ELVYN -- Publisher and Library Working Towards the Electronic Distribution and Use of Journals

Cliff McKnight[1], Jack Meadows[2], David Pullinger[3], and Fytton Rowland[2]

[1] HUSAT Research Institute, Loughborough University of Technology, The Elms, Elms Grove, Loughborough, Leics. LE11 1RG, UK, c.mcknight@lut.ac.uk

[2] Department of Information and Library Studies, Loughborough University of Technology, Ashby Road, Loughborough, Leics. LE11 3TU, UK, {a.j.meadows, j.f.rowland}@lut.ac.uk

[3] Institute of Physics Publishing, Techno House, Redcliffe Way, Bristol BS1 6NX, UK, pullinger@ioppublishing.co.uk


It has been suggested that network publishing allows the traditional intermediaries of publisher and library to be dropped from the scholarly communication chain. The present paper reports on Project ELVYN which is investigating a scenario in which both publisher and library are retained in the distribution and use of electronic journals.

The implementation of the journal at Loughborough, one of seven test site libraries, is described. Here the text is received in SGML, converted to HTML and viewed using the NCSA Mosaic World Wide Web browser.

Finally, the relationships between publisher, library and user are discussed and it is concluded that although the technology exists to support electronic journals, a range of economic and human factors problems remain to be solved.

Keywords: Electronic journals, SGML, HTML, Mosaic, World Wide Web, economic models, usability.

1. Introduction

In the scholarly communication chain, the end points are the scholar-as-author and the scholar-as-reader. Scholars write the journal articles and other scholars read them. Traditionally, there are two principal intermediaries between authors and readers: the publishers of the journals and the librarians who stock the journals.

The growth in availability of academic networks has led some to suggest that the two intermediary roles could be bypassed -- authors could distribute their work to other scholars via the network and `cut out the middle man'. However, such suggestions are based on the assumption that the expertise brought to the traditional communication process by the intermediaries is somehow rendered redundant by the network. Variants on this are that the author becomes publisher and the reader becomes personal librarian or that the computer centre can now take on both intermediary roles.[1]

It is easy to see how such views can be argued. Those who point to the publisher's role in refereeing are countered with the fact that refereeing is usually done by other scholars. Those who raise the distribution aspect of publishing are pointed towards the network itself. If the librarian's role is seen as being merely to put the journals on shelves, it is not surprising that adherents of network publishing see no place for librarians in their future.

The growth of listserv-based journals has perhaps strengthened such views. These can be characterised as shown in Figure 1. However, a popular listserv journal such as PostModern Culture (PMC) acknowledges the support of the Department of English, the Libraries, the Campus and Engineering Computing, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Research Office at North Carolina State University whence it emanates. Furthermore, the disk/microfiche versions of the journal are now handled by Oxford University Press [6].

Like Elsevier's TULIP project [2], the underlying assumption of the project being reported here is that the publisher and library have a real role in the scholarly communication chain and can continue to do so in the electronic domain. That is, the expertise held by these two

Figure 1: Model of the listserv-type journals

groups can be carried forward into the digital library, although both groups have some learning to achieve before they will be successful in the networked nation. So, too, have the authors and readers -- new media demand new skills in authoring and information use.

2. Project ELVYN

The origins of Project ELVYN can be traced back to a conference on `Scholarly Communication and Serials Prices' held in Chester, UK, in June 1990 [1]. It was as a result of that event that the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries (SCONUL) set up its Serials Task Force under the chairmanship of Bernard Naylor, University Librarian at Southampton University.

SCONUL was keen to investigate several aspects of the electronic journal, particularly those which suggested a continuing role for libraries. At the same time, Alan Singleton of the Institute of Physics Publishing was considering producing and distributing an electronic version of a new journal alongside the paper version. The two views came together and, following a preliminary feasibility study funded by the British Library Research and Development Department, Project ELVYN came into being.[2] Broadly speaking, the aim of the project is to investigate the distribution and use of an electronic version of a journal. The issues of interest range from the technical through the organisational and economic to the human. The project can be characterised as shown in Figure 2, with distribution from publisher to library taking place over the Wide Area Network and distribution from library to user taking place over the Local Area Network.

