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    Dean's Desk:  Toward's an EJournal Collection
    Ralph Alberico
    , Dean of Libraries and Educational Technologies

    The number of titles in the library’s e-journal collections is growing at a rapid pace. Students and faculty have access to thousands of titles and millions of articles -- an encouraging first step toward the library's strategic goal of expanding and improving access to its online collections. Right now the library provides access to online journal collections from many different sources. That is the problem. There is no single integrated collection of online journals and reference sources; there are many collections, each with its own title list and idiosyncrasies. Natural relationships between and among e-journals in separate collections are difficult to discover. Subject access to the contents of e-journal collections is problematic. What are needed are discovery tools and access strategies that promote exploration and allow scholars to establish connections across collections.

    The next step, and one of the biggest challenges facing the library, will be to combine our separate e-journal collections and our many indexing and abstracting services so that they function as a single coherent collection. 

    Growth of e-journal collections

    Let me define the broad boundaries of the library's e-journal collections to include any journal whose contents are available online. Access is not restricted by physical limitations or the hours the library is open. E-journals are available on a 7X24 basis. Multiple people can use the same article at the same time. This broadly defined collection can include journal databases licensed by the library, titles available through the VIVA consortium, government journals, online magazines from the web, and services from which we can obtain articles on a pay-per-view basis. Publishers run the gamut from huge multinational enterprises to universities, learned societies, government agencies, associations, and even individuals. The first e-journals represented a shift away from paper and toward electronic delivery; while the delivery mechanism is different, the content was essentially the same. More recently we've seen e-journals being developed with the Internet in mind. This trend extends to include more traditional journals. For example, some of the journals available from the American Chemical Society will allow the reader to use a web browser to manipulate molecular images, a capability that is not possible in the printed version.

    E-journals like their print counterparts are issued on a periodic basis, several individual issues come out annually; each includes articles. Articles can be divided into sections and often include pictures and reference lists. Often there are also letters, announcements, advertisements and other useful information. A typical journal issue contains 6 or more articles in addition to editorials, images and other content. A journal that puts out an issue once a month will, estimating conservatively, add 72 articles a year to the library's collections. Not only do e-journals accumulate as time passes; new e-journal subscriptions typically begin with some number of years of back files. Every time we had a new e-journal title, chances are we are adding a few hundred articles. And articles are the things that people want. Extracting the good articles -- the best articles from multiple collections is a tricky business. 



    E-journal growth has been dramatic - (now numbering ~ 2500). As dramatic as that growth has been, the e-journal titles that the library counts represent only the tip of a very large iceberg. The journals that the library counts in its subscription statistics are dwarfed by the total number that are available. The reasons for that startling fact relate to different business models for e-journal publishing and to rapid growth in public domain e-journals. The relationship to business models is dramatically reflected in the fact that three services alone, Lexis/Nexis, Dow Jones, and Gale's InfoTrac Onefile account for an additional 13,000 titles that are not seen on the chart above.  Beyond that are countless articles from e-journals and e-zines that are freely available on the Internet. (Warning: Quality varies.) If it is articles people want, then it is certain that there are many more articles available but not obvious. The goal is to design easy access to all of the article "iceberg." 

     

    A Fluid Marketplace 

    Scholarly journals date back until at least 1665 when the Journal des Scavans was first published in France. The process by which journals were published and distributed remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years. The digital revolution changed things by making it possible to unbundle ideas recorded in journals from the tangible objects that carry those ideas. Authors, publishers, institutions, markets and readers are coalescing and fragmenting as never before. On one hand, the library is buying entire collections instead of individual journal titles. On the other hand we have contracted with delivery services like Ingenta to deliver individual articles on demand. There has also been rapid consolidation in the marketplace with large publishers purchasing the offerings of smaller publishers. A similar trend is occurring on the consumption side as libraries band together in consortia to subscribe to electronic information on behalf of many institutions. At the same time individuals and groups can easily publish their own journals on the Internet, eliminating the need for publishers. Enormous e-journal archives already exist in fields like computer science and physics. Systems are being developed to enable scholarly communities to publish, index, distribute and archive refereed articles.

    The market for e-journals is one example of the countervailing forces at work in digital libraries. The library purchases e-journals in two ways -- electronic subscriptions and aggregator services. The library only counts and catalogs journals when every article in every issue is available online, and we retain archival rights to most of those journals. Even if there is some problem with the company or organization that publishes a journal, the library gets to keep electronic content it has paid for.

    Aggregators negotiate access rights with large numbers of specific suppliers of journals and other information. The library licenses the services of the aggregator who often adds value by indexing, organizing and redistributing content originally published elsewhere. The stream of information coming from aggregators varies with their ability to acquire content in a fluid information marketplace. If an aggregator loses access to a specific journal then the library loses access as well. For example, several aggregators, including a few of those used at JMU, once licensed Harvard Business Review. Not too long ago a single vendor managed to negotiate an exclusive online distribution license with the publisher of that journal. Because we did not have a business agreement with that vendor we lost electronic access to the full-text content that journal. However, more recent developments offer the hope that access will be restored as a result of a new agreement between the Harvard Business Review and another vendor that we do use at JMU. Such constantly shifting business relationships are one of the reasons that the library does not count journal titles offered by aggregators in its holdings. It is also the reason why the library maintains paper subscriptions to core titles like the Harvard Business Review in cases where e-subscriptions are not feasible.

    Keeping track of articles in e-journals is even more difficult than keeping track of the e-journals themselves. For example, a recent Supreme Court decision granted rights to royalty payments for online articles to freelance writers whose work originally appeared in printed sources like the New York Times. In response to that development, rather than agreeing to pay royalties, many of the publications in which those articles first appeared threatened withdrawal of articles by freelancers from aggregated online news archives like Lexis/Nexis. Just as the availability of journal titles from aggregator services is unpredictable and subject to forces beyond the library’s control, so is the availability of articles included in journals offered by aggregators.

    The Library Responds

    It is clear that students and faculty benefit from availability of online journal articles. It is also clear that the reality of the e-journal marketplace makes it difficult to use and manage information from e-journals. It is to everyone's advantage for the library to seek every possible means of providing access to high quality information -- through e-subscriptions, by dealing with aggregators and by identifying the best sources for articles in the public domain. It is also advantageous to offer hundreds of electronic indexing and abstracting services that provide researchers with subject access to the contents of journals. Pursuing those strategies at once empowers and places new demands on students and faculty. The forces that bring things together and break them apart challenge us to promote deeper understanding of how all the pieces fit together.

    The library is beginning a campaign to inform the James Madison University community about e-journals. Part of the campaign will be an instructional effort aimed at teaching skills needed to take advantage of the knowledge locked up in those millions of articles. The other part will be a system development effort aimed at improving access to the contents of e-journal collections. Our strategy will be described in detail in the next issue of this newsletter.

     

    E-mail comments and questions to:
    clarkeke@jmu.edu

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