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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2000
DOI:10.5062/F4N58JBV

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Electronic Journal Publishers:
A Reference Librarian's Guide

Charles F. Huber
Networked Information Access Coordinator
Davidson Library
University of California, Santa Barbara
huber@library.ucsb.edu

Abstract

Even in the year 2000, electronic journal publishing is still a young field, and little standardization, even among electronic journals with print equivalents, has occurred. This complicates the task of the reference or bibliographic instruction librarian who has to guide users in the best ways to exploit this new medium. To assist in this task, an examination of science-technology-medicine (STM) journals publishers' web sites was undertaken, focusing on those features most relevant to the end-user student or researcher.

Introduction

Quite a few articles have looked at aspects of electronic journals in the past few years (e.g. Brown and Duda (1996), Peek and Pomerantz (1998), Arnold (1999), Buckley, et al. (1999), Chan (1999) and Tenopir (1999)). However, the field has changed fast enough to justify another snapshot of what the major STM publishers are up to. The array is now sufficiently large that I've chosen to look at just one aspect of electronic journal publishing: the features which affect reference and instruction for end users.

There are three main aspects of electronic journals that concern most librarians and which still have not significantly standardized. The first, pricing and licensing, is a matter of collection development, and affects our end-user population only indirectly, by way of what we can afford to provide them. The second is currency and completeness; while these issues are definitely important to end users, for librarians they affect our collection decisions more than our day-to-day use of the products. While both of these areas are well worth an up-to-date survey themselves, this article concentrates on the third area: display and retrieval features. As reference librarians, we need to be aware of how the publishers and providers of e-journals have implemented search and retrieval to help our users get the maximum value out of the new medium.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of all e-journals. First, it is limited to primary publications -- indexes and abstracts involve a significantly different feature set than the primary e-journals. Second, I have not attempted to cover electronic-only journals such as {Journal of High Energy Physics} (http://www.iop.org/EJ/journal/JHEP) or {Internet Journal of Chemistry} (http://www.ijc.com/). This is not to say that these are not high quality, important journals. However, the features and formats of the electronic-only journals vary so widely, with rarely more than one journal coming from a given publisher, that they would require an entire article to themselves. Third, even within the range of "electronic versions of print journals," I do not claim to be absolutely comprehensive. Some publishers may have been missed out of simple ignorance, while others were skipped because they appear to still be in the development stage. An example of a "developing" publisher is the Japanese aggregator {J-STAGE} (https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/browse), which promises to be a very important source in the near future. One source only on the horizon which would definitely make the cut a year from now is {BioOne} (http://www.bioone.org/), the joint initiative of SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing And Research Coalition) and AIBS (the American Institute of Biological Sciences) with the University of Kansas, the Big 12 Plus Libraries Consortium and Allen Press, to bring the journals of smaller biological societies to the web.

Organization

The main information in this survey is collected in the four tables below:

In the remainder of the body of the article, I'll comment on the types of data gathered, and add some supplementary observations on the individual publishers and aggregators.

Data Fields

Publisher/Aggregator and Parent Company

These are self-explanatory. I included the links to parent company web sites since in the current acquisition-happy state of the publishing industry, it's hard to keep track of who the real players are.

Number of e-journals and/or Number of publishers (for aggregators)

This datum gives an idea of the size of each supplier for general interest. Also, for those publishers/aggregators who provide some sort of global search utility, this gives an idea of just how big a pool of articles one may be searching. This ranges from giants like Elsevier or OCLC to more modest publishers like Nature or the Royal Society (whose sizes belie their importance.) Note that this is sometimes a slippery figure. Some publishers and aggregators will list journals for which full text access is not yet available; in some cases varying depending on how soon availability is expected. The aforementioned mergers and acquisitions also can cause numbers to change dramatically: Kluwer digested Plenum Press swiftly and is adding its journals to Kluwer Online with alacrity, while Elsevier has owned Cell Press for over a year and Cell and its sister journals have yet to appear on ScienceDirect.

