ELECTRONIC SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS: ARE WE THERE YET?
by James E. Strickland, Ph.D., NCI (email@example.com)
One of our postdocs recently had a close call when a cabinet full of journals ripped out of the wall and collapsed onto his desk. Although a buildup of journals usually isn't life-threatening, a considerable chunk of NIH's precious funding and lab space is consumed by multiple subscriptions to the same print journals. Wouldn't it be great to have full access to all journals in a searchable form, replete with figures, right on your desktop or notebook computer?
Before delving into the details of electronic publication, let's consider a few broader issues. First, there are economic questions. Journals must have sufficient income to pay for publication. If journals are available free on-line, what will be the motivation to pay for subscriptions? And what about copyrights if a full copy of a paper can be had simply by pulling it up on a computer screen and pressing "print"? Publishers will probably have to develop a pay-per-view or pay-per-print mechanism. NCI's Office of Cancer Communications already has subscribers to its electronic publications, who are recognized by passwords and by computer domain.
Then there is the matter of human behavior. People like to thumb through paper copies of journals and newspapers. Most scientists won't carry around notebook computers just so they can browse the literature over coffee. Aesthetics are another a hurdle. Even though figures and photographs may be viewed at higher resolution on a computer screen than in a print journal, few of today's computer printers produce figures and photographs at a resolution that researchers find attractive or informative.
Despite these obstacles, many organizations are plunging ahead with their development of electronic journals. Currently, such journals come in two forms: compact disk read-only memory (CD-ROM) and on-line. With CD-ROM journals, you pay for a subscription and receive the issues on a compact disk delivered by mail. To view the contents, you need a computer with a CD-ROM drive and the browser software that the publisher provides. The best CD-ROM journals have everything available in the printed version, plus links to related information. With on-line journals, contents are contained in files located on a computer server, most likely at a remote site. You need a way, such as a modem or computer-network hookup, to access these files and a browser to view them. Many journals, including the old standby, Journal of Biological Chemistry, are now starting to appear on the World Wide Web--an international network of computers commonly called the Web--and are being viewed via Web-browser programs such as Mosaic and Netscape. A lot of these "journals" are simply text or merely a come-on, such as a cover picture or Table of Contents, to encourage you to look at a print version or pay to order a reprint. In addition to CD-ROM and on-line journals, there are hybrids of the two technologies, such as a journal on CD-ROM at an NIH Library computer that can be accessed from remote computers by using appropriate browser software.
The first electronic journal to pass the NIH Library's evaluation process [see box, page 21] was the New England Journal of Medicine on
CD-ROM. This searchable journal, which is updated twice yearly and has issues dating back to July 1991, contains full text, charts, tables, graphs, and color images. It is available on library computers or on your desktop computer
through your local area network (LAN). This journal and other CD-ROM titles are accessible from any PC running the LanManager or Windows for Workgroups client software and the TCP protocol stack. Macintosh computers running the Soft Windows emulation software can access NIH Library CD-ROM titles over Appletalk. Novell and IPX support will be available later this year. To arrange access through your computer, ask your LAN manager to contact Ben Hope, the NIH Library's network administrator (phone: 496-4230; e-mail:
The Journal of Biological Chemistry, published by the American Societyfor Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Bethesda, Md.,can also be purchased on CD-ROM, though it is not yet available in the NIH Library. Browsing the 1994 issues illustrates how rapid the progress has been. In January, the CD-ROM journal was rather unsatisfactory, particularly when it came to accessing images, but by December, the journal was much improved. However, the amount of time required to learn how to navigate the CD-ROM's browser interface was daunting. Indeed, the lack of standardization among browser programs--which forces researchers to learn several programs just to read a few journals--was a major problem highlighted in a review of on-line journals published in Sept. 19, 1994, issue of The Scientist. One small ray of hope is that the American Association for Microbiology in Washington, D.C., uses the same browser software for all 11 biomedical journals it publishes on CD-ROM--Clinical and Diagnostic Laboratory Immunology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Journal of Bacteriology, Journal of Virology, Infection and Immunity, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Journal of Clinical Microbiology, Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Microbial Reviews, Clinical Microbiology Reviews, and International Journal of Systematic Bacteriology. In evaluating a trial subscription to Journal of Virology, the NIH Library determined that the DOS interface was less than satisfactory, but a Windows version is being tested now.
Other scientific journals on CD-ROM include Protein Science, published by the Protein Society in Bethesda; Biophysical Journal, by the Biophysical Society in Bethesda; and the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology, by the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Md. Gordon and Breach in Langhorne, Penn., has also announced several CD-ROM titles, including Autoimmunity, Cancer Biochemistry Biophysics, Cancer Research, Therapy and Control, Connective Tissue Research, Developmental Immunology, Journal of DNA Sequencing and Mapping, Free Radical Research, Growth Factors, Immunodeficiency, International Journal of Neuroscience, International Reviews of Immunology, Journal of Neurogenetics, Lasers in the Life Sciences, Leukemia and Lymphoma, and Receptors and Channels.
