From Print to Cyberspace:
The Trend toward Electronic Journals
Presentation and Access Issues
in a Medium-Sized Academic Institution

Birdie MacLennan
 University of Vermont

Canadian Association for Information Science
Association canadienne des sciences de l'information
Université de Sherbrooke
June 9-11, 1999

Originally published in: Information science: Where has it been, where is it going?: Proceedings of the 27th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science, Université de Sherbrooke, June 9 to 11, 1999 = Les sciences de l'information : D'où viennent-elles et où s'en vont-elles? : Actes du 27e Congrès annuel de l'Association canadienne des sciences de l'information, Université de Sherbrooke, 9 au 11 juin 1999. ([Canada:] Canadian Association for Information Science = Association canadienne des sciences de l'information, 1999), 144-171.

Reprinted as: "From Print to Cyberspace: Presentation and Access Issues for Electronic Journals In a Medium-Sized Academic Institution," in The Journal of Electronic Publishing 5, issue 1 (Sept. 1999).

Web version copyright ©1999 by Birdie MacLennan.


Back to the Future : An Introduction

Il y a trois cents ans, la stabilité était la règle et le changement l’exception;
aujourd’hui, le changement est devenu la règle, et la stabilité l’exception. -- Anonyme[1]

        With the ongoing proliferation of new and evolving networking technologies, scholarly communication is in a process of profound transformation – what many are calling – perhaps for dramatic effect in this last year of the millennium – the "dawning of a new era."  That which hardly seemed possible little more than ten years ago – scholarly collaboration on the Internet, for rapid and timely exchanges of information among colleagues in different parts of the world – is now commonplace reality. New methods of communication have given rise to new forms of publication. Electronic mail and web sites comprise everything from regional news and gossip, to tentative thoughts about research projects, to formal, peer-reviewed journals. In the realm of the Internet, all of these elements contribute, in one form or another, to the flow of scholarly communication, research and knowledge. Some of them might even be considered "serial" in nature. However, it is the latter – scholarly electronic journals in the networked environment and in relation to libraries – which are the focus of this paper.

        Although e-journals are a relatively recent phenomenon, they are not new. For nearly ten years, libraries in North America have been addressing issues associated with providing access to a growing body of e-journal literature. In 1991, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) published its first edition of the Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists, which listed 110 titles. Ann Okerson, then Director of ARL’s Office of Scholarly & Academic Publishing, predicted that in the next five years electronic journals would increase, causing "bibliographic confusion and chaos for utilities and libraries."[2] Her assessment was correct. In 1994, ARL published SPEC (Systems and Procedures Exchange Center) Kits 201 and 202 to report various ARL member libraries’ experiences with e-journals. During this same year, the ARL Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists was in its 4th edition, listing 440 electronic serials – a 350% growth rate since the first edition.[3]

        The proliferation of e-journals continues to be phenomenal. The latest edition of Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory (37th ed. 1999) reports that, of the more than 157,000 serials listed, 10,332 are available exclusively online or in addition to a paper counterpart.[4]

        The current market for e-journals and related services has exploded. As increasing numbers of print serials – including many traditional core titles and a growing range of government documents – "go electronic," some cease print publication altogether. Electronic journals are now widely recognized as a vital link in the scholarly communications chain. As a result, libraries are compelled to find the means to incorporate them into the resources they offer to support the research and curriculum needs of their communities of users.

        Indeed, if we go back 300 years, the origins of the printed journal can be traced to two core titles that began publication in 1665: Le Journal des Sçavans (later published as Le Journal des Savants) and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.[5] Both are still published today. As of this writing, I was unable to confirm an electronic version for Le Journal des Savants, however Philosophical Transactions is now available electronically.[6] Thus, we see a clear example of the venerable old model for the print journal reshaping itself in the electronic realm.

The University of Vermont Task Force on Electronic Journals

        Given the phenomenal growth rate of electronic journals and their potential for furthering the research mission of the institution, the University of Vermont Libraries formed an Electronic Journals Task Force in February of 1998. The Task Force was charged with:

  1. Assembling a collection of electronic journals
  2. Making the collection available to library users
  3. Gathering feedback on use and level of acceptance
        Task Force members agreed that content should be the most important criterion for e-journal selection, but that we could not ignore software and hardware requirements, ability to establish links between indexes and journals, licensing and legal restrictions, pricing, and the ability to track use. The Task Force had originally hoped to select e-journals based on titles found on the departmental (or subject-based) journal lists maintained by the Collection Development librarians. The following difficulties, however, made this task impossible:         After much deliberation, the Task Force determined that, rather than focusing on assembling a collection of electronic journals that resembles a subset of our printed collection, we would examine the current market for e-journal offerings broadly suited to the Libraries’ mission for support of its academic programs. What did we find?