Full text format

Both HTML and PDF (Adobe Acrobat's proprietary file format) enjoy widespread popularity, with Catchword's proprietary RealPage format also in use by several publishers and aggregators. The latter two respond to the persistent user desire for a format that looks and prints like the familiar journal page. PDF is also common where a publisher is scanning pages to develop a backfile of volumes which were not originally in electronic form. HTML pages (or better still, HTML pages created from underlying SGML documents) are important for searchability and for crosslinking of documents, a rapidly growing feature of electronic journals (see below). Other formats, such as PostScript or LaTex, tend to be important only in particular subject areas.

It's handy for the reference librarian to be aware of the available formats for a document for a least a couple of reasons:

  1. To advise users outside the library. Everyone can deal with HTML if they have any access to the web at all. PDF requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader, but it is freely and easily downloadable, and is almost as ubiquitous as the browsers themselves. However, the RealPage reader, while freely available, is much less likely to be already installed on a user's computer; it's a separate browser unto itself, and is unavailable for Macintosh or UNIX operating systems.
  2. Articles available in HTML format may be searched internally for keywords of interest using the browser's Find function. This is especially useful when an article has been located by a full-text search, and it may not be obvious to the user where the hit terms are located in a long review article, for example.

Chronological Coverage

Even within a given publisher, this may vary widely from journal to journal, reflecting the arrival of totally new journals as well as journals which got their electronic start later than the main body of a publisher's work. Note that the dates given reflect the availability of full text; many publishers provide tables of contents and/or abstracts going back significantly further. Just as in the world of indexing databases, the coverage for most electronic journals begins at the point where the publisher began producing the journal in electronic form. Some have, however, begun retrospective conversion, and JSTOR has become the specialist in providing electronic archives.

Advance papers

An increasing number of publishers are taking advantage of the speed of electronic processing, especially where they have electronic submission of paper, to provide access to papers in advance of print publication. Some publishers do so in the form of pre-publication listing of forthcoming issues, with tables of contents, abstracts and finally full text added as they become available. Others create a separate section of papers which have been accepted but not yet assigned an issue date. Obviously, scientists and engineers who want to be on top of current research will be interested to know if their favorite journals provide advance papers. One detail you may wish to point out to users, or at least those with an interest in patenting their work, is the addition of "date of online publication" information in those journals offering advance papers. In response to the justifiable insistence of the patent searching community, most publishers have added this information in order to properly enable the determination of priority publication for patent examination purposes.

Note: this field was omitted for aggregators, as the presence or absence of advance papers is determined by the individual publishers.

Whole file search and journal search

The search capabilities of electronic journal publishers vary amazingly. Elsevier provides a fairly powerful search utility in ScienceDirect.

Elsevier ScienceDirect Search Screen
Figure 1: Elsevier ScienceDirect Search Screen

On the other hand, Oxford University Press provides rather minimal searching for those journals hosted at its own site. Some provide various levels of searching: basic or "advanced". Journal publishers generally do not provide any sophistication in terms of Boolean searching, proximity searching, truncation or subject indexing; they are not a real replacement for the high powered STM indexing services.

However, two characteristics of publisher search engines which I have noted in the tables are significant. First, some publishers allow searching of the full text of articles. Users looking for references to topics such as experimental methods, which may not be the main thrust of the article, and so are ignored by traditional indexing services, may be able to find useful information available only with great difficulty elsewhere.

Second, a significant number of publishers, and even some aggregators, allow non-subscribers to search their journal collections. This can be very useful for smaller institutions which may not be able to afford all of the most powerful indexing databases, or for remote users without proxy access to their institutions' database resources. While the power of these search tools may be lacking compared to Chemical Abstracts, BIOSIS or Science Citation Index, these freely available searches can provide access to thousands of scholarly journals, often with abstracts, and increasingly with "pay per view" options for non-subscribers (see below.)

Table of Contents Notification and Other Personalized Services

Researchers, especially those weaned on Current Contents, are often eager to get e-mail notification of the online arrival of new issues of their favorite journals, and many publishers are offering to meet the demand. Such services can be especially useful when they include the "advance articles" referred to above. Some also offer additional features, such as personalized "home pages," saved searches, update searches, saved lists of favorite articles or favorite journals and the like.