As for on-line journals, the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C., has 23 journals available on the society's Scientific and Technical Network (STN), including Analytical Chemistry, Biochemistry, Bioconjugate Chemistry, Biotechnology Progress, Chemical Research in Toxicology, Journal of the American Chemical Society, Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Macromolecules. A complete list is available via Internet at "gopher acsinfo.acs.org" or on the World Wide Web or through the uniform resource locator (URL) at this address: "http://www.acs.org". Two of these journals, Biochemistry and Journal of the American Chemical Society, are also available on CD-ROM, and the NIH Library is evaluating Biochemistry.
Through its Electronic Journals online program, the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) offers Immunology Today Online, Current Opinions in Biology, Current Opinions in Medicine, and Applied Physics Letters Online, The Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials, The Online Journal of Knowledge Synthesis in Nursing, and Electronic Letters Online. All use the Guidon telecommunications and browsing software. Current Opinions in Medicine wraps 24 print journals into one electronic publication. Similarly, Current Opinions in Biology encompasses six biological print journals, and the NIH Library is considering a subscription to that journal.
In contrast to most journals, which publish a print version that is duplicated on-line or on CD-ROM, some OCLC journals have no print equivalent. After peer review, the editors send "marked-up" articles for on-line publication within 24 hours, greatly reducing the time lag compared with print publications. One totally electronic publication, The Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials, was launched in 1992 under the editorial control of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). However, last fall, AAAS decided to sell the editorial control of the journal to Chapman & Hall publishers, and its future is not clear. The NIH Library subscribes to both the Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials and the Online Journal of Knowledge Synthesis for Nursing.
Many on-line browsers feature "hyperlinks" that allow users to move smoothly from a journal article to related references, figures, or databases by simply clicking on highlighted or underlined text. For example, Current Clinical Trials has references linked to MEDLINE citations, including abstracts. Hyperlinks also provide the ability to click on a "Letters to the Publisher" icon to comment on an article or request more information. A dubious, new feature made possible through hyperlinks is advertising. Whenever a brand name or product is cited in a scientific paper, a click to an advertising message is possible. Despite assurances that "it will be completely low-key and be completely unobtrusive," one has doubts.
An important step forward in on-line scientific publishing occurred in May when the Journal of Biological Chemistry became available on the Web. With an URL of "http://www-jbc .stanford.edu/jbc/", the searchable, on-line version of JBC will be free for at least the next six months. After the trial period, an electronic subscription and/or a pay-per-view plan will probably be put into effect. Nevertheless, the appearance of this important journal in a form that anyone with a Web browser can access is a significant breakthrough that will likely stimulate similar online moves by other journals, especially those that are already publishing CD-ROM versions.
The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, published by NCI, has an excellent prototype on the Web. To see it, go to "http://wwwicic. nci.nih.gov" and look under NCI On-Line Publications, August 17, 1994. Another government entity, the Centers for Disease Control, has launched a new, completely electronic journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, on the Web. Both the new journal and the CDC stalwart, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR), are available at "http://www.cdc. gov/publications. htm". To view MMWR, you need Adobe Acrobat software, which can be obtained free from this Web site. Acrobat is a "portable document" software that allows documents created in a variety of programs to be shared via a "reader" without accessing the program used to create the document. The NIH Library is also using the Acrobat portable-document format for its newsletter on the Web, which can be accessed through the library's home page at "http://libwww.ncrr.nih.gov/ home.exe?www". Acrobat can also be downloaded from the library's Web site from within your browser.
So, with all this movement along the information superhighway, how close are we to entering the promised land of paperless scientific information? I believe that electronic journals are not likely to be widely read until a large number are published in this manner and standard browsing software is adopted. The World Wide Web currently appears to have the edge as the most likely publication route because of its standardization and the availability of several excellent browsers.
Here are some suggested "paths" for exploring the current state of on-line journals on the World Wide Web, commonly called the Web. Take care that addresses, also referred to as Uniform Resource Locators (URLs), are typed precisely as indicated, including proper case, into the "File," "Open URL" area of Mosaic or "File," "Open Location" of Netscape. If you do not have a Web browser, see your Local Area Network (LAN) administrator.