Figure 2: Model of Project ELVYN

2.1. The Publisher

The Institute of Physics Publishing (IoPP) is a wholly owned subsidiary company of the Institute of Physics, the professional body and learned society for physicists in the UK, and is responsible for all its publishing activities. Although an Institute of Physics was set up in 1918, the present Institute was formed by the merger in 1960 of both the original Institute and the Physical Society, the latter having been founded in 1874. Indeed, the roots of IoPP can be seen in the Proceedings of the Physical Society, first published more than a century ago. The journal chosen to be used was Modelling and Simulation in Materials Science and Engineering (MSMSE), a journal which would cater for presumably highly computer-literate authors and readers. Since the paper version of this journal was about to be launched, it meant that the process could be monitored from the start and digitisation of a back-run of the journal was not necessary. The journal contains not only text and line art graphics but also colour graphics and a high proportion of mathematics. It therefore represents a significant technical challenge over the ASCII-only listserv-based journals.

2.2. The Libraries

The libraries chosen to participate were selected on the basis of three criteria:

* presence of a Materials Science academic community willing to participate,

* willingness of the Librarian to receive the electronic form of the journal and arrange for its distribution in some manner to interested academics, and

* presence of sufficient local computing expertise and willingness to participate in order to receive and distribute the electronic journal.

A total of seven libraries agreed to take part in the study. In the initial phase of the project, representatives of the libraries were interviewed in order to establish such things as information technology currently in use and local charging mechanisms. However, with respect to charging and in order to provide a `level playing field' for the project, all libraries agreed that access to and use of the electronic version of the journal would be free of charge during the study.[3] For the purposes of the present paper, the Pilkington Library of Loughborough University of Technology (LUT) will be used as an exemplar.

2.3. The Users

At each site a group of potential users was identified, usually via the appropriate subject librarian. These were interviewed before the arrival of the electronic version in order to establish their preconceptions about electronic journals. They were also queried about their use of the library, their means of obtaining information, their access to and use of information technology in their office and in their department.

2.4. The Delivery Format

Importantly, no a priori decision about the format of the electronic version was taken. An important aim of the project was to see whether librarians could specify the way they wanted an electronic journal delivered, and if so what forms they chose, on the basis of their local configuration and expertise. This places a potentially great load on the publisher -- in principle, all seven sites could request a different format. This in itself would have been useful information for a publisher contemplating electronic distribution. In the event, only a small number of formats were requested, perhaps reflecting the trend towards standardisation in network based services and their use by libraries.

3. The Pilkington Library of LUT

The aim at Loughborough was to integrate the electronic version of MSMSE into the campus-wide information system (CWIS) and to this end the Library Systems Manager and the Computer Centre were in close collaboration. It was initially felt that two forms of the journal would be desirable, a tagged text format and a page image format. The preferred format for the tagged text was SGML or TeX, depending on which could most successfully be converted to the CWIS format. Accompanying the tagged text would be the figures in TIFF format. The page image versions were conceived as the route via which articles would be printed out, in this way maintaining the pagination of the traditional paper version.

Since the NCSA X Mosaic World Wide Web browser was already in use for accessing information sources on campus, it was decided that a hypertext option using HTML marked up documents carried over an HTTP connection might provide a suitable user interface to the journal. Text only versions could also be produced from the hypertext relatively easily (using CERN's World Wide Web line mode browser) and these could be made available on the University Gopher server for users who did not have access to a version of Mosaic on their machines.

Once the output format had been selected, the next choice to be made was the format in which the publishers should supply the journal articles. At this stage, IoPP's easiest options were either raw TeX or SGML with embedded TeX for maths and tables. The paper journal was prepared in TeX format anyway, with figures being stripped in manually at the page make-up stage.

At first, TeX appeared to offer the best route as there were many experienced users available and the software tools to process TeX were already available on many machines on campus. However, the TeX in which the journal articles were supplied used its own styles and macro definitions and so "off-the-shelf" software such as LaTeX2HTML could not process it. These and a number of other related problems prompted the writing of a small TCL script to process an SGML version of one of the articles. This turned out to be relatively easy to do and so the conversion from the original document type definition (DTD) to the HTML DTD was a matter of deciding on the mappings between different tags in each DTD. The eventual aim of the system is to automatically convert SGML documents transferred via the Internet straight from the publisher into HTML and install them in the HTTP server directory. (Further technical details of the Loughborough implementation, including problems relating to speed and graphics handling, are contained in [3].)

In parallel with the technical decisions, a series of meetings with prospective users was held to discuss access to and use of the electronic version. One demand from prospective users of the service was the provision of a searchable full text database of the articles. Due to the fact that the NCSA HTTP daemon was used to supply the hypertext, it was relatively easy to produce a rudimentary full text search module using a combination of TCL, Bourne shell and awk scripts. Another suggestion was an alerting service when a new issue arrives. This has been possible to implement via the `forms' feature of Mosaic. Users enter keywords and when a new issue arrives it is searched for these keywords. If any are found, the users are automatically sent email to alert them to the issue's arrival.

