E-Journals: advantages, disadvantages and criteria for selection
Azadeh Mirzadeh has written an excellent look at ePubs in the library:
The Web, along with electronic publishing, has changed
accessibility of serials and periodicals. In the past, scholars
and researchers wrote their articles and published them in
journals. Traditionally, library patrons and researchers came to
the library to read or to make copies of these articles. To some
extent publishers and vendors competed to receive orders from
libraries. The Web and on-line electronic publishing, however,
have changed the way of accessing information for scholars and
researchers. With the emergence of the Web and electronic
publishing, scholars and researchers are able to publish articles
on-line without going through a publisher or a vendor and users
can access information without going to the library. Technology
has brought an easier way of accessing information for librarians
and researchers. Consequently, it has become very important issue
for libraries regarding how and when to replace printed journals
with electronic ones.
One way that information has become accessible on the Internet is
through electronic journals. The number of journals, magazines
and newspapers that are available online has been grown rapidly
in recent years. Tenopir (1999 p.138) reported " the number
of titles in the ARL Directory has grown from only 26 in 1991 to
nearly 2500 in 1997. The number of listings in full text sources
on-line has grown from 4400 in 1993 to about 8900 as of May 1999."
In the another report regarding how quickly electronic journals
are growing Aschroht (1999, p. 107) noted that " in the 18
months from September 1997 to March 1999 the number of electronic
journals available increased by more than fifty percent... Not
all these journals are scholarly in nature, but an increase can
be seen across all genres."
Electronic Journals has been defined in different ways. The most
common definition states, " a journal that is provided by
any electronic means, e.g. Internet or CD-ROM, although not
necessarily exclusive by electronic means." (Ashcroft, 1999
These journals are generally accessible through electronic
communication devices or telephone lines. The same definitions
can be used for electronic newsletters and periodicals in
Electronic journals can be produced in different formats, such as
a CD-ROM, which was the first step towards electronic publishing.
Late 1988 and early 1990 various journals were published on CD-ROM
mostly because of increased storage capacity. The first step in
the process was the conversion of the journal from paper to
electronic format, and then indexing, and the creation of
bibliographic citations and abstracts. The significant advantage
for CD-ROM was storage capacity. There were problems with
publishing journals on CD-ROM such as: updating information,
distribution, packing, and mailing. In addition, there was the
high cost and lengthy time to develop, support, and continue to
enhance proprietary software used to access the electronic
journal. The other issue was that each journal had different
editions with different interfaces and different ways of
browsing, retrieving and displaying documents. Consequently, one
of the reasons that a library would withdraw from the migration
from paper to electronic journal was the lack of interface
uniformity (Barnes, 1997).
Electronic journals that existed before the Web were the ones
that relied on dial-up services and proprietary networks. The
drawback for this kind of journal is the lack of photographs,
tables, charts and back file. At the beginning, maintenance costs
and proprietary interface were major problems for libraries, but
in recent years most libraries have been able to solve these
problems. This kind of journal, however, could not replace the
However, there are now forms of electronic journals that have all
of the print version features and can therefore replace print.
These journals are available through the vendor sites or directly
from the publisher\'s sites and most of them are in Acrobat format.
The electronic version duplicates the print version. . The latest
formats are the journals that do not have any print version and
are published electronically. Specifically, in the academic and
research libraries, the numbers of this type of journal is
In summary there are four advantages for electronic documents:
first, some documents are more useful in electronic form due to
enhanced search ability, e.g. in allowing statistical
calculations to be affected. Second, electronic format is
sometimes the only alternative so it represents a net increase in
the information base. Third, since the volume of printed
materials are increasing at great speed and libraries can only
offer a small part of it, it is important to provide electronic
formats. The fourth advantage is economy of storage: the increase
in cost for keeping printed material makes electronic forms more
attractive from an economic viewpoint.
Another benefit of electronic journals is availability for
readers. Patrons can view journals when the library is not open
if they have access to a network terminal. Also, invoicing and
claiming will be on-line so, therefore, librarians will be having
more time to improve their on-line skills and train users. It,
also, offers speed of delivery, eliminates printing, and saves
money in terms of postage costs for libraries.
