Thursday, July 03, 2008

Interview with Ron Hart: AAPG's Datapages

Welcome to an interview with Ron Hart, who is in charge of the operations of Datapages, a digital information repository and a subsidiary of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Information from Datapages is used in a number of applications, ranging from education and training, to exploration and development of oil and gas resources.

1. Please describe your position and your involvement with digital materials.

Datapages began in late 1989 with the idea that information libraries could be built on time-share computers. I was hired by Masera Corporation of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to help organize and capture selected exploration and production data in the published literature of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG). Early in the 1990s it became apparent that time-share computing was obsolete with the advent of new storage technology (new, cheaper media and larger internal drives) and with the ultimate time-share computer – the internet. Since those early days, Datapages spun off from Masera Corporation and has since been purchased by AAPG (we now are a wholly owned subsidiary).

Since 1992, Datapages has captured the full-text archives of AAPG and 29 other publishing professional societies, including all text, images, and any oversize maps, etc. We also are capturing new material in all media (GIS mapping files, streaming video of keynote lectures, etc.). I am the manager of the Datapages unit and I have been with the program since 1990 when it began.

2. What is Datapages? What kinds of materials are involved?

Datapages is the digital publishing program within the AAPG. We have responsibility for any non-print technical publication. Our archives now comprise more than 90,000 full-text documents and our goal is to gather all publications from the affiliated professional sister societies of the AAPG into a single comprehensive archive database. Our collection includes mostly HTML text with associated JPG images and PDF scans of the source document.

We also maintain a public-access online magazine for the exploration and production community (, featuring abstracts, short papers, and video archives from Keynote speakers at our annual Conferences.

Since 1998 we have been building a parallel database of mapping files in GIS formats. GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is used extensively in the petroleum industry in specific, and in the geological sciences in general. We launched our project with a $1 million industry-sponsored program to convert much of our published archives into GIS-formatted mapping layers or coverages. Now we receive original GIS coverages in the form of research reports from authors seeking to publish their work. We believe GIS is a viable publishing program alternative to traditional text-and-image publishing. A map is really a visual representation of a database or, as the Chinese philosopher is credited, a picture is worth a thousand words. Geologists speak in the “map” language so we wanted to begin publishing original science in that same language. We recently received a $9.4 million gift from an industry source to help endow the future of our GIS publishing program.

3. What are a few ways that the materials can be used in college courses?

The usefulness is obvious. We offer instant access to an entire research library. This is the essence of the internet – to provide 24/7 access to sources of information. A student can search our database and download entire full-text articles, use the maps and images as source documents. Using our GIS database of maps and map images, the student can download entire databases (with georeferenced links to map layers), and add his/her own data to the archived database expanding the data set.

4. How might they be used for professionals seeking to update their skills or knowledge base?

Our databases feature text and images extremely useful in the exploration and production of oil and natural gas. We offer ready industrial application. These same materials can be used as real-time data sets in training by short course instructors, workshop facilitators, and professors at universities who advise candidates for advanced degrees.

5. What do you think is the next big thing with online materials such as those included in AAPG’s Datapages?

Many commercial publishers are questioning what constitutes a publication. For the last 500 years we have been putting ink onto paper and science has advanced. This is called the “dissemination of information.” Traditional publishers have compiled discourses between the covers of a book and forced readers to purchase an entire collection of papers at once. Today we are re-defining the journal concept and anyone with a story to tell can report their research as a single paper, or even as a single map. Many research papers have been overlooked because they were included in unpopular volumes or journals, but researchers today are beginning to see their work appearing in online aggregations of many journals, appearing through the large search engines like Google, or posted to open-access websites offering legitimate peer review.

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