At the time of writing, the electronic version has now been made available to users and usage data is in the process of being collected. This is also the situation in the other test site libraries.

4. Relationships

In addition to information which the project provides about technical aspects of electronic journal delivery and use for each of the parties in isolation, it also offers insights into the possibly changing relationships between the parties.

4.1. Publisher and Library

Thus far we have described the scholarly communication chain as though publisher and library are directly connected. In the electronic version under study, this is certainly the case. However, in the traditional paper chain, very few large university libraries deal directly with publishers. Another intermediary, the Subscription Agent, sits between the two, saving the library the job of dealing with many different publishers. While it is clear that subscription agents see a future for themselves in the electronic marketplace (see [8] for example) the ELVYN project is not actively investigating this possibility. Rather, the project involves direct contact between publisher and university. The changes within universities, however, have meant that the Computer Centre is of necessity playing a greater part in the storage, retrieval and dissemination of information.

If publishers are to build relationships directly with universities, the dual aspects of information content (which journals -- the library role) and information delivery (which electronic format -- the computer centre role) will need to be considered.

4.2. Library and User

Recent years have seen a shifting in library attitudes away from an emphasis on the library collection (`just in case') towards the timely provision of access to information (`just in time'). Librarians have traditionally known `where to look' for information both within and outside their own collection and there is no reason why they need not develop such skills into the electronic domain. However, increasingly the user can have direct access to information over the network, including access to sophisticated search mechanisms such as archie and veronica. Furthermore, as users gain in network experience themselves, they are increasingly demanding delivery of full text, not merely bibliographic details, direct to their desktop.

As we pointed out above, some have used this situation to suggest that the library may be bypassed by the user. However, adherents of this view are, we believe, overly confident about users' abilities to cope with the amount and diversity of information sources available. The vast majority of users, far from being `set free' by the networks are struggling to master software tools being developed without consideration of their needs. To the average British scholar, simple email has come as a recent revelation. If our own university is any reasonable indicator, the present generation of academics lack basic information technology skills.

This is not to say that the quality of tools will not be improved and that rising generations of scholars will not take such tools for granted. Furthermore, the development of `intelligent' software information agents (`knowbots') which will search the networks for user-defined information is already well advanced. However, it will be some considerable time before the average scholar will have the time, skill and facilities to dispense with the services of skilled information professionals.

4.3. User and Publisher

Our initial simplified model of the scholarly communication chain also omitted another connection, that of the link between publisher and user. Practically all scholarly journals allow for `personal subscriptions' paid for by, and delivered directly to, the user.[4] The economics of personal subscriptions in the paper format are not usually such that they would support the production of the journal, except perhaps in the case of a Learned Society publisher where the cost of the journal is included in society membership subscription.[5] However, the electronic networks now allow the publisher much closer contact with journal users (or readers, as we used to call them!) and it is possible that they could choose to expand their personal subscription business via the networks. The hypertext version of the journal Behaviour and Information Technology produced as part of Project Quartet [4] was conceived as being delivered direct to scholars for desktop availability and the CAJUN project [9] discusses both `push' delivery to libraries and `pull' delivery by individual subscribers.

It is an interesting question whether many publishers would wish to move from dealing with a few subscription agents and a small personal subscription base to a situation where they dealt direct with large numbers of users (or even large numbers of libraries).[6] Certainly projects such as MUSE are investigating the feasibility of such models. The experimental MUSE prototype [7] is freely available over the World Wide Web, direct from publisher (The Johns Hopkins University) to user. However, a long-term aim of that project is to offer `reasonably priced' electronic journals. Also, the Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials and the IEE Electronics Letters Online [5], both of which use the Guidon interface, are commercial systems which are designed for direct use by end users.

5. Remaining issues

There are a variety of issues with which Project ELVYN is concerned that we have not discussed at length in the present paper. We mention two of these briefly now.

5.1. Economics

The cast of Hair might tell us that this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius but those of us in academia are being made increasingly aware that this is the age of bottom-line accounting. The decline in real spending power of the libraries has been one of the major factors in moving their emphasis towards `access' and away from `holding', as mentioned earlier. There are increasing moves towards passing the cost of the library onto the `customer', that is, charging for library services rather than their being paid for by central funding.

Complicating this issue is the fact that, to many academics, the networks appear to be free. Of course they are not, but they are `free at the point of use'. A university's network access is paid for by top-slicing its grant and consequently the user never sees an invoice. Faced with a demand for payment from a library and access to an apparently free network, it is easy to see why some academics might prefer the latter.

