Forms of Presentation and the Future of Comprehension

Review of issues raised in panel papers

Anthony Judge

1. Continuing problems

Given the purpose of this report, as described in the introduction, continuing problems should be recognised but should not obscure the more fundamental challenge to international documentation systems. It is important to be realistic in that such issues will continue to exist despite debates and recommendations, such as those of 1972 (1), especially when "too few of the recommendations have been implemented" (71, p. 4 and 20). Constant pressure should be applied to remedy them -- although major breakthroughs should not be expected and there is little hope for recommendations requiring any degree of coordination. In addition, many new issues will emerge as a natural accompaniment to the fragmented evolution of an under-budgeted international community in which documentation is conceived as a budgetary embarrassment to those producing it and a constant source of bewilderment to those facilitating its use (71, pp. 10-11). Robert Schaaf's paper (71) admirably summarises the situation with regard to many of them and his remarks on possible future action (71, pp. 20-24) need not be repeated here. Elaborating upon some of his chapter headings, they can perhaps be grouped as follows:

  • Quantity of documentation in terms of acquisition, processing, organisation, storage, and use
  • Bibliographic control problems, standards, and agency indexes
  • Diversity of materials, print, non-print, and electronic
  • Delays in rendering new materials accessible to users
  • Documentation complexity for librarians and users
  • Library personnel and training problems
  • Restrictive and fragmented agency distribution policies
  • Closed archives and classified (confidential) material
  • Status of user guides to documentation
  • Automated information systems: scope, access, integration,
  • cooperative cataloguing
  • Microform status and related user problems
  • Depository libraries
  • Translations
  • Terminology
  • Statistics on documents, translations, and usage.
Note that many of these are problems which affect users but whose solutions should really be discussed within other panels. The utilisation dimensions of some of these problems were reviewed in my own paper for the 1972 Symposium (as rapporteur for the panel on acquisition and organisation of international documentation), to the extent that "acquisition" may be viewed as a problem for the ultimate user, rather than any intermediary.

In general those depository libraries who replied to Professor Arntz's lists of questions answered descriptively in terms of the above headings and their points may be said to have been covered by the 1972 Symposium (1) as updated by Robert Schaaf (71).

2. User problems and innovative learning

Given the earlier sections of this report, it is significant that few of the papers focused directly on user problems. Most of the agency papers of necessity discuss the problems of producing and distributing documents. Most of the depository library papers of necessity discuss the problem of acquiring and controlling the flood of material, and in some cases the question of tools for users. But libraries are only intermediate users, if that. They are obviously not the ultimate users. It is significant that Professor Arntz's questions concerning users gave rise to few answers or answers which were clearly not based on any kind of survey. The questions were:

  • Is the material used, and if so, satisfactorily used?
  • Which are the obstacles felt by the users?
  • Do users express themselves, and in which sense, about the accessibility/value/usefulness of the material?
  • Does it seem to be too rich (an information avalanche), or have they detected gaps; are fields missing where there is an information need?
  • Are there linguistic or terminological barriers?
  • Have users other sources of information which could replace the material from governmental organisations?

To some extent at least, these questions will be discussed now (together with any communications received relevant to them) within the following section which will endeavour to give a practical direction to the contextual remarks of the previous sections.