Archiving and site licenses are the two major issues that most
libraries have identified. Most of the electronic journals are
not archived, therefore, libraries should be very careful about
canceling printed subscriptions. Archiving becomes a critical
issue for particular types of products, such as electronic
journals and full-text databases. Also, libraries have learned
that both storing large files of data and maintaining access to
them have additional costs in terms of staff, time, and other
resources. Libraries are often hesitant to rely on electronic
copies of titles for fear that archival access will not be
maintained. (Davis, 1997)
The lack of peer review of materials and slowness of the Internet
and power outrages are other disadvantages of electronic journals.
Reading a large amount of data on the screen also can be very
difficult and can cause health problems such as back pain or
One of the most important issues is the lack of accessibly to
electronic journals for those who do not have access to the
Internet or any other kind of electronic service. It is important
that such electronic information be made available to those
without such access.
If we put the advantages and disadvantageous of the electronic
journals on one scale, certainly, there are more advantages. The
most important advantages include space saving, powerful
searching tools, immediate access and increased speed of
communication. Also, there can be immediate access from one\'s own
desk as well as facilities such as integrated text, hypertext
links and multimedia, which printed journals cannot offer.
Criteria for selecting electronic journals
The electronic journals are usually like web sites that are
arranged and updated much like printed magazines. They are Web-based
and contain articles or other pieces of information on a certain
topic. The journal can originate for Internet usage only without
a paper version and can be created by any source including
universities, organizations, individuals, or other suppliers of
information. Wherever these journals originate, they must be
looked at with a critical eye and evaluated like any other
library resource. The topics that are covered in these journals
are mostly scientific, technical, medical and scholarly by nature.
In a time of budget crisis in libraries, the rising cost of print
subscriptions makes it important for libraries, specifically for
academic libraries and librarians, to understand the direction
and significance of the digital information revolution. Some
libraries are very much aware and others are less aware of these
On the other hand, librarians should be very cautious about
replacing and canceling printed journals with the new electronic
journals. More specifically, some materials should be purchased
only in printed format while others only in digital form and
still others should be purchased in both formats in order to have
a balanced collection. According to Katz, "the best criteria
for evaluating a source are purpose, authority, and scope."
(1992, p. 23). It is also important in evaluation of electronic
journals to consider format, currency and audience. The wide
diversity of materials such as: print, audiovisual, CD-ROM,
electronic journals, network databases, and multimedia products
are continuously growing. Most libraries are increasing their
electronic resources in response to user demand. Consequently,
librarians must continually be educated in increasing their
skills on automated systems and electronic resources.
Electronic journals are available from several major publishers
that are commercial and non-commercial. Therefore, journals are
available electronically in different formats and versions. It is
important to review these different formats before making a final
decision. Some publishers permit free access to libraries on
their Web sites for a short period of time. Therefore, it is
important to review different sites and compare the contents,
format and cost of print with the electronic version. It is also
important to examine the statistical usage during the past two or
three years before canceling any paper issues.
In addition, license and copyright laws are two major issues,
which should be considered for subscriptions to electronic
journals. Traditional selection policies and procedures could not
continue with the fast growth of electronic resources such as
electronic journals, network and database products. Libraries
should seriously consider these changes before selection of
electronic journals and any other electronic publications. As
Davis (1997, p.13) stressed, "most libraries have introduced
electronic information sources in a piecemeal fashion, mostly in
response to user demand. Selectors must increase their knowledge
of automated systems and electronic products, and their skills in
understanding and negotiating license agreements."
Library patrons, specifically in academic libraries, prefer the
electronic version to the printed version and most often patrons
do not bother to check the printed journal. It has been shown
that when the full text versions of journals were available
electronically patrons would prefer that version.
License and copyright agreements are legal matters that should be
considered by libraries when they subscribe to electronic
journals. These agreements must be fair and practical for both
the publisher and library.
Pricing is another important issue that should be considered for
e-journal subscriptions. Usually, each publisher has its own
policy. The most common is the one in which the publisher allows
free access for a few months, or up to a year, to all of their e-journals.