Overview of E-Journal Offerings: The Current Market

        As the great French playwright, Pierre Corneille, wrote in the 17th century, "Le temps est un grand maître, il règle bien des choses."[8]  The current market characterizes our choices. It offers an abundance of choice, much experimentation and few standards. The players include:

         A brief overview, including selected examples from each of these categories, is included in the three tables that comprise Appendix A of this paper (web page that was developed to explore the range of market offerings).

        In the Publishers category, we are seeing more and more commercial ventures from well-known publishers such as Elsevier Science, Kluwer, Academic Press, and Springer-Verlag. Scholarly societies, such as SIAM (the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) and the Royal Society (publishers of Philosophical Transactions) are also making their publications available online. Project Muse, from Johns Hopkins University Press, and HighWire Press, from Stanford University, are noteworthy for their respective collections in the humanities and medical sciences, and for the close collaborative relationships they have with their university libraries.

         Third Party Aggregators are services that provide access to numerous e-journals from a variety of publishers. They include JSTOR, a non-profit organization that offers extensive back files to more than 100 core academic journals, and OCLC Electronic Collections Online, which offers full-text access to more than 2,000 titles via their FirstSearch service. Other aggregators, such as Lexis-Nexis or Bell & Howell (formerly UMI), offer searchable indexes with links to full-text journal sources. Growing numbers of subscription agents are also working with publishers to provide aggregated services to packages of titles or to searchable full-text databases.

        The third category, Noncommercial Web Sites, consists of collections of e-journals compiled by various groups and individuals. Several are dedicated to providing access to titles that are offered free of charge on the Internet. They include the CIC Electronic Journals Collection[9] and la Bibliothèque Virtuelle de Périodiques[10]. Others, notably libraries, provide general "E-Journal" listings, which include titles that are offered free of charge, as well as increasing numbers of fee-based titles. For these latter, licensing restrictions and passwords limit access to users within a particular community served by the administrators of the site.

Selection of E-Journals

        The Task Force discussed and investigated choices from all of these options and decided to develop a pilot project based on four e-journal packages: HighWire Press, Project Muse, SIAM Journals Online, and Springer-Verlag Online Journals. Titles from JSTOR and MCB University Press were subsequently added. In total, over 300 titles have been chosen to date.

         While our choices were made to comprise well-established titles, across a respectable range of subject areas, it is necessary to admit that economics and opportunity were also driving factors. Evidently, publishers are as interested as libraries in testing the market for their electronic publications. SIAM and MCB University Press offered their complete list of e-journal titles, without charge, on a trial basis for ongoing subscriptions to their print titles. Finally what we obtained was a means of enhanced access to our journal collections, including:

  1. electronic access to titles that we continue to receive in print,
  2. electronic access to new titles that we did not previously have in print format,
  3. "renewed" access to electronic versions of titles that had previously been received in print, but had been cancelled some years back, due to journal inflation and budget limitations.
E-Journals in Aggregator Databases

        Ultimately, the Task Force chose to focus on e-journals as unique and distinct entities that could be treated as such in our public catalog and web databases. However, we also briefly explored the question of what to do about full-text e-journals that are linked to citation sources in aggregator databases. The Libraries subscribe to several such services – including Lexis-Nexis (Academic Universe), Repère Fulltext, and others. We discussed possibilities for alerting users to full-text journals in these sources and concluded that, since title content fluctuates regularly, and often without notice, providing records for titles and linking them to the aggregator database would be a difficult task to undertake and maintain in-house. We inquired about availability of MARC records from vendors but, as of this writing, none are providing this service.

         At the national level, CONSER and the Program for Cooperative Cataloging have recently formed a Task Group on Journals in Aggregator Databases. They are examining ways in which libraries and vendors might work together to develop "a useful, cost-effective and timely means for providing records to identify full-text electronic journals acquired in aggregator databases."[11] Test initiatives are underway[12] and may provide useful solutions for libraries looking for a systematic means of access to full-text journals contained in aggregator databases.

