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Meeting a rising demand

Information services in South East Asia

by Suvit Tia and Terry Commins

Technical information exchange in the ASEAN countries has not kept pace with their rapid transition to industrially based economies. TIS aims to help bridge this gap by providing a comprehensive information service.

Of the seven members which make up the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), most are newly emerging economies making the transition from an agricultural base to an industrial base through greater use of technology.

In many cases, traditional information services in these countries are still at the developing economy stage and are unable to meet the rising demand for easier and better access to both new and appropriate technologies. Funding remains restrictive for libraries while information costs (e.g. journal subscriptions) continue to rise and the volume of information available continues to proliferate. Academics, researchers and students in provincial areas often have even less access to information sources than their counterparts in the larger universities. Also, university libraries generally feel that their responsibility has ended once students graduate. Whereas, in reality, most of these students join the private sector, the driving force behind technology development and application, where there is a continuing need for technical information. There has been a trend in developing countries, where budgets are limited, for librarians to become guardians of information rather than service providers.

A further problem is that many of these newly emerging economies are also themselves starting to generate a lot of information, much of which has relevance to other countries in the region. Mechanisms for facilitating technical information exchange amongst countries in the region have not matured at a pace equal to the need. Similarly, as these economies grow they provide greater market and investment opportunities for the developed nations, who are thus also interested in technology developments in the region.

Development of TIS

In 1990, the ASEAN Sub Committee on Non-Conventional Energy Research (SCNCER) was undertaking collaborative research programmes on renewable energy with Australia, Canada, the EC and New Zealand. Committee members saw a need to keep abreast of technology developments in support of the projects they were working on. They also perceived a requirement for a mechanism facilitating better information exchange amongst the participating countries in the region. Thus the idea for a selective dissemination of information (SDI) service on renewable energy was born. This was supported by a regular newsletter covering activities of the SCNCER.

Basically, the SCNCER Technical Information Service (TIS) entails the establishment of a database covering titles of articles from journals, proceedings and reports. Special emphasis is given to material on the ASEAN region. Probably for historical reasons regarding the SCNCER's projects, emphasis is also given to material out of the mainstream, such as Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Subscribers are sent a printout of new titles every month, from which they can indicate titles of interest. The printouts are returned by mail and copies of the articles are supplied to subscribers.

At its peak, TIS was servicing over 1,000 subscribers in 117 countries. However, a survey of users, together with the introduction of a small fee in 1994, has seen the number of subscribers drop back to around 500.

Seeing the value of such services, particularly to industry, PDTI decided to establish a Technical Information Service (TIS) unit in 1993, with the addition of a service covering food technology. Since that time, the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC) has contracted TIS to provide a service on biotechnology, while PDTI have also added a further service on environment. All are funded by the Thai government. TIS now provides regular information services to more than 3,000 subscribers in over 100 countries worldwide - the majority being in developing nations. The SCNCER-TIS continues to receive support from Australia, the EC and New Zealand. Total running costs for all of the four services are around US$130,000 each year, the bulk of which is provided by the Thai government.

Experience gained

The SDI concept goes part of the way towards meeting the demand for better information services. By sharing information amongst a wide variety of users It is economically appropriate for developing or newly emerging economies. The service also allows users a more judicious choice of journals they might subscribe to, or conferences it would be appropriate for them to attend. By focusing on the individual, TIS is able to deliver information direct, bypassing the need to join the queue at libraries. By being selective, TIS also helps reduce the time spent by users in searching for relevant information. One of the major benefits of TIS is that some 50% of its subscribers are from the private sector, where technical information can often be put to immediate use.

For the future, two clearly emerging patterns are evident. The first and most obvious one is developments in information technology itself, with the advent of computers and the Internet. While TIS services will become available on the web in 1997, a recent survey of users in Thailand indicated that less than 5 % have ready access to the internet; thus TIS will continue its regular SDI services for some time to come. This will ensure that more remote subscribers and groups such as NGOs continue to benefit.

The second pattern which is emerging is the increased demand for even more specialised services, particularly from the private sector. While research papers continue to beuseful for academia, the private sector is more interested in market trends and opportunities, import regulations, developments in world trade and quality enhancement. TIS is currently formulating strategies to meet this need.


Dans la plupart des sept pays membres de l'ANASE (Association des nations de l'Asie du Sud-Est), I'industrialisation est en marche. Les services d'information en revanche vent rest'rt de cette lution. Le Service d'information technique TIS a vu le jour dans le cadre de l'ANASE; il se charge de diffuser des informations dans une centaine de pays du monde, surtout dans le domaine des rgies renouvelables.


De los siete miembros del Grupo ASEAN, la mayor parse se encuentra en proceso de industrializaciLos servicios de informacio hen podido evolucionar a la misma velocidad. En el marco de ASEAN, se cre servicio tico de informaciIS, el cual difunde informaci mde 100 pas del mundo, especiaImente en el campo de la energrenovable.