Aquaculture Newsletter

(August 1996 Number 13)


More Information?

Jean Collins
(Fisheries Branch Library)

An article in this Newsletter a couple of years ago (FAN no. 5) outlined aquaculture information in the Fisheries Library of FAO. At that time it was estimated that aquaculture literature made up approximately 10% of the total library collection and that this percentage was increasing substantially - in parallel with the increasing contribution of aquaculture to the production of food fish we speculated. Libraries have always had to rely upon many external sources of information, whether via inter-library agreements, CD ROM databases, on-line connections, personal contacts and so on. We could also to a certain extent quantify what subject information was available externally and we generally knew how to get hold of it as and when needed - within the usual constraints of time and budget.

Nowadays it is not so easy to work out what we have as we hurtle along the information superhighways trying to get a grip on what is out there. Connection to the Internet and the World Wide Web have given us access to an uncountable number of information sources. I say uncountable because a quick test using three of the many search engines gave me the following results for the simple term Aquaculture: Alta Vista 33,435 words ; Lycos 2,927 Documents ; Open Text 947 pages. Some of these add to our information pool, some are better alternatives to or replacements for printed versions and some are of no interest at all.

In addition to individuals and institutions presenting us with factual data and information, an increasing number of scientific and technical publications are becoming available. Some publishers are starting to put full-text fisheries and aquaculture journals on the World Wide Web, although most are still available only as contents pages. The full-text ones may only be available electronically to those who also subscribe to the paper copy. Some journals may have no printed equivalent and be available only electronically. The dilemma is not yet resolved as to what extent we can rely upon the electronic and how far we can abandon paper. The deciding factor at the end of the day is going to be quite simple - cost.

Putting some kind of structure around this information so that we can differentiate the sources which are relevant, current and reliable from the ephemeral, superseded or duplicated seems to have generated an industry all of its own. For libraries the Internet is providing new challenges in organizing knowledge so that users can find the information they need quickly and, as with the emergence of other technological innovations, they are able to expand the range of their functions and services. Their dilemma is in trying to rationalise their ownership versus access policy, whilst at the same time coping with the enthusiasm of those users who are fascinated by the technology. And at this point I hope that many of you are shouting but what about those who dont have access . We cannot adopt a policy of more information but for fewer recipients. In the case of FAO Library our users with a greater need for information are the very ones who do not have access, and nobody can tell us when they will be able o afford it. Our information services and products must evolve and adapt to the changing needs of our Member States and the changes brought about by the advances of information technology. But we were told (mostly by the producers) that the introduction of CD ROM technology would be the great equaliser with regard to access to information. A 1994 UNESCO survey elicited responses from 240 CD ROM sites in Africa of which 47% are still being supported by external funding. These have undoubtedly had a beneficial impact for a minority in developing countries but compared with the impact of CD ROMs in almost every library in North America and western Europe we are perhaps even further away from equality. The challenge facing libraries to try and bridge the information gap is greater than ever. If we let technology lead us rather than the needs of the whole user community, we will fail.