ABSTRACT

Academic librarians who want to provide effective service to faculty and students must have a better understanding of the nature of the information contained in scholarly electronic journals, as well as the ways in which that information is used. This paper is based on the findings of a study conducted at Dartmouth College into web-accessible scholarly journals, and it emphasises the difficulties that libraries face in providing user-friendly services. Scholarly electronic journals differ from print journals in terms of format and access mode, and they have a greater range of content than print journals do. The function of the scholarly journal, on the other hand, has not changed with the format. The needs of users in terms of ease of access and the dependability of content are still important factors to consider. As long as librarians are actively involved in the development of electronic journals, they will have an opportunity to influence the direction in which this mode of scholarly communication takes the field of scholarship.

Introduction

The publication of scholarly journals has long been a major vehicle for formal scholarly communication, serving as the primary means of establishing priority and authority in a field while also serving as a repository for archival information. Although print journals that perform this function successfully have maintained their form and content for a long time, the long-term viability of this format has been questioned for almost as long, particularly in terms of timeliness, quality, accessibility, and cost (among other factors) (1,2).

As an alternative, supplement, or replica of print journals with the capability of facilitating scholarly communication through an interactive environment, rapid dissemination, access to large data sets, and the capability of manipulating data among other features, electronic journals have the potential to fundamentally alter scholarly communication. Although electronic communications and data transfer technology have had a significant impact on scholarly communication in some scientific research fields, such as high energy physics and space science, formal publication of research results can still be found in traditional scholarly journals, whether they are electronic or printed (3).

Despite several research projects, such as TULIP, CORE, and others, over the last few years, the scholarly electronic journal has not progressed as quickly as anticipated (4-6). The widespread availability of the World Wide Web has played a significant role in the current evolution of electronic journals. Towards the end of 1995, it appeared that both scholarly societies and commercial publishers would be making significant efforts to make their journals available on the Web, and there was a great deal of optimism that the Web would provide a technical solution to the problems that scholarly journals were experiencing.

Dartmouth College’s Electronic Information Group organised a concentrated effort to select, acquire, and catalogue web-accessible journals, as well as to solicit user feedback on these journals, in order to better understand the implications of this rapidly developing publishing environment on library operations and services to users. Because this paper is based on specific aspects of the project, it is necessary to reflect the state-of-the-art as well as the journals that were available at the time, which was between late 1995 and late 1996.

The Characteristics of an Electronic Journal

Generally speaking, scholarly print journals are fairly consistent in both form and content, allowing users to transfer knowledge of how to use one title to another without difficulty. In contrast, scholarly electronic journals on the web exhibit a great deal of variability in all aspects, from the mode of access to the content to the actions that the user can take with the information (7,8). A print journal’s sections that are available in electronic form can be difficult to distinguish from the sections that are not. The number of new journals that have attempted to fundamentally alter the nature of the journal is far less than the number of print mimics, and there is even more variation among them.

The manner in which a journal is ordered, how access is controlled, and what services the publisher provides all differ from one another. Following the purchase of a journal, we discovered significant inconsistencies in the reliability of access to a particular title or issue; access problems have also been documented by Harter and Kim (9). They made it impossible to ensure that the journals ordered for the Dartmouth test would be easy to locate and use, and they were the source of some problems that discouraged users from taking the test in their entirety.

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