Soapbox

1 February 2009

Presenting conference proceedings in electronic format

Filed under: Moans — Tags: , , , — malwen @ 9:51 am

In my work, I often have to deal with conference proceedings provided on CD. I need to look through the contents, work out which papers are suitable for inclusion in our bibliographic database, and then read those papers. Some providers make this easy but many put obstacles in the way.

For a start, there is no consistency over the way the contents of the CD is presented. Most convenient, I find, is where the contents is as HTML with hyperlinks to the individual papers, or as a PDF file of just the contents, with hyperlinks to individual papers. It is best if those individual papers are each a single PDF file, or possibly a page of HTML, but this is rarely seen so I don’t have much experience with that format.

Often, the whole proceedings comes as one huge PDF file. This means that some computers really struggle to open the file, and some never manage it. Scrolling through any one paper gets tricky because it makes up such a tiny part of the whole file. I know why it is done like this, at least in some instances. Authors and other scholars like to be able to quote references in the traditional way, giving the range of page numbers for a particular paper, so the publisher produces the file on CD as if it was for a printed book. Indeed, in some cases it goes out as real hard copy as well as in electronic format.

Some publishers of conferences use proprietary software to present the proceedings. This is very unfortunate. To use it, one has to install software on the computer, which probably means it has to be a PC rather than any other flavour of computer, and one where one is allowed to install things. In a work situation, this can mean going off to the IT department for permission.

The worst case I have yet had to deal with involve proprietary software presentations. In one instance, each paper was presented in small sections, each displaying in a relatively small window within the frame shown on my screen. Thus one had to keep fiddling with the navigation controls while working on the paper to produce the database record. Printing out a copy of a paper for a researcher was only feasible by making a series of screen copies – this may have been a deliberate move against copying.

It would be so good if some suitable format could be agreed and adopted. I am in touch with the leader of Council at my professional body, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, in hopes that the institute can have more effect on publishers than I can alone.

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