Editorial - alas, no more!
At the 1989 annual general meeting and conference of the University,
College and Professional Publishers Council of the Publishers Association,
Robert Campbell (Blackwell Scientific) let fall words to chill the
blood of listening editors. Outlining the development of ADONIS,
the huge image database of 218 biomedical journals that uses electronic
mail for scanning and fulfilling document delivery requests,
he quoted J.D. Bernal as suggesting, some forty years ago, that
the individual research paper is the basic unit of research publication,
rather than the book or journal. Book publication and sales having
peaked in the 1970s and journals in the l980s, it is now, Campbell
claimed, the peak for document delivery. The British Library Document
Supply Centre is today fulfilling requests for single articles in
huge numbers, and the ADONIS scheme is being extended overseas.
What is wanted is the individual article, not the whole journal,
Campbell said, and that item alone must be delivered.
Meanwhile, the editor at one learned society in the UK is
fighting for the survival of back numbers of the societys
34-year-old journal against librarians on the
editorial board who resent paying storage charges for paper seen
as superfluous now that single articles are electronically retrievable.
I hesitate to affiliate with the Luddites but I regret that journal
editors seem destined to join Hardys reddlemen or ladies
fan designers as experts in crafts that are no more.
Do other editors find a joy in the compilation - even
creation - of a whole from its component parts? Copy-editing
and proofreading are punctiliously applied to refereed articlesthe
trees; then we move on to design the wood, aiming for balance in
the topics covered in the journal, logic in the arrangement, variety
in the length and tone, visual harmony in the double-spread, pleasure
in the items filling gaps, consistency in the style throughout;
dressing the whole finally with contents lists and volume index.
All this is lost if readers really want only the single article,
torn from its setting - or never placed there but going straight
from word-processor to database without any intervening textual
mise en scene. Does all this satisfy the editor alone - not
enhance the material, nor please the reader?
When single articles are retrieved from document delivery centres
a journal loses not only its overall aspect but also everything
other than full articles: news, notes, shorter pieces of any sort.
Are editorials, correspondence, obituaries and reviews all totally
disposable, never to be sought by readers? Many editors can testify
to receiving a gratifying number of compliments on short filler
items that readers really seem to enjoy.
Are journals to become of merely historical interest? We have
heard predictions of the paperless society and the death of the
printed word for some years now; but the Bernal-Campbell combination
makes it clear that journals are the first threatened of the species.
So what should eager editors do? Blink away a tear, and buckle
down to a lifetime of unadulterated copy-editing? Apply for work
on popular magazines? Form social circles for antiquarian paste-up
sessions over afternoon tea? Or trumpet the virtues of the journal
Hazel K. Bell
European Science Editing May 1990; No.40