NIH Pointers to Online Journals
Path: One of the easiest routes is through the NIH Home Page on the World Wide Web. Just click on Scientific Resources, and then on Pointers to Online Journals under Library and Literature Resources. So far, there are hyperlinks to Science, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Protein Science, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Weizmann Institute Posters
Path: Choose one of the poster titles, then click on "Show all panels as one long page" to see all the graphs, photographs, and images just as you would expect to see on a poster. There is some beautiful immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy, as well as full-color graphs. You can also leave comments for the authors and read comments other people have left. This could be a prototype of a journal refereed by on-line readers, providing dialog between authors and readers (e.g., "I couldn't reproduce the experiment in fig. 1" and "Did you take care to keep pH and temperature well within the limits we indicated?").
National Library of Medicine
Path: Hypertext/multimedia exhibits to The Art of Medicine at the 21st Century. Although this is an exhibition rather than a journal, it shows how images are handled in hypertext journals. Click on small images to enlarge, edit, and print them.
Bioscience Resources at the WWW Virtual Library http://golgi.harvard.edu/biopages.html
Path: Biosciences, Biology Internet Resources, BioSci & other Electronic Publications, Science Magazine. You will get this week's Science Table of Contents, Editorial, and This Week In Science.
Path: Oak Ridge National Laboratory Review, Issues from 1992 to the present, Vol. 27, Nos. 1 & 2, "Mice and Men: Making the Most of Our Similarities." Yahoo is one of the greatest resources for locating material on the Internet. This article contains embedded graphics, photographs, photomicrographs, and hyperlinks to other information outside the article, as well as a video clip. Image resolution depends on your monitor resolution, and whether you can see the video depends on your Web-viewer setup.
As part of its challenge to provide intramural scientists with cutting-edge information whenever and wherever needed, the NIH Library is exploring the rapidly expanding universe of electronic journals, reference books, and other digital resources.
After electronic journals are identified--no mean feat in today's fast-paced world of cybercommunications--they are evaluated by the Library's Electronic Resources Committee using selection criteria that include what topics are covered, how current the information in the journals is, whether tables and figures are included, and how the network-licensing terms mesh with NIH's user demands and cost constraints. If a journal meets initial selection criteria, the committee reviews the journal's software interface to determine whether it supports features such as title and index browsing, sophisticated searches, printing, and file saving. Another important consideration is whether the electronic journal provides clear instructions and/or on-line help so that the journal can be used without a printed manual.
So far, only four of 10 electronic journals evaluated by the review committee have met these basic requirements. The committee has proceeded to the next step with those four: user testing. Such testing may include trial installation in the library's reading room, trials with selected users outside the library, and surveys of people who use print equivalents. One electronic journal currently undergoing user testing is Immunology Today Online, which is available in the reading room through a free trial subscription through 1995.
Until this year, an electronic title that had run the testing gantlet successfully would have been ensured a place in NIH's electronic resources collection. That is no longer certain. As is the case with print subscriptions, the library now must cancel or cut back on some other electronic resource if it wants to add an electronic journal. How this works can be illustrated by a recent example.
This year, several library users suggested that the library obtain a site license for the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries (CARL) UnCover Reveal--a table of contents service that allows a researcher to create a personal profile of the journals he or she wants to track. As each issue of the selected journals is published, the table of contents is automatically sent to the researcher's e-mail box. For almost a year, the service had been available free over the Internet. However, in March, CARL imposed a $20 annual fee for individual subscribers. The several hundred NIH staff who used the service via the Internet wanted it to continue, arguing that significant time, paperwork, and money would be saved if the library bought a single site license rather than requiring each person to subscribe individually. Although library staff agreed, there were no discretionary funds available to pay for the site license. In addition, the library already had a table of contents service--ISI's Current Contents--on its network server and DCRT offers a version of Current Contents and another table of contents service, Reference Update, on the NIH Gopher server.
The Electronic Resources Committee compared features--including cost per use--of all three electronic contents services available to NIH staff and also asked a user who is familiar with CARL UnCover Reveal to see whether resources available through the Gopher server could satisfy his needs. On the basis of these analyses, the library decided to drop its subscription to Current Contents when it comes up for renewal in October and immediately obtain a site license for Carl UnCover Reveal. Cancellation of the Current Contents subscriptions, which consumed a large portion of the library's electronic resources budget, should enable the library to buy other electronic products next year.
On the journey toward its ultimate goal of a scientist-friendly digital library, NIH will encounter many forks in the road. Through advisory groups, user testing, surveys, and other means, the NIH Library is seeking researchers' guidance on which directions to head. To voice questions about the selection and evaluation process for either print or electronic resources, or to discuss other issues related to the library's provision of electronic information, contact NIH Library Chief Suzanne Grefsheim (phone: 496-2447; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) or a member of the Library Advisory Committee. Lists of Library Advisory Committee members and electronic journal selection criteria are available upon request.