Libraries are increasingly expressing interest in desktop publishing for reports, newsletters, brochures, and other publicity. This article attempts to provide an overview of the technology.
One word of caution: a library should not automatically assume that it needs a desktop publishing system. For most libraries, a sophisticated word processing program and a laser printer are all that is needed. Desktop publishing began in early 1985 with the widespread availability of the Apple Macintosh (introduced in 1984) and the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printer (introduced in 1985). Desktop publishing remains relatively expensive: an average of $4,500 for hardware, $1,500 for software, and considerable training time.
The first step is to decide for what applications desktop publishing might be used. What does the library currently produce, and what would it like to produce in the future? The overall activity should be characterized as fitting into one of the following broad categories of desktop publishing: object-oriented graphics, report generation, or hybrid applications.
Object-oriented graphics describes those applications which seek to produce an object (something other than type): a logo, cartoon, or free-hand drawing. The Mac is generally the best choice for this application. Its graphics packages have typically been more flexible, and the platform itself more user-friendly and intuitive. However, in the last several months, graphics packages have started to appear for DOS-based systems that rival the best available for the Mac. The most attractive of these is Corel Draw 1.1, which is window-based, object-oriented, and quite powerful.
The second category of desktop publishing is report generation. Examine all the documents that the library produces. I most of them involve in-house keyboarding with subsequent offset reproduction or typesetting, layout, and eventual printing, a desktop package strong in report generation or data base publishing might be the best choice. Most of the more sophisticated desktop publishing packages allow importing data from popular applications such as dBase or WordPerfect. The packages can accommodate manuscripts of hundreds of pages. For a recurring publication it is necessary to do the layout only once, specifying where particular data items are to be inserted. The desktop publishing package can then format and print the document.
Xerox's Ventura, a popular package in this category, offers so-called "warm links" any time the source file is modified, the changes are automatically reflected in the Ventura file. Ventura can do almost as much as traditional dedicated typesetting systems. Ventura also is very well suited for the production of high-quality equations--perhaps for software documentation or complex financial reports--because of its outstanding support for scientific and mathematical symbols. Because of the sophistication of the product, expect weeks of implementation and training to use Ventura or a similar package effectively. If the Mac environment is selected, the most comparable product is Quark Xpress. The DOS environment is the more popular for report generation because the source files are frequently DOS-based.
The third kind of desktop publishing--hybrid applications--combines the requirements of the other two; some graphics creation and some text handling. Typical examples are proposals, brochures, business cards, and newsletters. Usually these applications involve a modest amount of text which is keyed in at the time the document is being created. Neither environment--Mac or DOS--has a significant advantage over the other, because both support Aldus's PageMaker and Lotus's Manuscript, the best of the products for libraries with a mix which fits into the hybrid category. PageMaker uses a graphical environment (Microsoft Corporation's Windows) to display text and graphics almost exactly as they will appear on the printed page. If the user often creates financial reports--Lotus calls it "financial publishing"--Manuscript is a particularly good choice because it has links into several spread-sheets and graphics. PageMaker and Manuscript don't offer the same quality and control as Ventura or Quark Xpress. With a large heading--18 to 24 points--it offers alignment only of the bottom of the letters, not the top. Reining or spacing between words cannot be as closely controlled.
For those interested in knowing more, there is an excellent product comparison of desktop publishing software in Infoworld, volume 12, issue 1 (January 1, 1990), pages 39-55, under the title "Putting the Best to the Test." Aldus PageMaker, Quark Xpress, and Xerox Ventura are among the products evaluated.
In addition to the various desktop software packages, there are also many hardware options. Going with an inexpensive platform (an IBM PC/XT- or /AT-based clone, or a Mac Plus) is obviously attractive, but will it be robust enough to run the application? In the opinion of the editors, it's just not worth running Ventura, Quark Xpress or PageMaker or an /XT or /AT--not if the cost of staff time is taken into consideration.
It is overly optimistic to expect that a clerk typist will be able to master a sophisticated desktop publishing program in a few days. This person must be carefully selected and carefully trained because graphics and layout skills may be involved, as well as some knowledge of the content of the material. If layout is an important part of the application, some specialized experience or training in that skills area is essential.
New capabilities and features continue to be introduced. There is currently a lot of excitement over using color in desktop publishing. Among the most impressive is the QMS Colorscript color laser printer. Also becoming popular are full-page and dual-page monitors. As its name implies, a full-page monitor can display an entire page, albeit with much smaller character size. Dual-page units can display two complete pages side by side. Further out, there is the prospect of direct-to-plate printing systems--special presses and sophisticated software that let one scan in a color photograph and do interactive color correction on a microcomputer. But is it really necessary for a library to tackle all of that?
Libraries that fit into the report generation and hybrid categories should consider "pseudo-desktop publishing" packages. These are word processing packages primarily, but with some data base publishing functions--multiple fonts per line, snaking of text, rudimentary graphics import, etc. Two popular examples of pseudo-desktop publishing packages are Microsoft Word and WordPerfect 5.1. With the introduction of these releases, the line between high-end word processors and page-layout software blurred considerably. Many users are surprised to find that their word processor can support many of the features that formerly would have required a page-layout package, winding columns, graphics support, and advanced font support, to name just three. Microsoft will shortly introduce a word processing package which supports Windows, including the display of text as it will appear on the page. Considering these advanced capabilities, a library that produces mainly text usually is well served with a word processing package.
Among the critical questions to ask when selecting a word processing package with the intent to perform some desktop publishing applications are the following: Does the product support multiple typefaces? Are the typefaces easy to use? Does the product support a wide variety of printers? Can the product be integrated relatively easily with software programs that the user already has? Does the package offer advanced control over sophisticated typographic features such as kerning, leading, and preferred spacing? How many different ways can the software measure distances--inches, lines, picas, centimeters, or points? Does the package offer support for style sheets, a method of consistently formatting a newsletter or report?