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Triennial Report

After much cutting and pasting, here is the first draft of the Triennial
report of the EPC. All comments are welcome.


<H1> IUCr Trienniel Report 1996-1999 - Committee on Electronic
Publishing, Dissemination and Storage of Information</H1>


<P>
In the triennium 1996-1999, the Committee on Electronic Publishing,
Dissemination and Storage of Information (EPC) constituted a small and
very active technical working group. The committee suffered a tragic
loss with the death of Professor E. N. (Ted) Maslen on the 2nd February
1997. In his role as Chairman of the Working Party on Crystallographic
Information, then as Director of Archiving and Crystallographic
Information and then as founding Chairman of this Committee, Ted guided
the IUCr's publication and archiving activity into the electronic era
through a tangled maze of options and opinions. The EPC was reinforced
on the 21st December 1998 by decision of the IUCr Executive Committee
with the appointment of L. M. D. Cranswick.


<P>
A publishing consultant's study of activities of the IUCr was received
in January 1996. The consultant recommended the use of SGML favouring a
DTD modelled on the Elsevier Art(icle) DTD and conforming to ISO 12083.
This is now the manner in which documents are treated in the editorial
offices.


<P>
During the 17th IUCr Congress in Seattle in 1996, a microsymposium
devoted to the Internet was organized by two members of the EPC and the
Committee's then
Chairman E. N. Maslen gave a very clear exposition of the Science,
Technology and Economics of Electronic Publishing in Crystallography,
and Y. Epelboin spoke on Internet Resources for Crystallography. The
microsymposium also presented a talk from George D. Purvis, an outsider
to crystallography, on The Role of the World-Wide Web in Computational
and Pharmaceutical Chemistry and finished with short presentations on
two hot subjects on the Internet, Java and VRML, both likely to have
impact on the area of electronic publishing. Further, a workshop on the
Internet was run to give participants hands-on experience. In the period
1996-1999, on-line services based on the Internet have followed such a
rapid and widespread development that it was not considered necessary to
organize similiar events in association with the 18th IUCr Congress in
Glagow, 1999.


<P>
Within the triennium the committee has expended considerable effort on
the implementation and deployment of the IUCr web information service.
This has been nutured into a system with a unified design with content
arising from distributed sources of information.  A high priority is set
on providing up-to-date information of use to the whole crystallographic
community. During its meeting in Lisbon in August 1997 the IUCr
executive committee delegated editorial powers for IUCr web services to
this committee. The information service needs its content to be
increased by input from collaborating providers from the
crystallographic community.


<P>
Within the triennium, deployment of mirror servers for the IUCr
information services has passed from the stage of the inexistent to that
of a fully functional, highly-optimized set of mirror sites. The
development involved not only overcoming the technical difficulties and
improving efficiency of file transfer but also of producing the policy
documents detailing the responsibilities of site managers and national
committees. This policy was approved by the IUCr executive committee in
its meeting in Lisbon in August 1997. The latest improvements involved a
considerable restructuring of the file system at the Chester. As part of
this strategy for mirror sites, the IUCr has acquired the Internet
second-level domain name <I>iucr.org</I> permitting a unified naming of
Chester and the mirror sites. The deployment of the mirror-site system
depends on the good will and involvement of the IUCr members
(<I>i.e.</I> the National Committees for Crystallography) in providing
equipment with network connectivity to act as mirror sites for their
country or region. Some regions of the world are inadequately covered at
the moment depriving crystallographers of a very important resource. 


<P>
The committee identified a need within the community for discussion
forums operated by means of an e-mail list server. In early 1998 this
became operational and the EPC drafted a <I>Policy document on Creation
and Management of IUCr Mail lists</I> which received the approval of the
IUCr Executive Committee. The IUCr list server provides facilities for
e-mail based discussion lists on topics relevant to the Union and the
field of crystallography. At present the server is only lightly used.