Similarly, some of the electronic journals which are currently available over the network at no cost to the user are heavily subsidised -- either by the institution which hosts them or by the individuals who give their time freely at present, or both. Why pay the library to buy paper journals when we can get electronic journals for free? The apparent lack of cost of electronic journals has had the beneficial effect of spreading awareness of them. However, individuals and institutions cannot continue to provide their services indefinitely and it is therefore important that realistic charging models are developed.

Publishers, too, need to consider new charging models. It is likely that many `electronic journals' will be electronic versions of paper journals and hence publishers need to consider the economics of parallel versions. Is the electronic version to be licensed to a site or charged per use or given free with the paper version?

5.2. Usability

One of the main reasons why users are lagging behind the capabilities of the network technology is that the tools provided are severely lacking in usability. If the digital library is to be a reality, it must support the requirements of its users. Furthermore, simply having the information is not a sufficient condition. Being able to access the information easily and transparently is also important.

In principle, a digital file-store is much more easily searched than a filing cabinet full of papers. However, given the difficulty of using some search engines, it is not surprising that many users are reluctant to dispose of their paper archives. Similarly, reading an article is still much easier with a paper journal than with an electronic version. Hence, many users ask: `Why bother to change? -- If it ain't broke, don't fix it!'

6. Conclusion

There are advantages to be gained from electronic journals and digital libraries but they will only be realised if a variety of issues are resolved. As is often the case, these issues are no longer the technological issues -- history suggests that these will be resolved. The technology currently exists to provide network access to multimedia electronic journals and such technology is becoming increasingly available (cf. the number of colour screens and CD-ROM drives currently in use compared to five years ago). Rather, it is the economic, psychological and political issues which will determine the real shape of the digital library.


Project ELVYN is funded by the British Library Research and Development Department. The authors are grateful to the British Library Research and Development Department, the HUSAT Research Institute and the Research Committee of the School of Human and Environmental Studies, LUT, for funding attendance at the Digital Libraries '94 Conference. Jon Knight in the Computer Studies Department, LUT, was instrumental in implementing the system.


[1] Brookfield, K. (1991) Scholarly Communication and Serials Prices. London: Bowker-Saur.

[2] Elsevier Science Publishers (1992) TULIP: an irregular update. No 1, November.

[3] Knight, J.P. and McKnight, C. (1994) Delivery and use of an electronic version of a journal. In Proceedings of the First International ELVIRA Conference, Milton Keynes (in press).

[4] McKnight, C., Dillon, A. and Richardson, J. (1991) Hypertext In Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[5] Pache, J. (1994) Electronics Letters Online. Paper presented to the Internet World International conference, May 11, London.

[6] PMC-list (1992) Oxford University Press to publish Postmodern Culture. Message posted to members of PMC-list@ncsuvm.cc.ncsu.edu, November 3.

[7] Project MUSE. The URL for the MUSE prototype is: Here

[8] Rowe, R. (1993) New horizons in journal and article provision: subscription services in a changing marketplace. In H. Woodward and S. Pilling (eds.) The International Serials Industry. Aldershot: Gower.

[9] Smith, P.N., Brailsford, D.F., Evans, D.R., Harrison, L., Probets, S.G. and Sutton, P.E. (1993) Journal publishing with Acrobat: the CAJUN project. Electronic Publishing, 6(4), 481-493.

[1] While individual direct access may be fine for `free' electronic journals, it is likely that readers would expect institutional (i.e. library) support for expensive electronic journals such as the title we are studying.

[2] The name of the project came much later than the start of the research. ELVYN is an acronym for ELectronic Versions -- whY Not and draws its significance from the fact that the Executive Committee usually takes lunch in the Elvyn Richards dining room on the Loughborough campus. The project therefore bears at least this similarity to the Red Sage project.

[3] IoPP have also provided the paper journal issues free to each site. These are shelved in the normal stacks but carry a notice on the front drawing attention to the availability of the electronic version.

[4] Some publishers only allow personal subscriptions for individuals if the institution library has a subscription. However, such practices are not generally highly regarded.

[5] In practice, this state of affairs is not necessarily limited to Learned Society publishers. For example, members of the Ergonomics Society can choose to receive a copy of either Ergonomics or Behaviour and Information Technology, both Taylor and Francis journals, as part of their Society membership.

[6] We recognise that this description of publishers is perhaps mainly applicable to the STM field in the UK, the area under study by ELVYN. In the USA there are many more individual subscribers (whom publishers seem to welcome). Equally, many humanities journals everywhere rely on a reasonable number of individual subscriptions. Last Modified: