JournalsOnline: An Electronic Publishing Service for Higher Education and Research

Terry Morrow <>
University of Bath
United Kingdom


The first service of Bath Information & Data Services (BIDS), launched in February 1991, was believed to be the first of its kind, providing large-scale networked access to ISI's bibliographic databases for the benefit of anyone (students, research workers, lecturers) in the higher education (HE) sector in the UK. From an initial 500 accesses a day in the first few months, the ISI databases alone are currently servicing nearly 10,000 sessions a day at peak times. When accesses to the other eight databases now mounted are added in, the peak total is nearly 12,000 sessions a day.

Virtually every major HE institution (HEI) in the UK now subscribes to one or more BIDS services and about 1 percent of all UK academics and researchers access BIDS every day. Also, BIDS now has subscribers from other countries, including Norway and Sweden.

Autumn 1996 saw the launch of an entirely new BIDS service, which complements and builds on the bibliographic data services. This service, known as JournalsOnline, provides end users with network access to the full text of articles that have been published in recognized scholarly journals. Through a nationally negotiated site license arrangement, many of these journals are available free at the point of use to any academic anywhere in the UK HE sector.

Keywords: BIDS, electronic publishing, bibliographic databases, central funding.



In 1989 and 1990 discussions took place between a number of parties interested in providing network access to some of ISI's Citation Indexes. These included librarians, CHEST (the UK HE's purchasing consortium for software and data sets), and the central funding bodies for UK HE. The successful conclusion to these negotiations led to the establishment of the first BIDS service. A description of the beginnings of BIDS was presented at INET'93 and was published in the proceedings[1].

The funding of the ISI service has two major components. Central funding was used to set up the service, and formed part of the initial payment to ISI. The remainder of the funding comes from subscriptions, part of which goes to ISI and part of which funds the service.

Several subsequent database agreements for products from other suppliers were based on this model. These include the following:

Full details of these and other more specialized databases are available via the BIDS Web site (

Among each case there are some slight differences in funding arrangements. For example, IBSS was completely "top sliced" with licenses for UK HEIs being totally funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) and thus being free of charge to licensed sites. The Inside Information service, on the other hand, was established through an agreement between BIDS and the British Library.

The service was launched in February 1991. It initially provided access to ISI's Science, Social Sciences and Arts & Humanities Citation Indexes (these indexes now cover about 7,500 journals). Their Index to Scientific and Technical Proceedings database was added later. The first release of the service was quite restrictive with important functionality, such as the ability to use the citation data for citation searching (finding articles that cite a particular work), still missing. Nevertheless, there was immediate interest in the service, with around 50 sites taking out subscriptions and accesses of around 500 sessions per day in the first few months. Subsequent effort was devoted to the technical development of the service, to the creation of a wide range of documentation support, and to the publicizing of the service by whatever means seemed appropriate.

Development of BIDS: 1991-1997

The growth of BIDS during this period has been well documented [2]. The ISI service has seen large increases in usage every academic year, rising from an initial 500 users per day during the first few months to over 10,000 per day in the spring of 1997.

BIDS ISI Service Growth (1991-1997): Average Number of Users per Weekday Since Service Start

Further facilities were added including the function of citation searching, the option of viewing tables of contents for selected journal issues, and the ability to order copies of articles for delivery by fax or post (from the BLDSC). This last feature, which entails a payment (by account or credit card) of around £10 for each individual article, has never shown heavy usage. The major reason for this has probably been the reluctance of individuals to pay for information that has traditionally been available free from their local library or through interlibrary loan (ILL) schemes. Most users are probably not aware of the large (and increasing) costs that are incurred by libraries in subscribing to a comprehensive range of serials or purchasing copies of articles from document supply services such as the British Library. These costs have been reviewed in the USA, where ARL identified the true costs to lender and recipient of ILLs to be approximately $50 per article.

More databases were added. In 1992, the EMBASE medical database was introduced, covering about 3,500 medical journals and featuring a thesaurus searching facility. Other databases added since then include Engineering Information's Compendex*Plus and Page One, Inside Information from the British Library, a collection of bibliographic databases from the Royal Society of Chemistry, IBSS (published by the IBSS Unit at the London School of Economics), and a collection of specialist databases in the areas of ecology and biology.

The number of sites (nearly all UK HEIs, although a few subscriptions are from Scandinavia) has grown steadily, and now nearly 130 sites subscribe to at least one database. The ISI database alone has over 100 institutional subscriptions and is the most heavily used ISI database service anywhere in the world.

Academic publishing and electronic publishing

The BIDS services just described are all indexing services. They provide information about published work. It is left to the searcher to note the bibliographic details of an article that appears relevant or interesting and then find the actual article. This involves visiting a library to find a physical copy of the relevant journal or ordering a posted or faxed photocopy from a document supply agency, such as the British Library Document Supply Centre (BLDSC). These document orders have usually been handled by the library (and often paid for out of the library's budget, though sometimes charged back to the researcher's department). Alternatively, articles could be ordered directly via the BIDS online ordering system although, as mentioned earlier, this option has never been heavily used.

The changing nature of publishing

Over the last few years, the growth in the use of computers at all stages of academic publishing, together with the massive growth in popularity and use of the Internet, has opened up a series of opportunities and challenges for all the traditional players in the business. These players have been joined recently by a number of new specialist electronic information intermediaries.

Traditional paper publishing starts with the academic researcher offering a paper for publication, and after peer review, the paper is included in an issue of a journal. Academic journals are usually sold to libraries (though some are sold directly to departments and individuals). But libraries rarely order journals directly from publishers. Instead, they use organizations called subscription agents who consolidate the orders before passing them on to the publishers who in turn ship their product out to the subscribers. The libraries then put the journals on their shelves.

In recent years, new indexing services have emerged. They provide the valuable service of indexing all articles that appear in many thousands of journals, using a number of indexing tools such as article titles, authorship, journal details, keywords and, more recently, abstract texts. Initially these indexes only appeared in print (for example ISI's citation indexes). The emergence of CD-ROM technology provided an alternative delivery mode that also made searching a lot easier. The increasing ubiquity of the Internet has now made network delivery of this information a practical proposition. It is in this area that BIDS has built its current index services--network delivery of indexing information about published work.

Make the whole article available via the network is an obvious next step. While this is no longer a significant technical challenge, many organizational, commercial, copyright, and financial factors at present make it unclear how such services might develop or who ought to operate them. One argument is that too many organizations are trying to find a place in this increasingly crowded but limited market.

The potential players in electronic publishing

A recent report by David Brown [3] gives a comprehensive overview of the main groups who have an interest in the development of electronic delivery of academic publishing. A summary of these groups is as follows:

In the UK, these and other funding problems led to the commissioning of a review by the Higher Education Funding Councils chaired by Sir Brian Follett. The Follett Report [6], published in 1993, recommended among other things that £15 million be provided for a series of projects to assist the migration of academic libraries toward a more electronic mode of operation. At around the same time, in a separate development, the Higher Education Funding Council for England opened a dialogue with a small group of publishers which led to the pilot site license agreement. These two initiatives are now described in more detail.

The UK Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib)

The Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib) arose out of the libraries review mentioned earlier. As a direct response to the review's report, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) agreed to fund the program in full. The program was given a budget of £15 million over three years to fund projects in a variety of areas. The main aim was to encourage the community to develop and shape the implementation of the "electronic library." Two separate calls for proposals resulted in the funding of nearly 60 projects in a variety of areas, ranging from Digitization through Document Delivery and Electronic Journals to Quality Assurance and Training and Awareness. Full details of the program are available via the eLib WWW site (URL

BIDS is involved in two eLib projects, both in the area of electronic document delivery. BIDS is a member of the EDDIS project consortium led by the University of East Anglia. The aim of this project is to "produce an integrated end-user driven identification, holdings discovery, ordering and electronic supply service for document delivery." Documents in this case are taken to be scanned page images.

BIDS is the lead site for a second project. This has been called, somewhat incongruously, "Infobike," a name that conjures up images of an alternative, low-tech approach to transport and distribution. In fact, the aim of the project is anything but low-tech. Its remit is to develop and test in general service a system architecture that

Partners in this project, apart from BIDS, include Academic Press, Blackwell Science, CALIM (the Consortium of Academic Libraries in Manchester), ICL, and the Universities of Keele, Staffordshire, and Kent.

Although Infobike is a research project with a relatively long time span of three years, the project has always been seen as one of a group of eLib projects likely to generate useful products that could be integrated into production services in a reasonably short time scale. It has recently been restructured and is now viewed as a "technology feed," the output of which can be used in, among other applications, current BIDS production services.

The UK publishers' site license agreement [7]

In a separate development, though with the common link of the Follett Report--which had also covered the management and funding issues of academic libraries--discussions took place in 1994 between a few publishers and the HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council for England). The aim of these discussions was to find a way out of the widely acknowledged problem of large year-after-year rises in academic journal prices. These price rises were in part a result of shrinking subscription bases, which in turn were the result of earlier price rises--a vicious circle which clearly couldn't be sustained indefinitely.

The proposal, first put forward by the managing director of Academic Press in the United Kingdom, was that a central body (the HEFCE) should purchase a license centrally on behalf of all HEIs in the United Kingdom (the site) for a price based broadly on the total subscriptions previously received by Academic Press from all HEIs. Under the license, all HEIs and their libraries would have made available to them, in both paper and electronic form, all of the journals published by Academic Press. At the same time, Academic Press offered to remove restrictions on how the material might be used.

The HEFCE considered this proposal and decided to fund a three-year experiment involving a small number of publishers. These were selected after an invitation to participate was sent to 65 leading European-based journal publishers. The selected publishers were Academic Press, two Blackwell companies (Blackwell Science and Blackwell Publishing), and the Institute of Physics Publishing (IOPP). Under the terms of the experiment, institutions are being offered subscriptions by Academic Press and the two Blackwell companies for 60 percent of the published prices and by IOPP for 70 percent.

The part of the experiment that covers paper journal subscriptions is now well underway, with virtually all UK HEIs participating. The experiment also contains an evaluation component. It is important to draw lessons from the experiment in a systematic way in order to find a longer-term arrangement that suits all parties, since the Funding Councils are only prepared to underwrite the experiment for a total of three years.

BIDS JournalsOnline

Of special relevance to this paper was the inclusion in the agreement of access to the electronic versions of the journals. BIDS submitted a proposal, which JISC accepted, to host a service providing a common access route to these electronic journals. Academic Press, Blackwell Science, and Blackwell Publishing agreed to make their electronic formats available via this route. Academic Press had already launched its own electronic journal service, known as IDEAL, but was also prepared to allow access via BIDS for sites that were included in the pilot site license agreement. IOPP decided to maintain a single, separate route to its service.

The main advantage for users in the BIDS proposal was that it provided a single point of entry to the scheme, with a common username and password authentication mechanism. The authentication system that was adopted had already been developed by a sister organization, NISS, also based in Bath, that needed a system for authentication for new Web-based data services of their own. They decided to produce a generalized design called ATHENS.

BIDS was able to put together a strong bid to host the JournalsOnline service because much of the necessary technology was already under development as part of the eLib Infobike project. The Infobike concepts of separating the searching, access management, and document delivery aspects mapped well onto the requirements of the new service.

The system, which uses a Web interface, consists of a merged publishers' catalog of bibliographic details of published articles, including titles, authors, affiliations, and the full text of any available abstract. Access to this catalog has been set up in such a way that it can be searched either by a registered user or a guest user.

When an article of interest has been identified from the catalog, the user can request "delivery" of the full article. At this point, the administration software checks the status of the searcher. If the searcher is registered as belonging to a site that has a subscription to the electronic form of that particular journal, either via the pilot site license agreement or directly as a subscription from that particular publisher, then the article is delivered. At present this takes the form of an Acrobat PDF file delivered to the user's Web browser, though the intention is to be able to provide alternative delivery formats in the future.

If the status of the searcher is that of a registered user from a site that does not subscribe to that particular title, then the searcher has the option of paying for the individual article, either by account (if one has been set up) or by credit card. Similarly, guest searchers can have the option of article-by-article delivery on payment by credit card.

JournalsOnline in service

At the time of writing, the system has been in production for less than three months, so it is too early to draw any significant conclusions. The initial service started with material from only one publisher (Blackwell Science) and only a subset of its titles. There have been some problems with access rights and with getting the data in the right format. But these problems are being overcome, and by the time of the INET'97 Conference all the material from Academic Press, Blackwell Science, and Blackwell Publishing will have been loaded, as well as material from some additional publishers. There will then be around 500 titles available via the service.

In the context of all the published titles available to the research community, this is a relatively small number. But the seductive prospect of being able to have on ones own screen or local printer the full text of a selected article, including photographs, tables, and graphs, at the press of a few keys without (in the case of members of UK HEIs) any form of payment, may well make the service disproportionately attractive. Certainly, it has been the experience of the BIDS ISI database service that the 7,500 titles covered by ISI get more attention than they might otherwise.

Because of the relationship with the Infobike eLib project, the system also has embedded in it an online questionnaire that is presented to a small proportion (five percent) of users. Initial results from this project are inconclusive, though the most common comment is on the lack of material at present available that is relevant to an individual searcher. By the time of INET'97, we should be able to present more detailed results of this investigation, as well as an account of the first half year of the JournalsOnline service.

