Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1997

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Journal Reviews and Reports

The HighWire Press at Stanford University: A Review of Current Features

Michael Newman
Falconer Biology Library
Stanford University

Three years ago, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) was searching for alternatives for delivery of the society's journal, the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC). With over 30,000 pages per year and steady growth, the journal was outgrowing its printed format. A CD-ROM version had been introduced but had not been successful, in part because JBC is simply too large for CD-ROM. Robert Simoni, an editor of JBC, discussed the problem with Michael Keller, the Director of Stanford University Libraries, and after negotiations with ASBMB, the Stanford University Libraries enthusiastically agreed to take on development of the web version of JBC. The HighWire Press team, a unit within Stanford University Libraries, was appointed in early 1995. The first web version of JBC was released in May of that year.

The mission of the HighWire Press is to form partnerships with publishers of scientific information and to apply technological expertise to promote scientific communication. The goals are to ensure that professional organizations and scientific societies maintain their market share as publishing moves to electronic formats and to promote cooperation among these organizations as publishers to enhance the delivery of information to readers.

HighWire Journals

HighWire is developing a collection of high-impact frequently cited journals in the biomedical sciences and has plans to expand into other fields of science and technology. In addition to the Journal of Biological Chemistry, HighWire offers fourteen full-text journals on the Web. The list of titles, reproduced here, is available at http://highwire.stanford.edu/.

HighWire titles

Cell (http://www.cell.com/)
Immunity (http://www.immunity.com/)
Journal of Applied Physiology ({http://jap.physiology.org/})
Journal of Biological Chemistry (http://www.jbc.org/)
Journal of Cell Biology (http://www.jcb.org/)
Journal of Clinical Investigation (http://www.jci.org/)
Journal of Experimental Medicine (http://www.jem.org/)
Journal of General Physiology (http://www.jgp.org/)
Journal of Neuroscience (http://www.jneurosci.org/)
Journal of Nutrition ({http://www.nutrition.org/})
Journal Watch (http://www.jwatch.org/)
Journal Watch Cardiology (http://www.jwatch.org/)
Neuron (http://www.neuron.org/)
Pediatrics ({http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/})
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (http://www.pnas.org/)
Science (http://www.sciencemag.org/)

The HighWire web page also lists approximately 40 journals that are in development. These include the EMBO Journal, Genome Research, Genes and Development, the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, the Plant Cell and Plant Physiology. These journals range from clinical medicine to basic biomedical research and molecular biology to plant science. An indication of a future direction of HighWire's subject coverage is the inclusion of Reviews of Modern Physics, published by the American Physical Society, on the list of future sites.

In the discussion below, the Journal of Biological Chemistry is cited most frequently as an example, but most of JBC's features are available in all HighWire journals.

Search features in HighWire journals

HighWire journals offer the features that are standard in web publishing, plus some innovative functions. Readers can browse tables of contents, in some journals in advance of publication. For the monthly Pediatrics, for example, tables of contents are available two months before publication. For all journals, current and earlier contents can be browsed.

The search page allows searching by author, title words, or words anywhere in articles. The page offers a simple form for entering searches but help pages describe how to perform more complex searches. For example, the help text describes how to use Boolean operators. It is not possible to limit searches to methods or other sections of articles.

Cross-journal searching is possible among HighWire journals. If you enter a search in JBC, for example, along with a list of results is a link that allows you to try the search in other journals.

Display features

For most HighWire titles, articles can be displayed in HTML format or PDF. Readers generally use the HTML version for navigating and exploring the electronic text online and print the PDF for reading offline.

In the HTML version, figures are represented by thumbnails. These can be expanded to an intermediate size that is useful for most purposes, or they can be expanded to a full-size JPEG.


Of course the real strength of the web is the ability to hyperlink text or images with related information. HighWire offers a variety of interesting and useful links. Many of the most useful links utilize PubMed, the free web version of MEDLINE developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). For example, articles in JBC offer links to the MEDLINE citation for the article and links to related articles in PubMed. These related articles are determined by an algorithm developed at NCBI that compares title words and MeSH terms. JBC also offers links to PubMed citations to other articles by the same authors. It's interesting that to avoid cluttering pages with little-used links, JBC offers links to citations by the first and last authors only.

