A European Mathematical Database

                                J.H. Coates

                             Database Committee
                        European Mathematical Society

Europe has been the cradle of mathematical research and publication
over the last four hundred years. However, Europe's historical role in both
publication and research is being threatened on several fronts. In
particular, new electronic technology is currently bringing about a
profound revolution in the communication and publication of mathematical
research. While it is still impossible to foresee at present the full
ramifications of this electronic revolution, it is already clear that there
is now both the need and the technology to create a comprehensive database
of all mathematical publications, which is centred in Europe and owned by
the European mathematical community via the European Mathematical
Society.  Such a European database would be an invaluable research
tool for future generations of mathematicians around the world.  In
addition, it would provide both competition and different traditions
to databases emanating from North American sources.  The present
article sets out both the background and plans for achieving this
goal, via an evolution of Zentralblatt f"ur Mathematik und ihre Grenzgebiete.

        Why action is needed now.

        Firstly, the current state of technology now makes it feasible to
build comprehensive electronic databases, with efficient accessing
procedures. In parallel, there is the fact that many journals are now
published with an electronic version, and consequently it is much easier to
transfer data about the contents of these journals to a central database.
It should also be stressed that the vital commercial interests of both
private companies and mathematical societies need in no way be compromised
by transferring limited information about the contents of their journals
(e.g. tables of contents and summaries of articles) to a central database
at the time of publication. It may even be possible to eventually persuade
many publishers to provide the database with complete copies of their
journals several years after their initial publication.

        Secondly, it is self evident that the ownership of all major
databases in mathematics should be clearly vested in the community of
mathematicians which produced much of the mathematics in them in the first
place. North American mathematicians already in effect own such a database
via the ownership of Mathematical Reviews by the American Mathematical
Society. Until such time as the European Mathematical Society succeeds in
establishing a comprehensive database of its own, there is a danger of the
vacuum in Europe being filled by the American Mathematical Society
dominating databases on the world scene. This scenario would
ultimately lead to a downgrading of Europe's place in international
mathematical research. 

        Finally, all mathematicians are aware of the explosive growth in
the numbers of both journals and less formal forms of publications which
has come with the electronic revolution. In many ways, the cosy traditional
world which existed up until the early 1980's, in which a mathematician
could keep track of most publications in his field by scanning the contents
of a fairly stable list of journals, many of them of long pedigree, on the
shelves of his or her university library, is now being profoundly
modified. If future generations are to maintain the great mathematical
practice of citing in research papers all closely related earlier
literature, it seems that this will only be feasible by the systematic
use of a comprehensive database. 

        Short term plans.

        The European mathematical community is fortunate in already
possessing the beginnings of an excellent database. Zentralblatt f"ur
Mathematik exists both as a conventional printed reviewing journal, and as
the electronic database MATH covering all Zentralblatt back issues until
1931, which is available either on CD-ROM or via WWW-access. Zentralblatt
is currently run by the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, and
published by FIZ Karlsruhe, and Springer Verlag. These bodies have
invited the European Mathematical Society to collaborate with them to
ensure the future evolution of Zentralblatt into a database second to
none in the world, which will become an everyday tool for the working
mathematician. The European Mathematical Society has willingly
accepted this invitation, with the firm understanding that the
ownership of this database should in the long term be placed in the
hands of the mathematical community. 

        As a first step in the development of this database, the European
Mathematical Society has already taken several concrete steps to encourage
a more widespread electronic use of Zentralblatt as part of its electronic
information service EMIS. Indeed, EMIS now provides a service by which any
user, irrespective of whether or not he or she is a subscriber to
MATH, or a member of the European Mathematical Society, can carry
out limited searches in MATH. Secondly, the Society has just launched a new
facility on EMIS called CAP-EMS (Current Awareness of Mathematical
Publications). In this new service, publishers will automatically provide
the basic data needed by Zentralblatt from the electronic files used for
the publication of their journals. This data will consist of tables of
contents, together with abstracts when available (or in some cases the
first page of each article). It will be freely available for all to consult
in EMIS for one year from its date of deposit. At the same time, the data
sent to CAP-EMS will be stored permanently in MATH, and will be subject to
the usual editorial and review procedures of Zentralblatt. It is hoped to
persuade the vast majority of journals published in Europe, and many from
elsewhere, to participate in the CAP-EMS scheme. The ownership of the data
submitted to CAP-EMS will already be vested in the European Mathematical

