Research Libraries in the future

NVBF’s conference in Helsingør, Denmark, May 22.- 24. 1997.
Research Libraries in the future.
Workshop on Electronic Journals.
Introduction by Solveig Thorsteinsdottir, Head Librarian of the National Hospital’s Library in Reykjavik, Iceland

Today I am going to cover the main issues regarding the e-journal. I will give you some questions regarding the e-journal that I hope you can discuss after my introduction. Among the issues that I will cover are: how will the e-journal affect the writers, publishers, readers, vendors and librarians, quality control, cost, format, access to older journals, passwords and the readers access to the e-journal. Over the last few years, electronic journals have emerged in strength on the Internet. With the introduction of sophisticated web browsers, the use of text combined with still images, video segments and audio segments has been made possible.

Electronic journals may be defined as any journal, magazine, newsletter which is available on the Internet or through online services. They can be accessed electronically using different technologies such as the World Wide Web, gopher, ftp, telnet, email or listserv. Most electronic journals are also published in printed format but some are only published in electronic format on the Internet. It is estimated that this year, 2000 or even 3-4000 electronic journals will be available on the Internet. However, this is only a small portion of all the journals that are published in print. It is predicted that this ratio could change rapidly in the next five or ten years in favor of the e-journal.

Different groups are working on the development of the electronic journal and many publishers such as Springer, Elsevier, Wiley, Blackwell, American Chemical Society and Academic Press are investing a great deal of money on different projects such as IDEAL and LINK to make the electronic version of their printed journals accessible to their readers. Almost all of the larger scientific publishers are offering electronic journals as parallel versions to at least some of their printed journals. The subscription agents are also creating electronic warehouses that offer search possibilities and document delivery in addition to traditional services.

Today, I would like to speculate with you about the future of the electronic journal. Is it going to replace the printed journal and if so, how long will it take until the printed journal will perish? How much is it going to cost and who is going to pay for publication on the Internet? How will this new way of publishing affect the writer and what do authors and readers want from electronic journals? How is the electronic journal going to change the role of the publishers, vendors and librarians?

I would also like to invite you to share your experience and your views on subjects like: How are these changes likely to influence the librarians’ working environment? How are librarians going to handle this change? What are we going to gain and what are we going to lose? How is this going to change the traditional tasks in the library such as storing journals, interlibrary loans, and photocopying? What kind of skills do we need to possess to meet the demands made upon the library because of the electronic journals? How will our library users react to these changes?

The future of the printed journal is uncertain. It is even predicted that in some fields the electronic journal will take over in the next two years.

But before we get into specualtion about the future, a bit of historical and practical background may be helpful. Journals were first published in the 17th Century. The scholarly journal emerged in the 17th Century because of the need for the scholarly community to communicate and publish research results as quickly as possible. The scholarly journals are published for the same reason today as in the 17th Century but often the printed journal is slow in publication and work is sometimes outdated when it is finally published. The length of time between submission of the paper and its final appearance in a printed journal is a major concern for authors and publishers. It often takes six months up to two years for the writer to have his work published from the time the article is submitted for publication. We can add to the publication date one week up to three months until the journal reaches the reader depending on how it is delivered – by ship or by air.

The publication time is comprised of two main elements: the peer review process and the production process. The period from the time the author sends the article to the publisher until the article enters the production process is used for quality control. The publisher asks a specialist within the same field as the author to review the article. Many publishers use closed peer review. When this is the case the name of the author is not made known to the reviewer and the name of the reviewer is not known to the author. In this way the reviewer is protected and the writer’s work is judged fairly. Only 10% of articles sent in for publication are published without any alteration. Most articles are sent back to the author and he/she is asked to make changes or the article is not accepted.Sometimes an article is not accepted because a similar work has just been published. In this way, the publisher is not only controlling the quality of the work but also the number of articles being published. It is the publisher who selects what is made available to the reader, acting as the primary information gatekeeper.

Electronic journals enjoy many potential advantages over traditional print publications. Not only speedier publication but also three dimensional images, video segments, audio segments and links to related subjects, all of which make for a livelier and more stimulating presentation. It is possible to rotate pictures, for example molecules, listen to sounds such as heart sounds, bird singing and so on. These changes have obvious advantages for the writer. It is very important that they can publish their work much sooner than before. The fastest way of publishing is called sky writing. The writer writes directly for publishing on the net. With this kind of writing many worry about quality control. The most liberal view on this subject is that the market should decide. If the work is good it will be accepted by the reader. However, most people agree that quality control is needed.

