A major news topic lately is the impending financial disasters in the Asian and Russian markets. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) web site is a valuable source of data for those who are trying to make sense of the alarming headlines about the state of the global economy.
The IMF, established in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944, strives to ensure international economic stability through cooperation and support among its 182-country membership. The IMF's mission is to "maintain a stable system of buying and selling their currencies so that payments in foreign money can take place between countries smoothly and without delay." Each member nation is assigned a quota, based on its wealth and contribution to the IMF fund. These quotas are then converted into "Special Drawing Rights" (SDRs), from which member countries may borrow, in accordance with the theory that bolstering national coffers will help contribute to international monetary balance. The IMF also works to ensure the voluntary compliance of member countries to financial practices which will not actively threaten global economic stability.
Of more importance to librarians and their users is the role the IMF plays in gathering and publishing timely statistical data on the economic affairs of its member nations. Much of the IMFs more recent publications are available in full-text, PDF-format, on its web site. (The PDF-files must be downloaded into an Adobe-Acrobat Reader which is available for free via the Internet.) The IMF site's home page has links to recent news releases and "Publications" such as their seminal publication World Economic Outlook (WEO), a semiannual report on the present and forecasted state of the world's economy. Available from the web site in full-text, PDF-format, the WEO provides a mountain of historical data and projected statistical information on such financial indicators as: exchange rates; interest rates; price of oil; gross domestic product (GDP); labor force characteristics; exports; balance of payments; external debt and debt service; inflation; and net capital flows. Statistics are given for individual countries, geographic regions (i.e.: Sub-Saharan Africa), or classifications of countries ("advanced economies," "developing countries," and "countries in transition.") Because the text is in PDF-format, the "Find" command can be used to search each section for specific words.
Other useful publications available in full-text format from the site's "Publications" page are the biweekly IMF Survey, and the annual International Capital Markets, as well as the IMF's Annual Report and the quarterly electronic version of the IMF periodical Finance & Development. Also accessible from the "Publications" page are "IMF Working Papers in Full Text," "Papers on IMF Policy Analysis and Assessment in Full Text," and "IMF Staff Country Reports in Full Text."
There is an alphabetical index and a site map, both accessible from the home page, as well as a "Site Search" feature which employs the standard boolean operators of "AND," "OR," and "NOT." There is also a more advanced search feature on the "Publications" page which allows the user to search IMF Publications by title, author/editor, subject, series, date, and language.
The IMF web site has a plethora of timely and relevant international economic data, however, it could be organized better. Most of the statistical data that makes it such a noteworthy site is buried on the "Publications" page. The site could be made much more user- friendly if it highlighted its full-text publications on the home page, and pointed out what types of data are available. The site does an admirable job of maintaining historical and current information about the IMF and its operations. I recommend the IMF web site for anyone needing timely information on the state of the world's economy.
SUNY Stony Brook
November 1 1998