As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites
This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive –
64th IFLA General Conference
August 16 - August 21, 1998
Code Number: 015-118-E
Division Number: VII.
Professional Group: Editors of Library Journals
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 118
Simultaneous Interpretation: No
Critical issues facing LIS journals - from the point of view of a Hungarian editor
National Technical Information Centre and Library
In smaller countries professional journals such as those in library and information science, have three basic functions. Firstly, they have to monitor world developments and evaluate them from a domestic point of view. Secondly, they have to inform professionals in the country about the selected foreign materials, through translations, abstracts, reviews and studies. Thirdly, they have to make progressive domestic developments known to both domestic and foreign readers. The author uses his experience as an editor of the Hungarian journal Tudományos és Müszaki Tájékoztatás to demonstrate how this challenge can be met.
The role of LIS journals in smaller countries
To use media terminology, specialist journals in smaller countries must operate simultaneously as
Aiming at as wide an audience as possible, one wants to find out about professional developments worldwide, and to evaluate them from a specific angle: what of all this could be useful in the country. By a "selective translating and relay station" I mean translating the selected information into the native language and then passing it on. Finally, "multiband transmission" is needed so that as many people as possible, from practioners to the elite of our profession, both abroad and at home, may be able, and eager, to receive what is transmitted.
- all-world receivers,
- selective translating and relay stations, and
- multiband transmitters.
World trends and domestic circumstances must be integrated into the theory and practice of the sciences and professions in smaller countries in such a way that they become organic parts of the congruent sciences and professions of the world. At the same time, we should induce and reinforce an inherent domestic development.
Even journals published in smaller countries face competition. We should establish some kind of division of labour, by subject and other aspects, which would help all of us to more efficiently carry out the three functions I mentioned above.
Everything that applies to the editing and publishing of special journals in smaller countries also applies to journals in library and information science. Tudományos és Müszaki Tájékoztatás (or TMT as it is commonly abbreviated) is a point in case. Our experience with TMT answers the question of how this triple challenge can be met (to some extent), as well as illustrates the typical problems in editing our journal.
TMT - one of Hungary's LIS journals
TMT, which is in its 45th volume, publishes 45 to 50 papers, articles, essays and reports every year. The number of authors is actually somewhat higher, because of co-authorships. 70% to 75% of authors are from Hungary; the rest are from abroad, mostly from the West. Two-thirds of the Hungarian authors discuss Hungarian issues, but articles about foreign concerns also are related to Hungary.
Foreign authors typically discuss their own libraries, regions, countries and special fields as well as the activities of international organizations; but occasionally, when requested, they also write about Hungarian problems.
Approximately one half of domestic submissions are initiated by the authors. While 8-10 professional writers regularly publish in our journal, most authors only appear once, when they believe the topic has a special professional significance, by reporting mostly local developments, for instance, in automation. The other half of the domestic papers are written upon our request. TMT tries to find out about professional research projects, concepts and plans, then tries to "lure" the manuscripts out of the drawer of the author's desk. Requests are made for papers on specific topics, especially when a thematic issue is being put together about problems that are especially timely but insufficiently covered in the literature.
Foreign authors give us the final reports of studies they have been commissioned to carry out (e.g. as consultants) as well as papers given at conferences held in Hungary and turned into articles. It happens two or three times a year that a foreign author is specifically requested to write for us.
The majority of the articles and essays (72% in 1997) are published within 3 to 5 months from the submission date. About 10% of the articles have a shorter time lag. These papers which are published almost instantaneously are, without exception, written upon request. An 8- or 9-month time lag is rather rare. In those cases, multiple editor-author conferences are often needed, for professional or stylistic reasons. Five to 10 papers are rejected every year because they do not meet the expectations of referees as to content or style.
We generally evaluate the most important Hungarian publications in our field (newly published monographs, index tools and special bibliographies), but because of our limited staff it is impossible to review foreign literature systematically. However, we welcome such reviews.
I can best indicate the subject profile of TMT by mentioning some papers in the first four issues published this year:
- The National Information Infrastructure Development Programme, 1998-2000.
- A new development concept of the Hungarian Electronic Library in 1997 and how it could be institutionalized.
- Ideas about a multimedia centre and digital library, bearing the name of Janos Neumann, a world-famous mathematician and computer scientist (better known as Von Neumann). This Centre is to be established in compliance with a 1997 Hungarian law on museums, publicly available libraries and adult education institutions.
- The information and documentation system of the European Union.
- Marketing research into the relationship of libraries and entrepreneurs.
- Electronic libraries and biomedicine.
- Future handling of electronic journals by subscription agencies.
- Medical information for laypersons via the Internet.
The articles and essays of TMT are reviewed and indexed by foreign abstracting and indexing journals, such as LISA, Pascal, Referativny Zhurnal, Science Abstracts Series C: Computer and Control, as well as Hungarian Library and Information Science Abstracts and Hungarian Research and Development Abstracts. We believe that our summaries in English, German and Russian, which accompany all major articles, have something to do with this extensive coverage.