Wiley InterScience Personal Home Page
Figure 2: Wiley InterScience Personal Home Page

By necessity, these services generally require some kind of registration of the individual user and creation of a username and password. In its early stages, Wiley InterScience required such registration of all users, but under strenuous protest from a host of librarians, that approach was dropped.

Individual article purchase for non-subscribers

As the mechanisms of e-commerce become more and more commonplace, publishers and even aggregators are increasingly offering online purchase of individual articles by non-subscribers, with online payment by credit card. Usually linked with non-subscriber access to searching or browsing of tables of contents, this service can be a great boon for researchers who need an otherwise unavailable article and are unwilling or unable to wait for InterLibrary Loan services.

Other information

I have made note here of some of the cases where individual publishers have acted as aggregators for other publishers (American Institute of Physics has been especially active in this regard.) Also noted are some of the specialized crosslinking capabilities some publishers have provided. Not all such links have been noted, however. A majority of major STM publishers, including some who are making their journals available only through aggregators, have signed up to participate in CrossRef (http://www.crossref.org/). These publishers have agreed to implement crosslinks between the references in their electronic articles and the corresponding articles (or at least citations and abstracts) in other publishers' electronic titles and vice-versa. However, at present, implementation of this agreement is at a very early and limited stage. It does hold promise for easy flow along the chain of references, especially as more publishers take advantages of links to PubMed, Chemical Abstracts Service's ChemPort, and ISI's Web of Science.

Publisher Notes: Large Publishers

View complete chart for Large Publishers

Academic Press IDEALibrary

The chronological coverage given for IDEALibrary is a maximum; unlike most primary publishers, Academic Press does not offer its full backfiles with a current subscription. Since backfiles must be purchase separately, your institutional mileage may vary. IDEALibrary has begun to offer access to online versions of selected Academic Press encyclopedias to print purchasers. The first year's access is free, while subsequent years require a modest maintenance fee.

Blackwell Synergy

Institutional subscribers may find the Blackwell Synergy journal list deceptive; by default, when you connect to Synergy from a valid institutional subscriber port, it displays the list of subscribed journals. To see the full list of available journals (e.g., for searching purposes) requires some poking around the web site.

Elsevier ScienceDirect

Elsevier is seeking to make ScienceDirect a "one-stop shop" for academic researchers. In addition to its original lineup of titles, it has been aggressively acquiring smaller publishers (e.g. Cell Press, even though Cell isn't available on ScienceDirect yet) and letting other publishers (CRC Press, AMS) use ScienceDirect as their host server. It is also integrating its full-text journal lineup with a wide array of indexing databases, both classic Elsevier titles (EMBASE) and more recent acquisitions (Compendex, Beilstein Abstracts) and has begun to host non-Elsevier databases (BIOSIS). It has adapted the search software of another of its acquisitions, Lexis-Nexis, as the search software for ScienceDirect.

Also noteworthy: ScienceDirect is not Elsevier's only e-journal distribution arm. The "Internet clubs," ChemWeb (http://www.chemweb.com/) and BioMedNet (http://www.bmn.com/), both host libraries of both Elsevier and non-Elsevier journals in their respective subject areas. Access to full text requires registration (free) and a subscription to the print journal. The Tetrahedron family of organic chemistry journals is distributed through the {Tetrahedron Information System} (http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/P04_116.cws_home/main) for subscribers to the print package. It offers a separate tables of contents alert system, {ContentsDirect} (http://www.elsevier.com/homepage/alert/?mode=direct).

Kluwer Online

Kluwer is notable for its minimal search capability, and for having the largest percentage of journals listed in their online journals section that don't actually have any full-text content as yet. However, the vast majority of these are journals from the Kluwer Law International division, and so of lesser sci-tech interest.

Springer LINK

Springer continues to develop their site, adding titles and adding their advance article feature, "Online First," to more titles. They have recently offered access to volumes of some of their monographic series (e.g. Lecture Notes in Computer Science), though volume coverage seems to be somewhat hit or miss.

Wiley InterScience

Wiley has recently added the Encyclopedia of Electrical and Electronics Engineering and Ullman's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, 6th edition as the first of their InterScience reference works. Non-subscribers may browse and search, but a subscription is required to access the full text. Wiley's advance article feature, "Early View," is a recent addition.

