From Printed Page to Cathode Tube: The Evolution of the Laboratory Primate Newsletter

Judith E. Schrier1


In Volume 1, number 1 (January, 1962) of the Laboratory Primate Newsletter, Allan Schrier 2 wrote: "The primary purpose of the Newsletter is an exchange of practical information about subhuman primates. Short descriptions of current psychological, psychophysiological or physiological research will also be accepted. Examples of the kind of information that would be useful include: new drugs, novel aspects of cage design, new products that might be of interest, evaluations of various products, references to or short summaries of articles, off-beat or other, of general interest, experiences in connection with the procurement of monkeys..."

This paper follows the evolution of that Newsletter from eighteen hand-typed and mimeographed pages to a computer type-set journal, and on to a presence on the World Wide Web.

The Paper Journal

The first issue, containing eighteen pages, was sent to fifty-seven addresses. One hundred thirty-two more addresses were added to the mailing list before the second issue was sent out. At its largest, the mailing list exceeded 1,300 persons and institutions. The Newsletter is a quarterly, mailed early in January, April, July, and October. The size of the issues has varied; the largest was fifty pages. The average size is probably thirty-two or thirty-six pages. Cumulative Tables of Contents are printed every three years. Every two years since January 1978 we have compiled and included a Directory of Graduate Programs in Primatology and Primate Research, most recently ten pages long.

The Newsletter has always been sent free to addresses in the United States. It is sent by bulk mail, which is still fairly inexpensive compared to first class. In 1974 we began to ask foreign subscribers for $3 annually to pay for mailing. That amount has increased gradually to the current $7. Copies to foreign addresses are sent by surface mail, unless the subscriber chooses to pay extra for airmail.

The first several volumes were typed on mimeograph stencils, reproduced, and stapled. Those who do not remember mimeograph stencils, which were corrected by dabbing on thick blue glop, should be grateful for their ignorance. The Psychology Department contributed some money for mailing costs. In 1963, Allan received a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to cover most of the costs of production and mailing, including a part-time secretary, who replaced me as typist as I moved into baby-production mode. Volume 6 (1967) had the first colored cover; volume 12 (1973), the first cover drawing. Beginning with volume 15 (1976), the issues, still typed manually, were professionally reproduced and saddle-stapled (see Figure 1, a page from Volume 1, number 1, typed and mimeographed).

In 1982 I learned that it was possible to enter text into computer files on Brown's mainframe and create a typeset tape, which was sent to a printing shop in town. The printout was returned for proofing, and the issues were printed, stapled, and cut by the printing shop. The computer-generated type was smaller, and also more readable, than the typewritten pages had been (see Figure 2, a page from Volume 21, number 1, computer-generated type). We were able to get more material onto fewer pages. Also, computer files made corrections immeasurably simpler. A small correction on a typed page usually entailed retyping the entire page, and might mean that more than one page had to be retyped, if extra material had to be added. By 1983, I had learned to divide the text into two columns, again increasing the readability of the Newsletter (see Figure 3, a page from Volume 22, number 1, computer-generated type, with two columns). In 1984, Brown put a letter-quality printer on-line with the mainframe computer. We immediately changed to sending the printer camera-ready text, which was much easier to proofread and amend.

The format remained the same through the death of Dr. Schrier in 1987. I had been working in his laboratory as a technician since 1974, and had been involved in editing the Newsletter from its first issue, which I typed myself. Therefore I was able to edit volume 26, number 2, immediately after his death, as much as therapy as anything else. During the rest of 1987, with the help of the Associate and Consulting Editors (both veterinarians), I edited and published numbers 3 and 4 of volume 26, and the first issue of volume 27.

The reaction of the primatology community convinced me that I should continue to keep the Newsletter going. I applied for and received a 5-year grant from the Animal Resources Program, Division of Research Resources (now the Comparative Medicine Program, National Center for Research Resources), National Institutes of Health, which had been supporting the Newsletter since 1968. The grant provides about $7,000 for printing and $1,000 for mailing annually, as well as my own salary and benefits and 58% overhead.

The Computer Becomes More Important

As a graduate student in computer science, I had used electronic mail on the Computer Science Department's VAX from 1982 to 1985. However, it only became available on the University mainframe later. After Allan's death, I began communicating by e-mail with a few primatologists. In 1989 I became aware of listserver-mediated mailing lists, and joined several.