Our abstracts and thematic reviews on foreign journal articles play a significant role in TMT's being a selective relay station. When we select articles, we keep three things in mind:
- Two-thirds of Hungarian librarians cannot read any foreign language, so our abstracts are really needed.
- Foreign LIS journals are available in only a few larger libraries in Hungary, so even professionals who read foreign languages but work in the countryside can access them only with great difficulty.
- The articles to be covered must have some kind of distinctive feature: they must either update the professional knowledge of Hungarian librarians and information scientists, or encourage them to be innovative.
With these points in mind, our abstracts and reviews are prepared as substitutes for the original sources as far as possible. At the same time, we try to provide a geographically well-balanced picture of what is going on worldwide in our profession. Professional developments in 20 to 25 countries as well as multinational projects are reported every year.
As for the authors of primary sources reviewed (approximately 130 to 160 authors a year), the proportion of westerners is between two-thirds and three-quarters. Anglo-American authors are the most favoured, as they were in the Communist era, since TMT had long ago won the right to be politically neutral, in order to focus on professional quality. From Central and Eastern Europe, Russian, Polish, Czech and Slovakian authors appear the most often. Their presence proves that TMT did not lose interest in the new democracies in 1989, since the transformation process of those countries is very similar to the changes under way in Hungary.
Also, TMT gladly publishes interesting and brief news items - a feature which noticeably enlarges its "information radius."
Other LIS journals in Hungary
If we ignore Magyar Könyvszemle (the oldest Hungarian library journal, which in recent years has been devoting its pages exclusively to the history of books and libraries), the yearbooks of major libraries (which focus on their own library collections), and library bulletins and newsletters (which are for specific professional groups of various sizes), there are only four nationwide journals for the profession in Hungary. Of these four, Könyvtári Levelezö/lap (with a monthly circulation of 1,000) and Könyv, Könyvtár, Könyvtáros (900 copies monthly), do not justify close consideration, since they focus on the safeguarding of professional interests and on the problems of public librarianship; in the rare cases where they go beyond this, the articles lack real depth.
So TMT (at 510 copies per month) has only one real competitor: Könyvtári Figyelö (KF for short) a quarterly journal. Its predecessor was launched in 1955, and its current circulation is 850 copies. Our profiles coincide, at least in relation to the most generic issues of scientific and special librarianship as well as to information policy. On the other hand, TMT does not feel obligated to cover information services in the social sciences, nor to deal with libraries that have collections of a general nature, and it focuses more on information science. A further point is that while TMT abstracts try to serve as a substitute for the original publication, KF abstracts do not.
TMT's impact on the profession
TMT tries to be a "living" journal. Without attempting to be comprehensive, let me mention a few points in evidence:
- It is an indication of a broad readership that our authors often get into professional debates. The column Altera Pars is designed to handle these debates.
- Reading assignments for various library and information science courses often include TMT papers.
- Towards the end of the 1970s, a TMT article, based on western sources, initiated the online use of foreign databases in Hungary. A separate column, Online News, had been promoting this issue for more than a decade.
- TMT was one of the initiators of the introduction of CD-ROMs into Hungary, by publishing a thematic issue, as well through the column CD-ROM News. I believe that this was a significant factor in the quick success of CD-ROM technology in Hungary.
- TMT is undertaking a similar mission today, concerning the Internet. Our related news column was launched in the late 1980s.
- TMT also has contributed to national library policy. We published four essays in 1997 to provide a framework for the new law I mentioned earlier. We know now that they have hit their target.
Problems and difficulties
However, our successes cannot conceal the problems and difficulties we face issue by issue. Let me mention a few of them:
- First of all, let us look at the finances. In 1998 our total expenses amounted to $22,000, of which 46% went to authors and other collaborators, 29% was the editor's salary (including social security and other taxes), 17% were the printing costs and 8% went on postage and other services. Contrast this with our revenues from subscriptions ($8,600) and from advertising ($2,000) - a total of $10,600, i.e about the half of the expenses. The painful conclusion is that TMT is a money-losing venture! (I have to add: as are the other Hungarian periodicals.) We could not survive without a sponsor, which in our case is the National Technical Information Centre and Library (OMIKK). Most recently, a quarter of our losses have been covered by a grant from the National Cultural Fund of Hungary.
- Since the amounts of money we can spend on royalties and commissions are still rather low, we must appeal to our authors' professional devotion.
- The workload on the single full-time editor is horrendous, even if he can count on the cooperation of several experts on a contract basis.
- Although we do not suffer from a chronic shortage of manuscripts, sometimes we do have what I call an "article-flow" problem, especially with thematic issues. If papers that are barely fit for publication ever get into the journal, this is how it happens. Another way of solving this type of pressure is by asking someone to write a specific article as soon as possible. Our most loyal authors rarely turn us down.