<P>
A major revision of World Directory of Crystallographers (WDC) was
started at the beginning of 1996 and the National Editors were invited
to prepare their data to be ready before the end of 1996. Subsequently
the tenth edition of WDC was published and made available in printed
form through a limited print run. The directory was also made available
for on-line consultation using a web interface on an industry-standard
public-domain directory service. It has become apparent on many
occasions that the procedures for including updates into WDC were
obselescent. Consequently, a functional specification for a new
implementation of WDC as a relational database using technology parallel
to, but not directly integrated into the IUCr-editorial-office
production database is currently at the discussion stage. The design of
this database is centered around the need to allow rapid, but
supervised, updating of records in a secure manner. It is intended that
it should be possible to consult the database on-line by a variety of
the most popular industry-standard protocols. 


<P>
The conversion of the Chester editorial office to electronic publishing
using  full-text SGML markup is virtually complete (apart from <I>Acta
Crystallographica</I> C which uses an entirely different production
stream). The in-house production relational database is fully
operational. The electronic online distribution of the IUCr's six
journals will require an infrastructure that the Chester office is not
in a position to provide itself, indeed in the same way that the
printing, mailing and subscription administration for the printed
journals is sub-contracted. The negociations with the holding company of
Munksgaard for the electronic distribution of the Union's journals are
continuing at the very highest level within the IUCr.


<P>
The CD-ROM is an attractive medium for electronic publication. The EPC
is very supportive of L. M. D. Cranswick's NeXus project. In this,
CD-ROMs are produced just-in-time upon request in small quantities on a
low-cost burner and are distributed to crystallographers in developing
countries lacking a reliable Internet connection. The content contains a
'virtual' WWW of crystallographic information drawn from the IUCr
information services and elsewhere, and a selection of public domain
software of general use and for crystallographic applications. Some XX
CD-ROMs have been distributed in this way. 

<P> 
The EPC is collaborating in the project to produce the CD-ROM for the
18th IUCr Congress and General Assembly in Glasgow, August 1999.  The
CD-ROM will contain the Congress abstracts, material from the sponsoring
organization, a selection of the IUCr information services and a
digitized copy of an out-of-print book. The CD-ROM will be distributed
to participants and will also replace the three-yearly printed
supplement to <I>Acta Crystallographica</I> A containing the Congress
abstracts. The project will afford valuable experience in the production
of CD-ROMs and in the scanning and digitization of books by a commercial
service. The later will be useful for the digitization of all back
numbers of the IUCr journals. 


<P>
Contacts are being pursued with some other learned societies and
publishers concerning the checking of their crystal structure data. It
is projected that the web interface and criteria used for the checking
of these data for <I>Acta Crystallographica</I> C could be adapted to
the needs and requirements of the other interested parties as individual
joint developments with participation in costs. 


<P>
Three members of the EPC (Y. Epelboin, H. D. Flack, and B. McMahon)
accompanied by S. R. Hall and A. Authier attended the ICSU Press/UNESCO
conference on Electronic Publishing in Science held in February 1996 in
Paris. The conference brought together interested parties from learned
societies, publishing houses and libraries in a series of formal
presentations and working groups in which the technical, economic and
social effects of electronic publishing in science were discussed. The
EPC met during the 17th IUCr Congress in Seattle. H. D. Flack visited
the IUCr Editorial offices, Chester, UK in November 1996 (including a
visit to the IUCr's Editor-in-chief in Manchester), November 1997 and
November 1998.


<P>
L. M. D. Cranswick, Y. Epelboin, H. D. Flack (Chairman),  E. N. Maslen
(deceased), B. McMahon, P. Strickland.



-- 
Howard Flack        http://www.unige.ch/crystal/ahdf/Howard.Flack.html
Laboratoire de Cristallographie               Phone: 41 (22) 702 62 49
24 quai Ernest-Ansermet             mailto:Howard.Flack@cryst.unige.ch
CH-1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland                   Fax: 41 (22) 702 61 08

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