Access Issues: Catalogs & Web Sites

         While e-journal choices were being considered, the Task Force also explored models for providing access to the titles we would be acquiring. We reviewed web sites, catalogs and reports at Vanderbilt University[13], Harvard University[14], the University at Buffalo[15], the University of Pennsylvania[16] and the Research Library at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)[17]. Finally, we arrived at two choices: access from the catalog or the web. What are some advantages and disadvantages of each method?

         The Task Force decided use "the best of both worlds" approach by providing access from the Libraries’ OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) and from "Sage," the UVM Libraries Web Information Gateway (see Appendix B-1). Sage had already been equipped with Inmagic software – a web-based database management program implemented to manage the growing number of electronic resources acquired by the Libraries. Task Force members determined that brief record entries for electronic journals should be added to Sage’s "Index to Selected Electronic Resources." This would permit users to search and access e-journals by title, subject, and keyword (see Appendix B-2 and B-3). A series of help screens advise users about search capabilities and structure of the database. Items marked by a green bullet are available to all and those marked by a red bullet are restricted to UVM affiliates (see Appendix B-4). The software also enables the creation of an alphabetical listing of "UVM Libraries Electronic Journal Holdings"(see Appendix B-5). A link to both the Index and the list of Electronic Journal Holdings can be found on the introductory Sage menu (see Appendix B-1).

         The Task Force also determined that individual titles should be cataloged in the central Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC). The Libraries had recently implemented a web version of its NOTIS online catalog and were also in the process of preparing for migration to a new system, the Voyager online catalog. Inclusion of an 856 field, with a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) to the publisher’s Internet address in the bibliographic record would thus produce an active link from the catalog record to the full-text journal in either the NOTIS or Voyager version of our OPAC.

         Cataloging guidelines were developed based on the CONSER Cataloging Manual, Module 31, Remote Access Computer File Serials.[19] We chose to use a "single record" approach. That is, rather than creating a separate bibliographic record for the e-journal, we updated existing records for print journals, when we had them, to note the existence of an electronic version and to give the URL for accessing it. To do this we simply added:

        530 __ $a Online version available via the World Wide Web … 856 41 $u  (See Appendix C-1 for example of a full MARC record, and Appendix C-2 for the Voyager OPAC display of the same record)

        In instances where the Libraries did not have print versions of the e-journal, we downloaded OCLC records for the electronic version. Our next dilemma became the question of what "location" to assign the journals. Rather than establishing a "virtual" location for "electronic resources" or an equivalent term in our catalog, we chose to refer users to the location for the Bailey/Howe Periodicals Department. In place of shelving information or a call number, we input the phrase "Electronic Journal." (See Appendix C-3 for example of OPAC display) The Periodicals Department provides staffing and workstations to aid users successfully access journals in both print and electronic formats.

E-Journal Use & User Reactions

        Early in its deliberations, the Task Force identified three areas to investigate through a study of library users:

  1. Will library users accept e-journals as a substitute for print?
  2. What factors are important in determining e-journal use and acceptance?
  3. Do these factors vary by discipline?[20]
         As soon as e-journal records were established in the OPAC and in Sage, Task Force members began introducing these new resources to library staff. After staff had time to familiarize themselves with the titles, they were asked to fill out an evaluation form which rated each of the packages in five general performance categories:
  1. Ability to access journals through Sage and/or the online catalog
  2. Navigational capabilities (including search and browse options)
  3. Viewing and output (ability to download, email, print, etc.)
  4. Content and coverage
  5. Interface (including speed of access, aesthetics and clarity of presentation).
(See Appendix D for three page survey form)

        This preliminary survey showed that user reactions to e-journals varied significantly. All were able to access records for the titles through the OPAC or through Sage. While most found the prospect of full-text access from the computer desktop to be exciting and full of promise, experiences in being able to access full-text sources varied. Some users did not have adequate computing capabilities to retrieve the full-text source from their desktops. For example, some users did not have Adobe Acrobat software and could not retrieve journals available in PDF format. Others reported slow response time (perhaps attributable to Internet traffic or to slower processing units on their workstations). One user reported that the publisher’s server failed while she was viewing a title. Comments about navigational capabilities, view screens and ability for output varied across all the publishers’ packages, as well as for individual e-journals. While many users liked the range of navigational features for searching and retrieving text, others found them to be confusing, limited, or not well-defined, often lacking adequate help screens. Others noted differences in presentation, format and "added value" among different publishers; that there is lack of a common look or interface. While there was a general sense of interest and enthusiasm, most all respondents conveyed that much of what they saw and experienced was very inconsistent.