Converting the journal to electronic format is costly for
publishers. Therefore, the publishers must raise their price for
the printed subscriptions in order to cover the cost of more
updated technology. The other option that publishers offers to
libraries is one in which they continue the print subscriptions
and receive ten to thirty percent discounts for the electronic
versions. Most articles in e-journals, when written in HTML have
many advantages, which allow easy linkages within the article.
There is easy incorporation of graphs, tables, photographs and
images, including video and sound. Some publishers use the Adobe
Acrobat PDF format instead of or in addition to HTML. Acrobat
viewing software is freely available and can be downloaded but
this can act as another barrier to usage by those who are not
completely computer literate. Therefore, it is most helpful if
the Acrobat is mounted on a network basis.
Electronic journals are available in different ways. They are
available directly from the publisher\'s site and they have
complete control over changes and pricing. The other way is that
they are available through aggregators. Some publishers offer
their electronic journals through an intermediary service, which
aggregates the titles from many different publishers under one
system or interface. In this way, publishers do not have to
create or maintain their own separate system.
Making student and faculty aware of electronic journals can
accomplished in different ways. Cataloging is one way to show the
public what is accessible and available in the library computer
database collection. But some libraries are not cataloging their
e-journals because such journals are not physically present in
the library collection. Another way
to inform the public about e-journals is to give details directly
on the library\'s web site through an e-journal\'s section,
preferably listing individual journals.
The most important issue is that electronic journals require
promotion in the same way as any other new information service.
Documentation, training, publicity and usage demonstrations are
all necessary to encourage usage and to distribute information.
Electronic journals should provide benefits to everyone.
Electronic publishing creates an exciting time for libraries and
librarians. No doubt, most journals will be available
electronically in the future. Libraries and the information
provider should be prepared to help their patrons with this
transition from print to electronic journals. With the Web,
electronic journals and other electronic resource libraries will
continue their role as the information provider and will provide
a collection that is easily accessible and relevant.
Since new products become available every day and publishers are
adding new features and new titles on a constant basis, it is
impossible for librarians and libraries to have complete
information about the new product. Some of the major electronic
journal publishers are:
Academic Press IDEAL (International Digital Electronic Access
Blackwell\'s Electronic Journal Navigator. <http:\\navigator.blackwell.co.uk/>
[email protected] <http: Dialog.CARL.org>
Project Muse/ Johns Hopkins University Press <http:\\museljhu.edu>
UMI (University Microfilm International) <http:\\www.UMI.com>
Each publisher offers different features such as the number of
titles, access point, price and availability of the service.
In recent years the function and definition of librarianship has
changed. The library was the place that collected, organized and
provided access to information. The electronic resources have
changed this definition because they affected the collecting and
organizing aspect of librarianship. All of the materials that
exist in the library are no longer in physical format. Decision
making for selection and purchasing of electronic journal has
also been changed. Furthermore, in addition rather than the
serial librarians, making decisions for the selection and
purchasing of new electronic journals, the Director of Learning
Resources or the Systems Librarian may also do so.
There is no doubt that serials and periodicals are important
parts of any library\'s collection. Therefore, the serial
librarian\'s job will remain as important as in the past. Indeed
the task of purchasing, licensing, and providing access to
serials is an activity that could provide full employment for
librarians for years to come. In recent years, however, serial
librarians are performing multiple tasks and wearing different
hats. This is due to changes in the reorganization and
restructuring of the serial librarian\'s job in many libraries.
Such as increasing prices, declining acquisitions, budget crises,
early retirement and downsizing of the workforce. Of course not
all of the changes are bad. Reassigning, or reorganizing and
learning new skills may be interesting for serial librarians.
Many serial librarians in recent years are considered leaders in
the field of electronic licensing and in working with vendors to
implement electronic journals. Serial librarians should exhibit
to library administrators their expertise, flexibility and
Electronic publishing resources are continuously growing and the
librarian\'s job will become more challenging and rewarding. It
will certainly create a new future with increasing opportunities
for serial librarians.
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