One way of doing it is by open peer review where the process takes place on the Internet. Reviewers and authors will know each others’ names. Authors will make corrections to the article on the Internet. In this way the article will keep changing and it is hard to know when the work is completed. Still another point of view is that quality control should continue to be in the hands of the publishers. OCLC launched the first electronic on-line version of a peer-reviewed journal, the Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials. Some publishers today are publishing the articles on the net as soon as the article has been accepted for publication. This way the article appears on the Internet three months earlier than it does in print.

How important is quality control to the libraries? We rely on quality control when we select the journals for our library. How will this change our selection for the library?
How important is quality control for the reader? Until now the readers have been scholars in the same field who have the knowledge to read the work but with the e-journal the article reaches not only the scholars but also the lay person who might misunderstand the content. Where medical journals are concerned, this misunderstanding may give rise to false hope. For that reason some feel that quality control should be even greater where e-journals are concerned.

What is going to be the cost of electronic journals? Who is going to pay? Today, authors are not paid by the publishers for their articles. Their work is paid while they are working on the article either from their employer or they receive a grant to work on their research. Publishers sell the journals and often it is the libraries who purchase the journals for a very high price. These libraries are often run by the same institutions that have paid the writer for the articles. Today it is the publisher who owns the article, not the writer and not the institution who paid the writer for his work. When we talk about free access to articles on the net it is usually the copyright fee that stands in the way. Copyright fees that are paid to the publisher.

Many publishers are now both publishing their journals in print and electronic versions. Accessibility to the electronic journal is very important and many publishers have launched homepages on the Internet where their electronic journals are accessible to the subscriber. They have offered subscribers to the paper version access to the electronic version at no extra charge for a trial period What the subscription price will be in the future we don’t know yet. For publishers on-line publication is not commercially viable at this moment. The publishers have taken this step because its authors and readers, or the academic community in general, wants and needs this kind of service. It is believed that in the end this will prove a way of staying in business. Dr. David Pullinger, the electronic publisher of Nature, recently stated that the fixed overhead of running a journal accounts for over 80% of the cost, with less than 20% going to printing and distribution.

Today the popular format used for printing is Adobe’s Acrobat Portable Document Format or PDF, but it is not suitable to use for viewing on a computer terminal. It is genarally used where it is assumed that the reader will print the article. The articles on the monitor look like printed ones. Acrobat PDF format is a favourite for publishers, as it is possible to define different security levels for a PDF file. Changing of the document can be denied, printing can be denied, etc. For material to be read on screen the HTML format (hypertext markup language) is used. HTML has network hyperlinks and the strongest structural format.

It is very difficult to translate from one format to another therefore if the publishers use HTML format on the Internet all the text has to be retyped. The format used has to be decided from the beginning. With retyping of articles there is always the danger of an error and to be able to cite the reference the user wants the original article. The full text articles for example in Ovid are in HTML format and the articles are not the primary documents because they have been retyped. Putting papers into HTML adds a new cost, so the electronic version can end up being more expensive than the traditional one. The budget for journal subscriptions at the libraries is already too high and many libraries have difficulties subscribing to all the journals they subscribe to. If the electronic version will be more expensive it is difficult to justify a subscription to the electronic version of the journal if that version does not offer better product than the printed one.

Simon Mitton, director of electronic publishing at Cambridge University Press, conducted an experiment to compare how long it took readers to scan the Times. It took 10 minutes to scan the printed version but 90 minutes for the electronic version. Research shows that reading from a computer terminal is much slower than reading from printed paper. The solution might be that short versions of the text like the abstract are read on the screen in HTML format and the rest of the article is in PDF format for printing.

Access to older journals is important. Until now, libraries have shouldered the responsibility to preserve and make older journals accessible, often providing expensive housing and facilities. Librarians have invented a network of libraries to share the journal collection of each library so readers in different countries can access the journals. Publishers have not taken any responsibility to preserve the older journals. Is this role going to change now with the electronic journals? Are publishers going to store the electronic version of the journals on their computers and make them accessible in the future or are libraries going to carry on the responsibility of archiving the journals?
If libraries are going to do this is each library going to provide expensive computer storage for the journals and allow the users to access their computers or are the libraries going to join forces and share computing resources for this purpose? This is a very important issue and it would be worth the effort to look into how many libraries could share a joint server for this purpose. Could it be done for the whole of Scandinavia, for example for the medical journals? Companies like OVID offer fifty journals full-text through their systems. Our library has subscribed to 14 full-text medical journals through Ovid. We would like to subscribe to more but the cost of local storage on our computers is to high for our budget. If medical libraries in Scandinavia could store these journals on one server and share the cost it would be possible for libraries with limited budgets to make use of this service. The server would provide access to large electronic collections and each library would have no local storage burden.