It will be useful here to describe listserver-mediated mailing lists. A listserver is a program which holds lists of subscribers' e-addresses. When the listserver receives a message for a certain list, it sends copies of the message to each address on that list. Depending on the rules established for a list, the listserver may distribute messages sent only by the owner of the list, only by members of the list, or by anyone at all. The listserver may also keep archives of all messages distributed to any list.

I included my Bitnet address as part of the Newsletter address for the first time in the January, 1989 issue. Also in 1989, I began to send proofs of notes and articles by e-mail to those authors who had accounts. I also encouraged those authors to send their manuscripts by e-mail, as well as a typed copy. Getting the manuscript as an electronic file eliminated not only tedious retyping, but also any extra errors that might be introduced at that time. I received a few submissions on floppy disks, but it was not easy for me to get the files on them over to the mainframe computer I have been using. I encouraged e-mail submission instead, whenever possible.

By the middle of 1990, it occurred to me that there were enough primatologists using e-mail that it would be useful to make the Newsletter available electronically, through Brown's listserver. At the annual meeting of the American Society of Primatologists that summer, I spoke to several people about the idea and got enthusiastic responses. Next, I inquired at our Computer Center about establishing a mailing list. By September I was able to print the following notice in the October issue:

Editor's Notes

LPN Goes Electronic

Starting with the January, 1991, issue, the Laboratory Primate Newsletter will be available as an Electronic List, to be called _LPN-L_. All of the articles including tables but no graphs or pictures, will be posted immediately after the issue is sent to press, approximately the 15th of the month preceeding the cover month. Each article and department will be posted as a separate file, so that subscribers may save and/or print out as much or as little as seems important.

Subscribers who choose to receive the electronic version3 will continue to receive the printed issues unless they request to be dropped from the mailing list. We encourage those who do not need the printed version to let us know. Persons and organizations who do not currently receive the LPN may join this Electronic List.

This service should be especially helpful to readers overseas who now have a long wait for sea mail delivery. We realize that many readers will not be able to use this new feature, but believe that the next few years will bring about more nearly universal access to electronic communication, along with improved technology that will enable us to send pictures and graphs.

LPN-L, the Mailing List

Now that I had the system for distributing LPN-L in place, it was necessary to make decisions about the details of exactly what I would be sending out. My first thoughts are displayed in the announcement above: each article and department would be sent out as a separate file. When I began to format the files for the first mailing, I realized that I could have as many as ten or twenty separate files (one to six articles, plus regular departments such as Grants Available, News Briefs, Abstracts of Recent Publications, and many more). Each file had to be sent separately to the listserver for distribution, and each file would generate an error message in case anything went wrong with a subscription address. Therefore, I decided to send out only four files for each issue: Articles; News and Information; Abstracts of Recent Publications; and a file containing the information from the cover (Policy Statement, Table of Contents, ISSN, and Acknowledgements). This was my compromise between many files (easier for readers to handle, but creating more error messages) and a single very large file. Most of the files have ranged in size from 150 lines to 1,000 lines. In the first two years I sometimes sent out files as large as 1,500 lines, but more recently I have split such files into two parts, since some subscribers have mail systems that cannot handle such large ones.

What different formatting is needed for an on-line presentation? The paper edition is printed on 8.5" x 11" stock, with .6" margin on the outer edge, .8" on the inner edge. Top and bottom margins are 1" each, with page numbers in the bottom margin. There is a .4" gutter between the two columns of text. For the electronic edition, we must first take into consideration that readers have different sized screens. Therefore we cannot use double columns and must eliminate page breaks. Second, we must stay with a minimal character set: no italics or bold-face; no foreign characters.

We used Waterloo SCRIPT to create the camera-ready text for the Newsletter from 1984 to 1995. SCRIPT is a document-composition program which accepts input, processes it, and sends its output on to a printer. Text and control words are typed into the computer through an editing program. The file that is sent to the SCRIPT program for processing and printing does not look much like the final product. In contrast, a program like MS-Word, which we began using in 1995, shows a good approximation to the final product right on the screen while it is being typed. Although SCRIPT is a "dinosaur," I was used to it and was able to get all the effects I needed with it. I had thought that I would continue to use it as long as the system supported it, but I finally admitted that I needed a word-processing system that gives better formatting power. I purchased a Gateway 2000, with Microsoft Word, which I first used to create the October 1995 issue.