         In December 1998, Task Force members issued a press release in the campus media to publicize the Libraries’ acquisition of electronic journals. Library staff have begun to initiate, broader educational training opportunities through training, workshops and bibliographic instruction, to teach faculty and students how to access and navigate e-journals that are available to them across various disciplines. Ongoing dialogue and interaction between librarians and faculty is planned so that feedback can be solicited about e-journal use in relation to curriculum and research needs on campus.

        The Systems Department has been able to track e-journal usage from Sage with statistical software that logs the number times each link is accessed or "hit" by users. The following statistics were logged for the fall quarter (September though December) of 1998:

Project Muse Journal list 134 hits
SIAM Journals Online list 34 hits
Springer-Verlag Online Journals list 74 hits
HighWire Press list 61 hits
Electronic Journal Holdings 
(alphabetical list)
86 hits
Index to Selected Electronic Resources (e-journals, et al.) 2,003 hits
Statistics in this table represent only a portion of overall use. They do not include hits on individual titles accessed from Sage or from the Libraries’ online catalog.

         Project Muse provides a more detailed statistical analysis of UVM user activity for their e-journals for the first quarter of 1999 (January through March). These statistics indicate a healthy level of use and interest for this particular service in showing an average number of twelve requests per day and a total of 1,063 overall requests for articles, images, table of contents, and other information (see Appendix E)

Outstanding Issues & Looking Ahead to the Future

         J'ai beaucoup mieux à faire que de m’inquiéter de l'avenir: J'ai à le préparer.
                                                                                                        -- Félix-Antoine Savard[21]

        This paper has attempted to overview the current climate, the current market, and various issues and concerns that we are facing in developing the necessary tools and skills to evaluate e-journals in relation to the research and curriculum needs of our faculty and students. There’s a wealth of other issues – such as licensing considerations, pricing models, consortial arrangements – that this paper does not address. New technologies are evolving at an incredibly swift pace; the market is changing almost daily and there are several movements in place that can shape any number of possible outcomes. As this millennium draws to a close, librarians are positioning themselves as active players in helping to shape and determine the future. Some examples of important initiatives taking place today include:

        As American astronomer, Carl Sagan, wrote, "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." Librarians and information specialists have always done well at making sense of variables – massive amounts of information in a variety of formats, databases and catalogs – to aid our users in the discovery of what is waiting to be known. Our initial experience at the University of Vermont is teaching us that e-journals are just one more variable, another tool to learn and adapt to in aiding us with our mission to further the quest for knowledge.

        And so the future unfolds. We will continue to look around and to use our wits, our resources, and the new tools that are available to reap the benefits of what the world of information – and the future – hold in store and have to offer.


         This paper has been made possible with the collaboration and support of numerous colleagues. Special thanks to colleagues at the University of Vermont: Nancy Crane, Trina Magi, William Dunlop, Lyman Ross, Mara Saule, and Elizabeth Dow -- and also to Ann Ercelawn at Vanderbilt University -- for help and advice in gathering information and perspectives. Thanks, also, to colleagues at NASIG (the North American Serials Interest Group) who have provided me with contacts, support and resources to turn to over the years as well as an appreciation for the many intricacies and challenges in working with serials and understanding their role in the scholarly information chain. Special thanks to Martin Gordon at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and to the NASIG Continuing Education Committee for their encouragement and willingness to support this research as part of NASIG’s continuing educational outreach effort.