Still it would be best that each publisher store both new and older journals on their computers, but if the libraries have to do this they have to do this together. If all the articles are stored this way in the future tasks like inter-library loans and photocopying would no longer be needed except for older journals published before the electronic journal era.

The problem of passwords has to be solved. Libraries who assign passwords to their library users know how time consuming this is. To use different passwords to access different full text e-journals is impossible. Instead of passwords, publishers have to find an easier way. They can for example use the name of the library server as an ID for the library users. Or an institution should need only one password for all users to access all subscriptions. The use would be restricted to the IP number of the subscribing institution.

Next I would like to review four different ways of accessing the full text e- journals on the Internet:
1. through a list of journals. 2. through OPAC. 3. through databases and 4. through subject. Some of these methods are already in use others not. You might have some experience of using different methods of accessing the e-journals on the Internet. It might be different from what I am talking about so please share your experience after my introduction.

If electronic journals fail to reach the readers they will not survive. Readers have to access and accept the electronic journals and the technology needed to do so. Computer literacy is not widespread, even in the United States. On-line running costs are often high and many do not have the equipment necessary nor the finances needed to buy computers. A recent study shows that electronic journals are not widely used. However, librarians can introduce their users to electronic journals and make them accessible in the best possible way. How can we do this? We have to permit easier and more selective access.

Many different methods are in use today, some in libraries others with subscription agents such as Ebsco and Swets and publishers.

We can divide the reading of journals in libraries into two categories:
1. The reading of newly published journals.
2.The reading of articles on a chosen subject both in new and older journals.
To fulfil the users’ need for the second type of use we often have to search for articles both within and outside our library. The articles come from many journals and usually the reader receives a photocopy of the article. What publishers are doing today is to give access to newly published electronic journals but so far they are not fulfilling the second kind of use. It is difficult for the reader to access journals from many different publishers. To make this easier the library has to create one site where their user can access all the journals the library subscribes to. Libraries can use their homepage on the Internet to make this possible. The library can make a list of all the journals and make a link to the full text of the journal. This list could be both an alphabetical list and a subject list. It would be useful if subscription agents such as Ebsco or Swets would provide this kind of service to the libraries. The libraries that subscribe through these subscription agents could than ask for a file including their journal subscriptions to place on their homepage with a link to the full text of the journal.

The links to full text of e-journals could be done through local online catalogues (OPACs). In order to make it work the library systems have to be searchable over the World Wide Web – something that many library systems do today. The user would search for the journal according to subject or title and when an entry is found a link can be made to the full text of the journal.

When finding articles on a selected subject the best way would be to do a literature search through databases. Providers of databases such as OVID or Silver Platter provide a very user-friendly software interface where the user can do an advanced search and then select how much text he/she wants to read, the title, abstract, contents of the journal or the full text article and from the references of the full text they find links to articles on related subjects.

Motivating our users is very important. Libraries are identified as key agents in the provision of training in the use of electronic resources. The aim is to increase the number of users who are comfortable with new technologies and assist them in coping with current electronic developments. To do this we have to know our users and what they want. Some users can not get used to subject searching and if that is the case we have to be flexible in our methods of teaching. Some users will always use text searches. OCLC conducted research interviewing almost 300 users in December 1995. About 60% of users were using WWW and used only basic searching techniques. More than 60% used only 1-2 word searches, 73% felt that searching from citation and abstract would meet their needs. 76% preferred cross journal searching, i.e. were interested in relevant articles in any journal, not only in the one specified. This encouraged OCLC to develop a model where the emphasis is on large collections, i.e. journals from various publishers are collected in a single archive.

Some journals like NEJM have started classifying articles according to subjects. It is an interesting project and users can easily access full text articles on subjects such as breast cancer. It might be easier for the user to access subjects in this way and in the future a link could be made to other full text journals on the same subject.

Libraries and library staff have recognised the need to respond to the changing environment electronic publications create. Many jobs require evaluation and redefinition. To ensure library staff can meet these new challenges retraining is important. No electronic journal will exist without a writer, a computer and the reader. Whether publishers, subscription agencies and librarians are needed remains to be seen. It is most likely that there has to be a link between the writer and the reader and let’s hope that librarians will be one of the links and play an important role in the success of the electronic journal.
Sólveig Þorsteinsdóttir