Back in 1982 I created a "top" file, which I inserted at the top of the SCRIPT files for each issue. It contained all sorts of instructions for line length, special characters, creating a table of contents, and other details. For LPN-L I made a modified "top-l" file, telling SCRIPT to ignore many instructions (e.g., boldface and split columns), and changing others (e.g., line length). In spite of this, each issue required a lot of hand formatting before it could be sent out by electronic mail. Now I still need to do some hand formatting on the MS-Word files from my new computer. At first I was irritated by this, but I quickly learned that it gives me one last, very careful proofreading. In every issue I have picked up at least two typos at this stage that had not been caught by three to five friendly proofreaders.

Since there are no italic or bold-face characters available on e-mail, I had to decide how to indicate them. E-mail conventions include asterisks around a word to indicate *excitement* and dashes to indicate _attention_. I have been using single strokes around and between each word in _an_italic_phrase_ to indicate italics. I have not been able to persuade SCRIPT to do this for me. SCRIPT wants to put the underline on the line below the text, which I find very distracting. I am now considering changing to a single stroke at the beginning and end of _each italic phrase_, which I could get SCRIPT to do automatically, but which I do not find as striking. I have not found any convention to indicate boldface. Since I mostly use boldface for titles, it has not been a great loss. I substitute my italic convention for boldface within text. The new computer does not help this situation, since I still have to send the e-mail through our mainframe.

After sending out the first issue, I had a few responses from subscribers complaining that my files had crashed or otherwise upset their computers. I determined that some of the special characters that had been generated were the culprits. I do not know exactly which ones, so I have been removing all umlauts, tildes, and other special characters as I reformat, as well as spelling out all Greek letters. I also send the files to a friend who is the system administrator at another university. He runs them through several different systems to see if there are any problems. We have not had any since the third time we did this, but I keep sending them, just to be certain.

The other question was how to deal with graphics. In 1991 it was not at all feasible to think of sending photographs or drawings by e-mail, although I knew that technology would change to allow it one of these years. I have been dealing with tables as shown here in Figure 4.

| Age/sex Class   |  Age (years)  |  Number  |
|                 |               |          |
| Infant          |     < 1       |    16    |
| Yearling        |     1-2       |    11    |
| Juvenile Male   |     2-5       |     1    |
| Juvenile Female |     2-3       |     2    |
| Adult Male      |     6-13      |     2    |
| Adult Female    |     4-13      |    15    |
| Aged Male       |    14+        |     4    |
| Aged Female     |    14+        |    12    |
|                 |               |          |
| Total           |               |    63    |
_Table_1_: Age and sex categories of animals in study cage

Figure 4: ascii version of a table

This is reasonably satisfactory unless the table is too wide for my 70-character wide format. The characters I use for the sides of the box appear differently on some screens, but this has not been too distracting.

Graphs are more difficult to deal with. A sample that I was able to digitize, after a fashion is shown in Figure 5.

| 100                                                    |
| .                           A: Human Disturbance       |
| .                           B: Other Animals Fighting  |
| 65    A                     C: Weather Disturbances    |
| .     .                     D: Stress                  |
| .     .                     E: Unknown                 |
| 15    A               E                                |
|       A               E                                |
| 10    A   B           E                                |
|       A   B           E                                |
| 5     A   B   C       E                                |
|       A   B   C   D   E                                |
| 0 ______________________________                       |
_Figure_1_: Factors associated with SM carrying KD

Figure 5: ascii version of a graph

I have settled for simply describing figures that did not lend themselves to digitizing.

All of the files of LPN-L are available from the listserver at Brown, in exactly the form in which they were sent out.

Advantages and Disadvantages


There are several good reasons to distribute LPN-L.

Speed: It takes about ten days to have the Newsletter printed and bound. The issues are then sent by bulk mail within the United States, and by surface mail outside the U.S. It usually takes from one to eight weeks for these issues to arrive. LPN-L is sent out the same day the paper edition is taken to the printer; it arrives essentially immediately.

