UK Nonlinear News, November 1999


EMIS - the offer of EMS in electronic information and communication in mathematics

By Bernd Wegner (Technical University, Berlin)

Introduction

The increasing development of electronic devices for the publication of papers and books in mathematics has led to a drastic change in the relationship between authors and editors, to new ways of distributing mathematical publications, such as electronic journals, and to an extension of the offers of information on mathematical research to the mathematical community. Confronted with an ever increasing number of research papers and high production and distribution costs for mathematical journals and monographs, it is increasingly difficult to access all these publications. Even libraries with a relatively high budget cannot afford to subscribe to all the journals that they are supposed to offer to their clients. Examing subscription rates to well-established mathematics journals it is obvious that libraries in countries with smaller budgets for universities have no chance to acquire journals that are considered indispensable elsewhere.

Electronic publishing provides better facilities for these purposes. It will reduce production costs for the preparation of the articles, though several well-known publishers are sceptic that this reduction will be passed to the user and not used to compensate for other costs occurring in the production and distribution of scientific journals. This will be a matter of permanent discussion. But electronic publishing will improve the methods that allow researchers to find their way through the tremendous bulk of mathematical research papers. It will enable reviewing journals to speed up and improve their procedures. It may even make these services accessible on-line at reduced rates with enhanced search facilities.

The General Concept of EMIS

The initial idea to develop the European Mathematical Information Service (EMIS) dates back to 1994. The executive committee of the EMS (European Mathematical Society) decided to set up a system of electronic servers in Europe for Mathematics under the auspices of the EMS. This was quickly extended to the current version of a central server collecting mathematical information and distributing this through a world-wide system of mirror servers. In co-operation with the editorial office of Zentralblatt MATH in Berlin EMIS went on-line under the URL http://www.emis.de/ in 1995.

The main sections of EMIS dealing with electronic information and communication are the Electronic Library, links to information databases such as Zentralblatt MATH, and access to projects developing new services in the given context such as EULER and the Electronic Research Archive on Mathematics. General information about the EMS, about congresses (and in particular about the European Mathematical Congresses) and links to directories of mathematicians can be found in the EMIS. World Wide Web access is regarded as the primary access method. The access to the electronic library and several other services of EMIS is free.

One fundamental idea of EMIS is to distribute it through a world-wide system of mirrors where the full content of the service will be available and updated periodically. This improves the accessibility of EMIS, and is important for the safety of the data and its archiving: if the master server or one component of the system crashes, it can be easily regenerated from the mirror sites. Presently almost every European country has at least one mirror, on the world-wide level EMIS has a good distribution, being available at more than 40 locations.

One of the first mirrors was the currently preferred site for the access from Great Britain at the University of Southampton. Due to the ever increasing traffic of data transference to the mirrors, the originally central distribution of the data from Berlin has already been abandoned; being replaced by a tree-like structure managing the files transfer for the updates. Updates are automated and frequent.

The Electronic Library

The aim of the Electronic Library of EMIS is to present a comprehensive collection of freely accessible electronic publications. There are four sections: electronic journals, electronic proceedings volumes, electronic monographs, and newsletters and mathematical notes. In order to guarantee that the stored electronic publications meet the requirements satisfied by articles in print journals, the decision to include journals, proceedings or monographs is taken by the Electronic Publishing Committee of the European Mathematical Society. In principle no items will enter the library which have not been peer-reviewed according to the editorial procedures of the corresponding journal or series. This is particularly important to help eliminate the reservations of many mathematicians who have the opinion that electronic publishing will damage the quality of mathematical publications. The section on Newsletters and Mathematical Notes is not subject to this kind of control.

The section on Electronic Journals contains pure electronic journals as well as electronic versions of print journals. The pure electronic journals are produced elsewhere and EMIS only serves as an additional distributor. The installation of electronic versions of print journals depends on the technical facilities of the editors of these journals. We prefer that the offer of the electronic version is installed at the site of the editors, such that a mirror of the journal can be used by EMIS. The organisers of EMIS provide support for this purpose. Most of these print journals are published at a low-budget level, and their publishers consider the risk of lossing subscribers to the print version due to the free electronic version to be low. Some of them offer electronic version to EMIS with a delay so that the earlier availability will be considered as an advantage of the print version.

Although it is not possible to offer free access to electronic versions of journals in mathematics from commercial publishers, EMIS has succeeded in gaining the agreement of a series of established journals to be freely available in its library. Some samples in Applied Mathematics can be obtained from the following list:

The total number of journals is about 40 at present. Their storage uses most of the storage capacity of EMIS which is about 2 Gigabyte at present.

Access to these journals in EMIS is organised conventionally. On the home page of EMIS a list of mirrors is provided where the site with the (probably) quickest access can be clicked. Then a choice can be made, to enter the Electronic Library through the short list of journals without graphics or to use the full display of these items. The first one is preferable, if the choice of journal is clear already and if one wants to avoid the lengthy transfer of the graphical data associated with this journal. The full display also contains background information on the editorial policy of the corresponding journal and instructions how to submit an article. In some cases style files for such a submission can be found on this level.

