Friday, December 20, 2013

BPN 1674: From trade literature to toilet paper

Although the sun is shining, it is today a sad day in Amsterdam. Today, the library of the Royal Tropical Institute will close. The last books - several thousand of titles: doublets, journals and written publications, mainly in English and Dutch - can be sorted and taken along. Then comes the old paper merchant who will takes the remains to recycle. The collection was already cruelly torn apart and components moved to other collections ranging from the prestigious Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt to the Knowledge and Documentation Center for Medical History in a small Dutch fishery village, Urk. That is the irrevocable end of the KIT Information & Library Services (ILS).

In the second half of the eighties of last century, I dealt with the ILS department of KIT. I was working at the newly founded Society for Information Services ( MIS ), which became active in 1986 and mainly worked in the market of electronic publishing. In their portfolio was CD-ROM. In 1987 the company produced the first test disc of the Legal Database Kluwer Datalex. Further, the company produced in 1988 several CD-ROMs amongst others KIT Abstracts for the Royal Tropical Institute, the CD-ROM version of the online database TROPAG & Rural (Tropical Agriculture) .

TROPAG is one of the oldest Dutch online databases with abstracts of official publications and so-called grey literature on tropical agriculture in Africa, Asia , the area of ​​the Pacific and Central and South America. The database was created from a magazine in which the summaries of articles from scientific journals were published. The texts were put in the graphic company Samsom Publishers. Here, in the second half of the seventies, the texts were already stored into a computer with a paper punch tape. Once the text was saved, there was a magnetic tape ready to be sent ​​by snailmail to host computers (servers, they are called now),  at that time the U.S. information services Dialog, SDC, and BRS. The database was included in the portfolio of the Dutch host organisation Samson Data Systems (SDS) for a short period (1981-1983).

However, online was costly and certainly for the developing countries. The telecom connections were also a major technical obstacle for those countries. Using the online database was not an overwhelming success. However, the advent of the CD-ROM in 1984 offered a different perspective for a text database. Although PCs with CD-ROM drives were not readily available in abundance in the second half of the eighties, the KIT ILS department, headed by Hans van Hartevelt, placed more CD-ROM players than there were available in the Netherlands from 1987 onwards. MID was commissioned to produce the text CD–ROM.. Since the CD-ROM production software was still in its infancy, the production and especially the mastering took longer than expected. But when the diffulties were overcome the CD - ROM went all over the world.

The TROPAG & Rural file still exists, but is now part of the CD-ROM portfolio of CAB International and available online with Wolters Kluwer daughter OVID. TROPAG & Rural will be a painful reminder of the rich stream of literature, while the last remaining books and magazines will be recycled to toilet paper.