Cost: We mail the paper Newsletter to about 1,060 individuals and institutions, about 140 of them outside the United States. There are about 660 subscribers to LPN-L. It is not possible to tell the exact number of foreign e-mail subscribers, but 107 addresses are clearly from other countries. There are also three addresses: "notabene gateway", "Primate Newsgroup", and "Netnews Server", which appear to pass our mailings on to more addresses. Printing and mailing the journal costs approximately $8,000 per year. The cost of using the University's computer services is included in the overhead that the University takes from our grant. The rest of the grant goes for my salary, phone calls, etc. Therefore we are serving half-again as many readers with little additional effort and no additional cash.

Wider distribution: We do not mail the Newsletter to students, but have encouraged them to ask their libraries, departments, or professors to subscribe. Now we invite students to have their own subscriptions to LPN-L. We attempt to subtly encourge e-mail subscribers to stop getting the paper version, but with very little effect.

Special mailings: Since we publish the Newsletter quarterly, we must sometimes omit news items that do not come to our attention in time to be printed before going out of date. We have been sending out special LPN-L files of such job offers, grant opportunities, etc.


Disadvantages are few. We have the usual problem of bouncing files after each mailing. Mostly these are people who have moved away or changed address. Occasionally they come from some problem with the receiving system. We write to the postmaster at the address from which any mailing bounces, asking for information about the subscriber. There have not been more than ten or fifteen such problems at each mailing.

The only other "cost" is my own time reformatting the files and sending them to the listserver. Since I use the reformatting as an extra proofreading opportunity, it is very cost-effective. Since I am on salary, there is no additional monetary outlay.

The situation will be different for persons or organizations which are not located at universities or other places that offer computer services as part of overhead costs. My grant had to pay for the purchase of my desk computer, but net access, access to the mainframe, printing camera-ready text, and use of the listserver are all included along with "rent" for my office, heat, lighting, etc.

It also might seem difficult for a "stranger on the net" to find someone as affable as my system administrator friend who looks for bugs in my files at his location a thousand miles away. However, I can advise anyone who wants to try this method that most sys-admin's are very nice and helpful people, who only need to be treated with politeness to respond in the same way. The electronic world is still a "neighborhood".

The Future: On to the Web!

Soon after sending out the April, 1995 issue, I sent a message to the LPN-L subscribers asking for their reactions to the first four-and-a- half years of electronic mailing, and asking for suggestions for improvement. I told the subscribers that they didn't need to respond "if they thought it was delightful already" and...I only received fourteen responses from the 518! However, those fourteen gave me a lot to think about, much of which I had already been considering.

In my initial announcement (in the October 1990 issue), I had said that I believed "the next few years will bring...improved technology that will enable us to send pictures and graphs." That time has come, to an extent. Most subscribers still cannot receive graphic material by e-mail, but more and more do have access to the World Wide Web (WWW). Since I began writing this paper, I have made arrangements with the university computing center to have a WWW presence for the Newsletter. The "home page" gives some background of the Newsletter and an index with pointers to the following pages: Current issue, Back issues, Policy statement, Contents of back issues, and the most recent Directory of Graduate Programs. The current and back issues have all of the contents of each issue, with graphics, including the cover drawings.

The most recent issue was taken directly from the files that were used to print the issue. Extra control symbols are added to create an "html" script that the WWW reads. Back issues were reformatted from the LPN-L files. Graphic materials were scanned from the printed issues. We expect that eventually we will have an archive of all issues of the Newsletter available in this form. You are all invited to take a look at <>.

Statistics kept by the Computing Center indicate that the page is "visited" an average of 40 times a day. Although one must assume that at least half of those visits are by casual "surfers" looking, perhaps, for "MONKEY" or "ANIMAL," it is still a respectable record.

The question has been raised: am I considering any multi-media? The LPN is at heart a print journal, whether the print appears on paper or on a computer screen. While I can imagine that at some future time we might receive "papers" that include audio tapes of animal calls, or video tapes of procedures or of animal behavior, there has not been any sign of such yet. When it begins to happen, I am sure that we will manage the technology necessary to deal with it.

This article appeared in the Summer, 1996 issue of Serials Review, a JAI Press, Inc. publication.
Last Updated January 30, 1997
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