Publisher Notes: Small and Medium Publishers

View complete chart for Small & Medium Publishers

ACS Publications

ACS Publications was a leader in advance article publication with their "ASAP" feature. They are tightly integrated with Chemical Abstracts in several of its electronic forms via ACS's ChemPort service. MEDLINE links for cited references are also available.

AIP Online Journal Publishing Service

AIP is notable as a mini-aggregator for physics and applied physics publishers. This may be why AIP has not provided search capabilities across their array of journals; the journals are not as tightly integrated as they might be.

American Mathematical Society Journals

AMS is notable for their application of the Mathematical Subject Classification, familiar to all users of Mathematical Reviews/MathSciNet to make their article files searchable. The combination of the subject codes and full-text searching makes this one of the most powerful of the journal publisher search engines. With a 1992 start date (not to mention the math journals in JSTOR!), AMS given its journals some of the deepest chronological coverage available. Given the demand of math researchers for access to the older literature, this is commendable and perhaps unsurprising.

Annual Reviews

Since Annual Reviews publishes its e-journals through Highwire Press, giving them an individual entry was a debatable call. However, the large number of titles and interesting "notification of articles which cite Annual Reviews" feature tipped the scale.

ACM Digital Library

ACM Digital Library (like IEEE Xplore) is notable for the access it provides to the Association's vast conference paper literature. It also makes more of an effort to provide benefits that are unique to individual subscribers than even the other society publishers.

Cambridge Journals Online

Cambridge has a distinctive approach to article display, with a heavy use of frames, limiting the amount of any one section that can be seen at once. Frames are always a matter of taste, but as for me, it doesn't work well.

Cambridge Journals MultiFrame Display
Figure 3. Cambridge Journals Multiframe Display

IEEE Xplore

IEEE offers other access routes besides Xplore for their titles. IEEE members can access Transactions and Journals from 1997 to present through IEEE's OPeRA (Online Periodicals and Research Area) service free of charge. IEEE/IEE Electronic Library (IEL) covers much the same ground as IEEE Xplore does; both are for institutional subscribers, but IEL's interface is older and somewhat less sophisticated.

Institute of Physics Publishing

IOP has been a leader in providing personal services to registered users, and in crosslinking, both within the journal collection, and to and from the IOP mounted version of INSPEC. The ability of individuals at institutions subscribing to IOP journals to create their own passwords for remote access is a unique feature which is the envy of researchers in other disciplines.

MCB Emerald Library

The absence of any searching or table of contents browsing for non-subscribers is curious, given their ToC alert service for non-subscribers.

Nature

Nature lacks direct links to the individual daughter journals (Nature Neuroscience, Nature Cell Biology, etc.) but perhaps the publisher will have a more state-of-the-art web site by the time they figure out how they want to offer institutional site licenses.

NRC Research Press Electronic Journals

NRC has a generally attractive and effective site (in both English and French!), but the fact that searching has been unavailable for a week or more raises questions about the maintenance of the site.

Oxford University Press Journals

As mentioned above, OUP takes the prize for the least sophisticated approach to searching at their web site, having simply adopted the Excite search engine. However, the OUP journals are migrating for hosting at Highwire Press, so this may be a transient problem.

Oxford University Press Search 
Screen
Figure 4. Oxford University Press Search Screen

Portland Press Journals

Portland Press is a bit of a chameleon among online journal publishers in that some of its URLs include reference to Portland Press and some do not. However, the basic interface is the same for all.

The Royal Society

Like Cambridge, the Royal Society is fond of frames on their site -- a poor design in my opinion. However, the execution otherwise is very good.

Royal Society of Chemistry Journals

RSC has generally done an excellent job of making their e-journals available, and was one of the pioneers of "free-with-print" access. However, they have inexplicably hidden their Journals Search screen as an option on their Site Search page. Most web sites use "Site Search" to mean just that, and the average user is unlikely to think of looking there for the Journal Search capability. The search link for individual journals is prominently displayed on their respective home pages, so it's a mystery why they haven't done likewise with the collective search.

Turpion, Ltd.

