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Research Papers May See New Distribution Method

A member of the Publications Services Review Group has proposed streamlining the process by which internal MIT research papers are distributed, thus making it much easier for purchasers outside the Institute to find and obtain unpublished materials.

Keith Glavash, head of the MIT Libraries' Microreproduction Laboratory, suggested instituting a voluntary system whereby the various departments which produce research papers that aren't published in journals turn over distribution to the library. The Microreproduction Laboratory has been providing this service for out-of-print materials for 40 years. The change would only extend distribution to include current papers.

The idea was put forward as a possible solution to the problem of locating papers that are not systematically filed at the libraries. Currently, there is no strict protocol for academic departments to send research papers to the libraries for cataloguing, public access and storage. Some send materials after various periods of time and others don't; many have their own cataloguing system, but some of their papers never make it into the library catalogue, Mr. Glavash said. As a result, searches for requested papers are not confined to one department or consistent system.

"We continually come across situations where nobody can find a copy (of a requested paper) anywhere," he said. "It's just not a good, efficient system. We're trying to come up with a way to get things collected and preserved comprehensively. there needs to be a single place where an outside person could come" to obtain research papers unpublished elsewhere, he added.

Mr. Glavash envisions a system by which the libraries could eventually scan and store research documents electronically. They could then be quickly accessed and printed out, faxed or sent by e-mail to those seeking them, who would pay for that service as they do now, he explained. This would result in savings of time and labor in locating materials, higher distribution volume and greater ability to hold the line on charges for copies.

The libraries now receive 2,000 research papers a year, many of them from the Industrial Liaison Program, originating from about 50 different publishing sources within MIT, Mr. Glavash estimated. Those documents include technical reports and working papers written but not published outside MIT.

If the rest of the review group and the administration approves of the proposal, it will be implemented gradually, starting with a renewed request for departments to submit papers to the library in a standardized time span, Mr. Glavash said. However, he emphasized that this will not mean any loss of control by departments over their materials and that the entire effort will be voluntary. "It's not going to be forced on anybody. It will be offered to publishers on campus who want to get out of the distribution business. this will at least give them the option," he said.

The publications group has been gathering information on the dozens of publications produced at MIT as part of its effort to pinpoint ways of achieving greater efficiency and cost savings. Recommendations are expected by the end of the calendar year.

A version of this article appeared in the September 22, 2003 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 7).

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