        It should also be stressed that a number of European initiatives are
already under way with the aim of exploiting new technology to develop
mathematical publication and documentation.  The European Mathematical
Society has launched its ``Electronic Library of Mathematics'' in
EMIS.  It will soon contain 30 journals plus conference
proceedings, and is freely accessible to any user from 30 mirror
servers around the world.  The MathDocCell in Grenoble, which is a
joint partnership between the University Joseph Fourier, the CNRS and
the French Ministry of Education, has made important contributions to
the development of software for making efficient searches in the
database MATH of Zentralblatt.  More generally, the MathDocCell
provides an excellent model for a much broader European involvement in
Zentralblatt.  French and German mathematicians are also participating
in developing an electronic version of ``Jahrbuch ueber der
Fortschritte die Mathematik'' from 1868-1940.

        Longer term plans.

        It is self evident that the long term success of a major database
depends on three key ingredients. Firstly, the contents must be very
comprehensive, covering nearly all current publications and as large a
part as possible of past mathematical literature.  Secondly, it must
be widely and frequently used by most working mathematicians, who
perceive it as a tool as important as the traditional university
library (indeed, one might hope with the development of technology
that the full contents of most older journals would become available
in the database). Thirdly, it must have a sound financial basis, with
subscriptions prices being set at a level just sufficient to meet the
true costs of running the database and to provide the financial
investment needed for its long term development. 

        The European Mathematical Society plans to take action to determine
what facilities and services most mathematicians would like in a
database of the future. Key questions here include whether or not such a
database should be purely electronic, what status a publication should have
to be included in the database, and how much effort should be expended in
seeking reviewers for articles listed in the database. At the same time, it
will do all in its power to promote the use of Zentralblatt by the
mathematical community, and to persuade publishers to provide free data for
Zentralblatt. In this way, it hopes to come up with a series of concrete
proposals about how it might be best for Zentralblatt to evolve over the
next five years.  Because of the rapid evolution of electronic
technology, there will also be a long term need for regular
evaluations of the database by the Society.

        Once the longer term plans of operation for Zentralblatt as a
database have been agreed by all relevant parties, The European
Mathematical Society will seek the support of the national mathematical
societies to appoint a database officer and to establish a database node in
each European country. Any costs attached to running these nodes would
eventually have to be met from subscriptions to the database. The role of
the node would be to generally oversee the automatic collection of material
for the database from journals published in that country. The node would
equally oversee the operation and access to the database by mathematicians
working in that country.  An excellent model for such a node is
provided by the MathDocCell in Grenoble.  Its existence is a first
concrete step towards the development of Zentralblatt on a Europe wide

        The issue of funding the database both in the short term and in the
long term remains a difficult one, which must at all costs be solved for
the future health of European mathematical research. The European
Mathematical Society does not have the financial resources to make a direct
financial contribution towards the running of the database, and it
recognizes fully that the same is true for the national mathematical
societies. It believes that a major part of the funding required to
run the database will always have to come from subscriptions.  It also
believes that the mathematical community will indeed be willing to pay a
fair subscription price for a database which genuinely meets its
needs.  However, the Society feels it can make important contributions
to the problems of funding.  Specifically, it will do all in its power
to persuade the European Union to provide significant financial
support to establish the database as an essential large facility for
mathematical research in Europe.  It will also work with the
Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, FIZ Karlsruhe, and Springer
Verlag to make transparent and public the basic cost of running the
database and will then advise these bodies on what it feels are fair
subscription levels.