. At other conferences, it is mostly competition; here, it is mostly collaboration. This is a good conference and it would be a pity to see it substituted.''


My sincere thanks to Suzanne Laloë for her guidance and patience in the preparation and co-chairing of the Open Forum and also with the editing of this document. At the time the conference took place, Suzanne was in the midst of changing her career from librarianship and is now involved with the updating and data control of the SIMBAD database at the Centre de Données Astronomiques de Strasbourg. My good wishes go with her.

5. Appendix

Chairs: Jeanette Regan and Suzanne Laloë


5.1. Direct publishing on the Web

Most people agree that ``proceedings'' are not ``real'' books and that the ratios information/price and information/shelf-space are rather low. The short time that proceedings remain current is also of concern.

a) Why should we publish future LISA proceedings in the form of a book?
b) Would a posting on the Web not be sufficient?
c) Should librarians not give the good example?

5.2. Who will be the safe keepers of information and knowledge in the global astronomical community?

a) What is the raison d'etre of a librarian in this digital age, given that we also have pre-digital information (books, journals, etc)? Is it only the free circulation of hard copy material, facilitated no doubt by electronic communications, or will it be the use of electronic communications to direct people to digital sources?

Research institutions are attempting to exist within the confines of smaller budgets and changing political regimes. These, and other factors, have lead to dramatic changes in institutions in Eastern European countries and also the closure of renowned institutions such as RGO.

b) How can we ensure the safe keeping of information sources?
c) Do we need to ensure that there are copies of all paper items within defined regions world wide?
d) How should these be managed?
e) It would require an enormous level of co-operation. Is it feasible?
f) Can we, or should we, also rely on deposit sets held in National Libraries?

5.3. Communication amongst astronomy librarians

The changes in international communication channels that have been made since LISA I have been astounding. Astrolib and other relevant discussion lists assist most of us with our daily tasks. However, the overall costs of holding conferences are high - too high for some institutions.

a) In this isolated subject area of astronomy, how important is face-to-face contact?
b) Other organisations are organising regular Internet meetings. Could we also use this as an alternative method?
c) If so, how often should `virtual' meetings be held, and how often face-to-face meetings, e.g. annually, or every 2, 3 or 5 years?
d) Are there other methods of communication we should be developing?

© Copyright 1998 Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390 Ashton Avenue, San Francisco, California 94112, USA

Next: The VLT/HST Archive Research Facility
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