Adapted from a citation suggested by Denise Bernier in le "Petit musée de la pensée du jour." A collection of citations posted from Feb. 15, 1995 to Feb. 15, 1999. Citation no 393-1997.01.07 Mardi. WWW Document, accessed Apr. 18, 1999 :
Ann Okerson at the OCLC Users’ Council Meeting, Feb. 1991; quoted in SPEC Flyer 201 for the publication, Electronic Journals in ARL Libraries: Policies & Procedures by Elizabeth Parang and Laverna Saunders. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, Aug. 1994. Also available as a WWW Document, accessed Apr. 19, 1999 :
SPEC Flyer 202, for the publication, Electronic Journals in ARL Libraries: Issues & Trends by Elizabeth Parang and Laverna Saunders. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, Aug. 1994. Also available as a WWW Document, accessed Apr. 19, 1999 :
Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory, 1999 : Including Irregular Serials & Annuals. 37th ed. (1999). New Providence, NJ: R.R. Bowker, c1998. p.vii.
There are several sources that cite the 17th century and le Journal des sçavans and Philosophical Transactions as the starting points for printed journals as we know them today. These titles were among the first to publish scholarly research in a manner intended to appeal to a broad reading public. See Jim Parrott in "Scholarly Societies as Meeting Sponsors and Publishers," University of Waterloo Electronic Library Scholarly Societies Project (March 1996), a WWW Document, accessed Apr. 16, 1999 : For historical perspective on the role scholarly societies played in developing journals as a means of communicating research, Parrott recommends: Martha Ornstein, The Rôle of Scientific Societies in the Seventeenth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1928.
Publications page of the Royal Society. WWW Document accessed April 24, 1999 :
Trina Magi. "Progress Report of the Electronic Journals Task Force," an internal report prepared for the University of Vermont Libraries. Sept. 1, 1998.
Pierre Corneille, 1606-1684, in Sertorius, II, iv.
The CIC E-Journals Collection (Committee for Institutional Cooperation), is managed by the consortium known as the "Big 10" research libraries in the Midwest region of the U.S. They systematically catalog and archive freely accessible Internet titles that collection specialists have chosen as relevant to their academic community. WWW Document, accessed Apr. 28, 1999 :
La Bibliothèque Virtuelle de Périodiques, a collaborative project between librarians and documentalistes in France and Québec, offers a directory of freely accessible, scholarly French-language periodicals, that includes a search engine and subject listing arranged by Dewey classification category. WWW Document, accessed Apr. 27, 1999 :
Program for Cooperative Cataloging. "Task Group on Journals in Aggregator Databases." Charge and time frame. WWW Document accessed Apr. 30, 1999 :
John Riemer reported test initiatives at the University of Tennessee and the University of Illinois, Chicago in an e-mail message to the AGGREGATOR-L discussion list (Mar. 19, 1999). E-mail message forwarded from John Riemer to Birdie MacLennan, Mar. 24, 1999.
Vanderbilt University. Jean and Alexander Heard Library. "Report of the Joint Subcommittee on Access to Electronic Serials and Databases." Dec. 1997. WWW Document, accessed Apr. 28, 1999 :
Harvard University. "Cataloging Networked Resources in HOLLIS: Policies and Guidelines." Rev. May 1, 1996. WWW Document, accessed Apr. 28, 1999 :
University at Buffalo, University Libraries. "Electronic Journals in the UB Catalog and on the Libraries' Web Site: General Statement of Policy." September 1996. WWW Document, accessed Apr. 28, 1999 :
The University of Pennsylvania provides alphabetical and subject access to Electronic Journals via their web site at:, as well as through their online public catalog:
Frances L. Knudson, et al. from the Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library. "Creating Electronic Journal Web Pages from OPAC Records" Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship no.15 (Summer 1997). WWW Document, accessed Apr. 28, 1999 :
Staff at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Research Library have successfully implemented an automated means of generating e-journal web pages from MARC records. (Op. cit., see note 17)
CONSER Cataloging Manual, Module 31, Remote Access Computer File Serials. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Cataloging Distribution Service. Module 31 rev. June 30, 1998. Also available as a WWW Document, accessed Apr. 29, 1999 :
Trina Magi. "Progress Report of the Electronic Journals Task Force," an internal report prepared for the University of Vermont Libraries. Sept. 1, 1998.
Félix-Antoine Savard, 1896-1982, prélat, professeur, romancier et poète québécois. Cited by Doris Lussier in Philosofolies, éd. Stanké, 1990, p.147.
See Conference Papers from the International Conference on the Principles and Future Development of AACR [Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules]. Toronto, Canada, October 23-25, 1997. WWW Document, accessed Apr. 29, 1999 : (papers are available in PDF format)
Yves Desrichard. "Les formats et normes de catalogage : évolutions et perspectives," Bulletin des Bibliothèques de France, 98-3: 56-65. WWW Document accessed Apr. 12, 1999 :
Richard Johnson. "SPARC Whitepaper," (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition). WWW Document, accessed Apr. 22, 1999 :
See David E. Shulenburger, "Moving With Dispatch to Resolve the Scholarly Communication Crisis: From Here to NEAR" [National Electronic Article Repository]. Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Membership Meeting Proceedings. Oct. 1998. WWW Document accessed Apr. 12, 1999 :