Future developments

Whatever the outcome of the national site license experiment, JournalsOnline will continue to be developed. Expansion of the coverage of the service to make it as complete a "one-stop shop" as possible is seen as essential. Discussions are taking place with several publishers in order to add more material to the service, and a couple more contracts have been agreed upon. Publishers are free to decide on whatever financial arrangements they wish to make; the system can cope with a variety of payment methods, including subscription-based access and article-by-article purchases.

Another development that was scheduled for the first quarter of 1997 was the provision of a link from the bibliographic search services such as ISI's Citation Indexes to the full-text material. Searchers would be shown when a Citation Index search resulted in hits for which the full text was available and then could simply link to the document server to view the original article. Given the very high usage rates of the ISI service in particular, this should greatly raise the profile of the JournalsOnline service with end users.

Other developments will incorporate further work from the Infobike project including, for example, the ability to "fuzzy-match" searches against various bibliographic databases, the further integration of existing bibliographic database services, the ability to cope with more complex document types, and an option to choose e-mail delivery of full-text material.


BIDS has already made a very significant impact on the research and teaching activities in HE in the UK. Academics have frequently said that they have changed their methods of working because of the existence of BIDS and they would have difficulty in coping if the service was now taken away. In his report commissioned by the JISC and the UK Serials Group (UKSG), David Brown states "The net effect was that BIDS has revolutionized the use of online database searching in the UK."

Arguably, the single most important characteristic of this service is that it is "free at the point of use"--end users perceive it as free, and can search whenever they like and for however long they like. This is a very different situation from the time when access to this information was only available from commercial hosts such as Dialog and DataStar through mediated searching by library professionals.

The UK Pilot Site Licence Initiative has very similar characteristics. For those included in the scheme, network access to electronic copies of paper-based journals will, in many cases, appear to be completely free. This alone is likely to create a large amount of interest, even if the papers themselves are not always those that the student or researcher would most like to have immediate access to.

But significant questions still must be answered:

By the time of INET'97, we will have been in service for six months and will be able to give a full account of the early experience of the service. Results of the online questionnaire will be analyzed. Feedback via e-mail and telephone calls will also be noted. Whatever the outcome, many people, including publishers, subscription agents, librarians, network providers, and funding bodies, will be watching very carefully to see how the service develops.


  1. Joint Information Systems Committee: the body that funds networking, network services and a variety of IT-related initiatives for the benefit of UK higher education (URL
  2. ESRC--Economic & Social Research Council: the UK's funding agency for research and training into social and economic issues (URL
  3. BLDSC--British Library Document Supply Centre (URL
  4. NISS--A JISC-funded information service providing a wide range of information sources and links relevant to the education community (URL
  5. ATHENS--Access to Higher Education via NISS authentication, an authentication framework designed to enable controlled access to subscription services provided by third-party suppliers (URL


  1. T. Morrow, Supporting End Users of Networked Bibliographic Databases, in: Proceedings of INET'93, Ed. B. Leiner, Internet Society, pp. EAB1-EAB9.
  2. T. Morrow, BIDS--the growth of a networked end user bibliographic database service, in: Program--automated library and information systems, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 31-41, January 1995.
  3. D. Brown, The Future of Electronic Information Intermediaries--a survey undertaken by DJB Associates for UKSG and JISC/ISSC, published by UKSG.
  4. M. Williams, The State of Databases Today: 1993, in: Gale Directory of Databases, Gale Research, 1996, ISSN 1066-8934.
  5. H. East, E. Sheppard, and Y. Jeal, A Huge Leap Forward--A quantitative and qualitative examination of the development of access to database services by British Universities, 1988-1994, CCIS, May 1995, BLR&DD Report 6202.
  6. Joint Funding Council's Libraries Review Group: Report. Prof. Sir Brian Follett, HEFCE, 1993 (
  7. Barham Bekhradnia, Pilot National Site Licence Initiative for Academic Journals, in: Serials, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 247-250, November 1995.

Author information

Terry Morrow has been working in the UK academic computing environment since 1976. Currently marketing and training manager for BIDS at the University of Bath, he has written numerous articles and given presentations at a variety of events, including JENC 3 in Innsbruck, NSC'92 in Pisa, NSC'93 in Warsaw, and INET'93 in San Francisco. He is a member of the organizing Committee of the UK Serials Group.