Charles F. Huber
A Reference Librarian's Guide
Networked Information Access Coordinator
University of California, Santa Barbara
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.
Quite a few articles have looked at aspects of electronic journals in the past few
years (e.g. Brown and Duda
(1996), Peek and
(1999), Buckley, et
(1999) and Tenopir
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://jhep.mse.jhu.edu/) 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
(http://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/en/), 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/bioone/?request=index-html)*, 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. [* Note: Link moved; URL changed 3/25/01 by ald]
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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 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
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
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://tetonline.com/) for subscribers to the print package. It offers a
separate tables of contents alert system, ContentsDirect
(http://www.elsevier.com/homepage/alert/?mode=direct). [Note: Link moved;
URL changed 3/25/01 by ald]
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 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 has recently added the Encyclopedia of Electrical and
and Ullman's Encyclopedia of
, 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
ACS Publications was a leader in advance article publication with their "ASAP"
feature. They are tightly integrated with Chemical Abstracts
several of its electronic forms via ACS's ChemPort service. MEDLINE links for
cited references are also available.
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.
AMS is notable for their application of the Mathematical Subject
Classification, familiar to all users of Mathematical
/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.
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 (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 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.
Figure 3. Cambridge Journals Multiframe Display
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
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.
The absence of any searching or table of contents browsing for
non-subscribers is curious, given their ToC alert service for
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 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.
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.
Figure 4. Oxford University Press Search Screen
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Like several of the aggregators, EBSCO is virtually closed to non-subscribers, but
their information pages provided the detail listed in the chart.
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 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.
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.
Another service growing out of a database vendor, Ovid, too, provides excellent
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
? Art History
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
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
is hosted by Highwire Press.
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 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.
Arnold, Stephen E.
1999. The scholarly
hothouse: electronic STM journals. Database
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.library.ucsb.edu/istl/96-fall/brown-duda.html [August 9,
Buckley, Chad, et al. Electronic
publishing of scholarly journals: a bibliographic essay of current issues.
Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Spring 1999.
http://www.library.ucsb.edu/istl/99-spring/article4.html [August 9,
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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