How Will the Law Library Work In a Paperless World?
The Impact of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) on Library Management
Diana C. Jaque
University of Southern California
When mailing paper claim slips or sending book orders to publishers via US mail, who hasnít wondered if there was a more efficient way to accomplish these tasks? Well, the AALL session How Will the Law Library Work in a Paperless World promised to enlighten its audience on how Electronic Data Interchange, EDI, will free up staff time by electronically transferring claim, order, and payment information between libraries, vendors, and publishers. With more than a little curiosity, I approached this session wondering if the notion of EDI would make a significant impact on my job as an acquisitions librarian. The session proved enlightening, but pointed out that we are still a long way from the daily use of EDI in the law library.
Sandra Hurd of Northern Light and Pamela Bluh of the Thurgood Marshall Law Library at the University of Maryland addressed current and potential developments in EDI. Hurd provided an excellent introduction to the basics of EDI and began by defining EDI as machine to machine transmission of business information. The implementation of EDI promises to provide faster transmission of data between library, supplier/vendor, and publisher by transferring information from computer to computer, without human interaction. The computer accomplishes the same routine tasks, such as claiming or ordering, by direct communication between the integrated library system, ILS, and the computer system of the vendor or publisher. This gives library staff increased time to devote to more complex tasks.
Hurd cited several potential benefits for libraries using EDI: the elimination of printed order and claims slips sent via US mail and the need to post payments into the ILS. Wouldnít it be great to have an electronic interface post payments to accounts after checks have been paid? Certainly, my acquisitions assistant would be pleased with this development!
In spite of these potential benefits, several roadblocks stand in the path of widespread acceptance of EDI. Currently, most EDI interfaces are proprietary. Hurd chronicled the push within the last ten years for library vendors to create a single standardized interface and gave examples of organizations working to develop standards for their respective stake holders: SISAC, BISAC, ICEDIS, ASC X12, and EDItEUR. As well, Hurd discussed a few concepts related to EDI that are currently in development: the SISAC Bar Code symbol and the Digital Object Identifier (DOI). The Serial Item and Contribution Identifier, SICI, identifies specific parts, issues, of serials publications. The SICI data is represented in the form of a machine-readable bar code, the SISAC bar code symbol, printed on the cover of many serial publications. The bar code contains information including the ISSN as well as volume and issue information. Potentially, library staff may check in a shipment of serials by scanning the SISAC bar code. The ILS interface records the appropriate issue in the libraryís check in records and avoids unnecessary check in errors.
Hurd spoke very briefly about developments in Digital Object Identifiers (DOI). She defined DOI as a means of permanently identifying the producer and copyright information for a work on a digital network. More information on DOI may be found at http://www.doi.org. Hurd closed her presentation by encouraging library staff to analyze situations in which EDI would be useful and commented that not all communications are suitable for EDI. EDI should be used to free up staff time and improve efficiency in communication, not hinder or bog down communication lines.
Pamela Bluhís presentation built upon the EDI basics discussed by Hurd. Bluh began by dismissing common misconceptions about EDI. Often EDI is thought of incorrectly as a means of altering data. The simple fact is that in EDI, the data is not changed per se, only transferred between two parties. EDI transactions are seen as invisible and are perceived of as mysterious to the uninitiated. In reality, EDI depicts a transaction model with the library acting as the buyer and the vendor as the seller. Information passes between the two parties without human interaction. Bluh echoed Hurdís earlier comments about the importance for both players to create a single standardized interface.
Most importantly, Bluh examined the likelihood of EDIís implementation within the law library community. In this setting, legal publishers, subscription agents, and integrated library system vendors must actively work together to make EDI successful. As part of her research into EDI, Bluh said that of major law library vendors, the William S. Hein Co. has the most pro-active approach to EDI. In her opinion, legal publishers see no great impetus to pursue EDI research and development as the majority of their customers are not academic law libraries but individual attorneys or small firms. Neither of these two audiences has expressed a significant desire for developments in EDI.
Additionally, EDI has been slow to gain momentum within ILS vendors since most ILS enhancements are both customer and market driven. The majority of EDI functions occur behind the scenes and are not perceived of as glamorous or visible activities. Certainly, some of the tasks EDI may accomplish are mundane and typically, are not at the top of the list of enhancements that customers request. Looking at the pros and cons of EDI, Bluh emphasized that EDI strives to improve efficiency of routine operations, providing staff with more time to handle complex problems, reducing errors, and improving response time in communications with vendors. Still, EDI is expensive to implement and has not garnered significant interest or strong support within the law library community. Currently, there are too many modifications and proprietary versions of EDI software without a single, emerging standard. Bluh urged law librarians to participate in the process of developing standards for EDI interfaces and communicate our needs to vendors.
Overall, this session provided a useful introduction to the major issues surrounding EDI implementation and furnished a preview of EDI developments on the horizon. Hurd and Bluh presented the basic facts about EDI with a realistic look at its potential impact on the law library setting. Certainly, EDI is an emerging area that technical services librarians must monitor on a regular basis.