Given Turpion's small but significant lineup of journals, they would be well advised to consider hooking up with one or more major aggregators, and/or offering individual article purchase to non-subscribers.

University of Chicago Press Journals Division

The break between the UCP astronomy journals and all their other journals for online searching purposes is rather odd, especially since the search interfaces are essentially the same.

Publisher Notes: Electronic Journal Aggregators

View complete chart for Electronic Journal Aggregators

Blackwell Electronic Journal Navigator

Blackwell's aggregator service is so thoroughly limited to subscribers that I was unable to get in to determine whether they offer table of contents notification or other special services.

Catchword

For a company which started with a proprietary display format (RealPage), Catchword has shown a remarkable willingness to adapt to consumer's needs by adding PDF and other formats rather than insisting on using their own. They also make it very easy to browse either the list of all journals or just those to which the user has subscription access. All in all a very nicely designed site.

EBSCO Online

Like several of the aggregators, EBSCO is virtually closed to non-subscribers, but their information pages provided the detail listed in the chart.

Information Quest

Formerly Dawson's Information Quest, this service was acquired in September 1999 by Rowe.com. Like most aggregators, IQ is virtually inaccessible to non-subscribers, even though they do offer a "pay per view" article purchase option for subscribers.

ingenta

ingenta is one of the few aggregators with searching open to non-subscribers. Since it's a public/private partnership connected to the University of Bath, perhaps this is not surprising.

OCLC FirstSearch Electronic Collections Online

The new FirstSearch search options are a considerable improvement over the old interface and provides for detailed searching in Advanced mode, complete with truncation/wildcards and proximity searching. Perhaps this is unsurprising in a service that grew out of an aggregation of indexing databases.

Ovid Journals@Ovid

Another service growing out of a database vendor, Ovid, too, provides excellent search services.

ProQuest

Some of ProQuest's search features (personal, company and geographic name) reflect its large business and newspaper content. It lists 975 titles as "Science" journals in its Research Library package, but examining the list reveals their definition of "science" to be rather loose. American Music? Art History? Odd...

SwetsNetNavigator

SwetsNet has a fairly basic search engine; one wonders whether the Swets and Blackwell e-journal systems will merge as their parent companies have?

Publisher Notes: Specialty Aggregators

View complete chart for Specialty Aggregators

Highwire Press

Highwire Press is an extremely dynamic initiative from the Stanford University Libraries, providing small society publishers with high quality e-journal services, as well as hosting some of the most important scientific journals (Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Biological Chemistry). They have taken the lead in providing non-subscriber services, including persuading some of their publishers to make their archival volumes available free of charge. Highwire has also gotten into the reference work arena; though it may not be obvious at the OED web site, the new Oxford English Dictionary is hosted by Highwire Press.

JSTOR

JSTOR is another initiative of fabulous value to the research community. With the addition of the General Science Collection (Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society journals, it has opened up access to an incredible archive of scientific literature. It is to be hoped, however, that as JSTOR secures its financial footing, it will find ways to offer services to smaller subscribers and some degree of access/pay per view for non-subscribers.

Project MUSE

Project MUSE doesn't (yet) have a great deal of impact on STM, but it's interesting as a venue for another subset of small journal publishers - university presses - making it to the web.

References

Arnold, Stephen E. 1999. The scholarly hothouse: electronic STM journals. Database 22(1): 27-30+

Brown, Elizabeth W. and Duda, Andrea L. 1996. Electronic publishing programs in science and technology part 1: the journals. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Fall 1996. [Online]. Available: http://www.istl.org/96-fall/brown-duda.html [August 9, 2000].

Buckley, Chad, et al. Electronic publishing of scholarly journals: a bibliographic essay of current issues. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Spring 1999. [Online]. Available: http://www.istl.org/99-spring/article4.html [August 9, 2000].

Chan, Liza 1999. Electronic journals and academic libraries. Library Hi-Tech 17(1): 10-16.

Peek, Robin and Pomerantz, Jeffrey 1998. The traditional scholarly publishers legitimize the web. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 49(11): 983-989.

Tenopir, Carol 1999. Should we cancel print?. Library Journal 124(14): 138+

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