- We have a lot of difficulty translating into Hungarian terms appearing in abstracts and in papers by foreign authors, since many of these concepts simply do not exist in Hungarian. In spite of all the effort of the editors, the same thing may be called differently in different papers. I think, however, that we have to live with this fact.
Plans for the future
As to the future, it seems that we will not have to change our present publishing philosophy, which can be summed up like this: "you shall always serve the progress of the profession". More specifically, our effort to improve quality is naturally a general requirement. On the other hand, there are some more specifc actions that would make a difference:
- We ought to give the journal a "face-lift," for example, by multi-colour printing, which we have not been able to introduce for financial reasons.
- We should increase our circulation. This is a very dificult task, since the number of libraries in Hungary has declined over the past ten years. For example, the number of corporate libraries has dropped by 70%, as the state-owned big companies were disbanded and/or privatized, and the emerging numerous small- and medium-sized enterprises that replaced them have not reached the point in their development where they can set up their own library or information unit. At the same time, the acquisition budget of surviving libraries has been cut. To illustrate the position: in 1985 Hungarian libraries subscribed to 25,000 foreign journals, in 103,250 copies, while in 1996 only 11,400 titles were bought in 17,500 copies.
The number of copies that can be sold is also limited by the fact that our yearly subscription fee (US$30) is rather high when compared to the low salaries in Hungary (for the average librarian US$3,000 a year gross); this is why TMT does not have individual subscribers, only corporate ones. So even if more people read our journal, it does not necessarily mean more subscribers.
In spite of all this, we hope that in the rapidly changing economic environment (and I am referring to our rush towards capitalism), on the threshold of an information society, information is going to be appreciated more and more. So the institutions which need information will mushroom, and they will need a special journal telling them about information sources, information services and information technology.
- Finally, we are considering launching an electronic version of TMT. As a matter of fact, selected feature articles have already been accessible from the digital library of our publisher, OMIKK, although with a considerable time lag of a few months. (Our Web address is http://www.omikk.hu.). From 1999 on, we plan to publish a different type of electronic version; this is not going to be a simple digital copy of the printed journal, but it will adjust to the electronic medium, by taking advantage of its advanced features. This concept, however, also calls for a re-evaluation of the print version, since we will have to decide what is to be published in printed or in electronic format, or in both.
Conclusions - and Questions
A number of conclusions can be drawn from this overview - and some questions can be asked.
With regard to finances, the fact that TMT is nowhere near self-sufficient and unlikely to become so makes us dependent on sponsors and limits our development. Can one accept the fact that a library journal is constantly losing money and say that we are carrying out a mission to promote the profession, instead of making money? Or should we say that this loss indicates a lack of efficiency, and that it should therefore cease publication?
On the role of TMT, one of its functions is to be a substitute for the reading of foreign library and information journals by reporting professional developments worldwide - bearing in mind that many Hungarian librarians do not speak any foreign language and/or have any access to foreign journals. But is this enormous task actually possible? The professional developments we choose to report may not be the most important ones, and we could perhaps leave the selection to the reader, thus encouraging him or her to study foreign languages and to obtain access to these journals locally.
TMT also tries to inform the world, at least at a minimal level, about domestic developments (through tables of contents and abstracts, both in foreign languages), in the knowledge that Hungarian is a rather obscure language, and that it is rare to find articles by Hungarian authors in foreign journals. Is this function important? If so, are there additional ways of fulfilling it - for example, by publishing certain selected articles in Hungarian and English simultaneously?
On other LIS journals in Hungary, TMT's competition consists of three other nationwide journals. Is it reasonable for the country to support four journals with nationwide coverage, considering that they all lose money? Or should some of them merge? Would it not be better to create one generalist title and publish some smaller ones specializing in different areas (such as acquisitions, automation, or databases)? Or, using a different approach, would it be more reasonable to publish three titles in Hungarian and one in English (with this last being responsible for covering domestic developments for the outside world)?
Quality seems to be satisfactory by our standards; we do not aim at broader international recognition. Should it be the number one concern, to which all other criteria are subordinated, or are there other factors (such as regular deadlines, urgent topics, or saving money) which might justify the occasional lowering of our standards?
As to impact, TMT does appear to be quite widely read and to have an impact on library thinking and library policy. Should its scope be broadened to cover related subject areas so that it could be read by more people, or should the present profile be kept as it is now? A broader profile would mean discussing a wider range of topics, but leave our original readers somewhat dissatisfied and possibly lose some of them.
Finally, as noted, it is planned to issue TMT in an electronic version, partly to make use of the benefits of the electonic medium, and partly because more and more readers expect it. How similar should this electronic version be to the hard copy? Also, how could we launch this electronic version in a way that would reduce our financial losses, instead of adding to them?