From cited references, JBC offers links to MEDLINE records in PubMed. For JBC articles, there is a link to the full text of the cited article. The inter-journal links that are scattered in the cited references demonstrate the power of hypertext links. In each HighWire journal, there are links from cited references to abstracts or full text of articles in other HighWire journals. For example, if you are viewing an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which cites a recent article in JBC, there is a link from the cited reference to the full text of the cited article. A great feature of these inter-journal links is that in most cases they are toll-free. The value of these toll-free inter-journal links is limited at present but is expected to grow as a larger number of journals become accessible to subscribers only.

In JBC, links between citing articles and cited articles are bidirectional. Find a reference to a JBC article in the cited references of a recent JBC article and view the full text of the cited article. Here you will find a list of articles that cite this article, including the article you started with.

Finally, JBC offers links from GenBank accession numbers in text to full GenBank records. Links to other external databanks are being considered.

Fees and access control

Like all electronic journals, the HighWire journals are struggling with issues related to access control and subscriber-only access. At present there is no uniform access control policy for HighWire journals, and because the journals serve different markets, they may never agree on subscriber access. Currently six HighWire journals are accessible to subscribers only: Cell, Immunity, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the Journal of Neuroscience, Neuron, and Science.

Among the HighWire journals, only the Journal of Biological Chemistry offers institutional subscriptions at this time. For 1997, the electronic and paper versions of JBC are completely independent in pricing. For institutions, the price of a subscription to JBC in paper is $1,400, and the price for the electronic version is $1,100, and there is no discount for a subscription to both formats. Unlike price structures that link the paper and electronic products, JBC's prices give subscribers a free choice of products.

Some HighWire titles, including Cell, Immunity, the Journal of Neuroscience, and Neuron are accessible to individual subscribers only in 1997 but most or all of these will offer institutional as well as personal subscriptions in 1998. Science will announce an institutional subscription plan shortly. More information can be found at the web site of each journal. Each journal also offers a feedback button which allows readers to send comments or questions, including questions about access control and subscription rates, to the publisher and the HighWire team.

Many of the currently available HighWire journals are offering a free trial period and will implement subscriber-only access in the coming months. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, will implement access control beginning in 1998 after a 12-month trial.

Experiments in Web publishing

While several HighWire journals offer tables of contents of issues in advance of publication, Pediatrics is the first HighWire journal to offer substantial content in electronic form only. In each issue, up to a dozen full-text articles are published in the electronic version, while the paper version provides only titles and abstracts for these articles. At this time, the articles that are published in electronic form only are not indexed in MEDLINE, though they are indexed in PubMed, the free web version of MEDLINE available from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Science is engaged in an interesting experiment in web publishing with its Enhanced Perspectives. Each weekly issue of Science includes two or three Perspectives -- brief articles that highlight some recent significant scientific research. Perspectives are written for the general reader of Science and often refer to a report or research article appearing elsewhere in the same issue of the journal.

Each week, one of these Perspectives is selected for enhancement. Enhancements consist of hyperlinks to related web sites, either referring to specific statements within the Perspective or providing more general background information. For example, a Perspective on the biosynthesis of insulin is enhanced with links to Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) for general information on the role of insulin in diabetes mellitus, the Dictionary of Cell Biology for definitions of some of the terms used in the article, the World Wide Web Virtual Library for lists of related web sites, and web sites providing specific information on insulin and its biosynthesis. Links to web pages of authors and their institutions are also included. The Perspective in the paper journal is a brief review, but the Enhanced Perspective on the web is a pathfinder leading the reader to web resources related to a very specific topic of current interest.


HighWire has succeeded in its mission to develop a significant web space for high-impact scientific journals published by or for professional organizations and scientific societies, and the list of journals in development suggests a high rate of growth in the future. HighWire journals offer some innovative approaches to electronic publishing, including inter-journal links, bidirectional links between citing articles and cited references, cross-journal searching, and electronic-only publication.

Significant challenges remain for web publishing. Archival issues need to be resolved, particularly as electronic-only publication grows and the paper journal no longer serves as the archival format. Electronic-only publishing also suggests that the issue model of journal publishing may become obsolete. Electronic-only articles need to be presented in a form that can be cited and located. The diversity of pricing models for electronic publications will continue to confuse subscribers. It will be interesting to watch as HighWire moves forward on these and other issues facing electronic publishing.


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