Having made the choice of journal, the contents are reached. At this level information on the availability of files is provided. In all cases DVI- and Postscript-files are available, sometimes TEX-files are available, PDF will be an option in the near future. Clicking one of these files transfers its content to the computer of the user, where it can be viewed. Printing or storage of these files will be possible at the user's site, but the user is requested to respect the copyright according to the rules of the corresponding journal. The access to the section of Proceedings Volumes is organised in a similar way.

The Links Databases and Indexes

The connection of EMIS with the database of Zentralblatt MATH is a consequence of the increasing involvement of the European Mathematical Society in the editing of this reviewing service. Zentralblatt MATH offers a conventional printed reviewing service as well as two electronic offers, one on CD-ROM for off-line use and one as a database with WWW-access. The direct link to the database is available under the URL http://www.emis.de/ZMATH. Additional access will be directly available to mirrors of the database which are in the process of being installed world-wide.

Full use of the database will only be possible for subscribers. A license for this is distributed in the UK through a consortium organised by CHEST. But there is also free component in the link from EMIS to Zentralblatt MATH. Any user of EMIS can do searches in MATH. But non-subscribers will only gain information on at most three hits from their list. These hits are taken from the top of the list, where the most recent items are listed. Hence, if very precise information is searched which probably leads to a small hit list, then this can be reached by everyone who has access to the internet. Some details on Zentralblatt MATH are the subject of a separate article.

Finally, MPRESS is offered through EMIS. This is an index with searchable information on electronic pre-prints in mathematics, providing links to the complete text of the pre-prints installed on a distributed system of local or regional servers. The information is collected automatically by a harvesting system and composed by international nodes. The quality of information depends on that of the installation of the pre-prints at the distributed servers, in particular on the precision and completeness of the metadata provided there. The main co-ordinating sites of MPRESS are the University of Osnabrueck. MPRESS is by no means comprehensive, though several important pre-print servers take part in the harvesting procedure. For example, the LANL pre-print archive for mathematics in Los Alamos and the Topology Atlas in Canada are indexed by MPRESS. But more importantly the index has the ambition to facilitate access to the variety of pre-print servers offered at mathematical departments by soliciting the installation of electronic pre-prints and metadata there and establishing national nodes for the collection of the metadata available. These national projects have been pursued successfully in Germany, France, Austria, Italy and Sweden so far, but hopefully the UK will contribute to the input of MPRESS rather soon.

Other Projects in EMIS

The current section of EMIS dealing with projects contains two items, ERAM - the Electronic Research Archive in Mathematics, and EULER - the development of a search engine for the web providing uniform access to different mathematical resources in the internet.

More concretely, ERAM has the goal to make available the content of the Jahrbuch ueber die Fortschritte der Mathematik (1868-1943) in a searchable database and to digitise part of the mathematical literature from the Jahrbuch period (and later) to establish an electronic archive of classical literature in mathematics. It should be noticed that in the initial period the Jahrbuch covered a large number of items from Applied Mathematics which currently are classified as belong to to other sciences. The material from the Jahrbuch is being enhanced and commented upon by volunteering experts. it will be offered in a format which enables combined searches with Zentralblatt MATH. The archive will be installed at the SUB Goettingen and the articles stored there will be linked with both databases.

The project is funded by DFG. Finally the Jahrbuch database will add almost 300,000 additional entries to the offer of Zentralblatt MATH. To date about 100,000 have been made freely available in EMIS, though they have not been finally edited. But even the offer of the data without enhancements will be useful for the mathematical community.

The EULER project is a joint European project funded within the program Telematics for libraries. The partners stem from Italy, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany. They care about the software and the design for the search engine, the adjustment of the mathematical resources to improve their searchability, the installation of the engine and exploitation of the results. Resources provided by the partners are OPACs, literature databases, electronic libraries and pre-print servers. The project is run under the auspices of the EMS.

Most of the preparatory and adjustment work has already been done for EULER. The engine was made public for the alpha-test in the middle of July 1999. After the test period the engine will be made available for public use. The project is designed to also include other resources which are not provided by the partners. But for this support concerning the adjustments will be requested from the providers of these resources. In a next step the EULER engine may be modified and extended for the needs of other sciences.

Conclusion

The programs described provide a unique facility for the quick and easy access to qualified mathematical publications. These tools can be used by the mathematical community at suitable sites either for free or at modest rates. I believe that this is the way forward to solve the problems outlined at the beginning of this article.

I should not forget to mention that EMIS depends upon the voluntary support from its many partners. We need this to improve its offer within a distributed system, because EMIS does not have the man power to support these developments on its own. If we want to continue and extend our service, then this cannot be done without additional engagement of mathematicians on a voluntary level, who will hopefully gain some support from public funding. This is the only way to avoid huge costs, with associated large fees for users which most members of the mathematical community will not be able to afford through their mathematical institutions.

Professor Dr. Bernd Wegner
Editor-in-Chief of Zentralblatt MATH
Fachbereich Mathematik, Technische Universitaet
Strasse des 17. Juni 135, D-10623 Berlin, Germany

e-mail: wegner@math.tu-berlin.de.


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