BOWKER SAUR HAS RECENTLY introduced a new service which is designed to appeal to the increasingly catholic profession of library and information service professionals. BIPEx is the Bowker Information Professionals' Exchange. Ruth Jenkins went to talk to the UK-European Sales Manager Fiona Leslie, and Commissioning Editor for LIS Lists Linda Hajdukiewicz, who is the prime mover behind the service.
From January 1998 subscriptions to the electronic versions of the main Bowker Saur LIS journals will include BIPEx. This has been done with the laudable aim of keeping the cost down. The publishers are naturally very aware of the strain on budgets in this particular sector but it will be interesting to see if the company is able to continue to offer BIPEx as a minimal cost addition to journal subscriptions.
The launch followed a thorough exercise in market research using a very wide range of survey techniques. Feedback from the results was incorporated into the project. For example, Acrobat was already being widely used, hence PDF was deemed acceptable. Linda and Fiona believe that the research has been painstaking, but quite naturally they will review the operation in the light of experience and make further changes if necessary.
Linda mentioned that the "In touch with LIS" feature and the electronic journals had been the most well-received services during the market research phase. LIS professionals had particularly welcomed the opportunity to receive electronic journals without waiting on a circulation list for paper copies. This is one strength of the new product. When I was given an overview of the service, my first impression was that the Web pages were very easy to navigate, with a simple and logical structure.
The News section consists mainly of an electronic current awareness service called "In touch with LIS", sourced from LISA and updated fortnightly. Each issue contains 20 abstracts chosen by Elizabeth Rowan, the LISA editor. There are links to associated Web pages and articles, and this is a good way of keeping up with some of the latest research.
So far there is no material covering current news such as funding announcements and new projects, because there is no supporting Bowker-Saur material yet. The implications of the link with Bowker-Saur need to be borne in mind, but Linda would like to broaden the scope of the BIPEx News page in any event. This would of course bring the service into direct competition with various other sources of current news.
For paper copy subscribers, BIPEx does offer week-ahead electronic versions of the Bowker-Saur journal titles. Whole journal issues appear in PDF format.
The next area we looked at was the Meeting Place. This will include open discussions, moderated by editors, with topics suggested by users and virtual letter pages for the journals. There will also be special discussions chaired by well known professionals, such as Maurice Line and Guy St. Clair, who will each choose their own topic and write their own 'manifesto' in order to start the discussion. Messages will go directly to the moderators, who can filter the comments to avoid duplication or timewasting. The aim is to involve people from all over the world. Fiona particularly expects input from Scandinavia because of their interest in communicating via IT.
Finally, we looked at Member Services. The recruitment area is currently under development. Linda aims to provide a single search mechanism for many of the services currently online. Member Services also includes a "Special Offers" section, which will offer demonstrations and discounts for services and books. Linda will broaden the scope of this service to include other publishers.
I then asked Linda why she had tried to include all these different services, rather than merely providing electronic versions of their journals. She replied that she had "wanted to build a community", rather like the "Ei Engineering Village". She feels that the LIS market sector has room for a single service offering a wide range of material.
For Bowker-Saur, the benefits could be ideas for new books, better communications with customers and generally more reader involvement with their publications. If LIS professionals use BIPEx in the way Linda hopes then the result might be a "less confrontational environment for publishers and LIS to meet". It will be interesting to see whether we use BIPEx in the way that Linda hopes, and it might be that not everything that BIPEx is offering will be sufficiently distinctive to appeal to a discerning and properly critical potential customer base.
Nevertheless, there are strong features: access to ejournals and the promise that 'In Touch With LIS' might select the vital elements from LISA. For some of the other ideas, time will tell.