Most readers from within the UK Higher Education (HE) community will no doubt be aware of the National Electronic Site Licence Initiative. However, for readers from outside this sector who do not yet know the full details, and for readers who do not know the latest news about the Initiative, the first part of this article seeks to detail NESLI’s aims and objectives, and achievements so far.
Although the Initiative is primarily focused on the UK HE community, the second part of this article seeks to discuss the possible benefits which may accrue for the library and information community as a whole.
NESLI is in some senses the successor to the Pilot Site Licence Initiative (PSLI) which began in January 1996, and effectively ended in December 1998. The PSLI provided government funding to reduce the unit cost of information, and concentrated primarily on paper based information. As the three-year initiative drew to a close, however, it was clear that many issues concerning the use, access and purchase of electronic journals remained to be addressed.
With these issues in mind, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) advertised for, and selected a consortium of Swets & Zeitlinger and Manchester Computing at the University of Manchester as Managing Agent for NESLI, a new self-financing initiative which will run for three years from 1st January 1999.
The role of the Managing Agent is satisfied by two main functional units, which are managed through the Consortium Management Board. Strategic and policy advice is provided through an "Advisory Board", comprising respected members of the HE community, content providers and the consortium. The Managing Agent works closely with the JISC NESLI Steering Committee and reports on all developments and statistical findings during the term of the project.
The aim of the Initiative is to address some of the issues preventing widespread take-up of electronic journals. These include technical issues of access control, both for on-site and "remote" users, cost, site definitions, and archiving issues.
Key to the development of the initiative has been the partnership between Swets & Zeitlinger, with its long experience of providing an innovative journal subscription service to libraries, and of negotiating with publishers, and Manchester Computing. Manchester Computing hosts MIDAS, a JISC-designated national datacentre hosting more than 40 strategic datasets including the JSTOR electronic journal archiving project, COPAC (Consortium of University Research Libraries OPAC) and the eLib SuperJournal Project.
Manchester University and Swets will be working together to make SwetsNet the single point of access for all the journals included in the initiative. Publishers may either store all their electronic data on Swets’ server, or mount it on their own servers with a link from SwetsNet. Full text delivery is currently either in PDF or Catchword’s RealPage format, and there are currently over 1,400 full text titles included.
Questions of authentication and remote access have already been addressed by Manchester University and Swets in partnership.
Tables of contents, abstracts, and full-text articles in SwetsNet can be accessed directly from Web OPACs and from a number of secondary database services, using IP based access control and linking URLs. However from the outset, feedback received from the HE community made it abundantly clear that further work on technical issues of access and authentication would be a high priority for the Initiative. Whilst the IP validated access already available on SwetsNet was suitable for campus LANs and WANs with recognisable IP address ranges, there was clearly a problem for the growing number of off-site users and distance learners who used dial-up Internet connections with dynamically assigned IP addresses. In addition, the "user specific" functions within SwetsNet, such as SDIs and TOC alerting were not available to users accessing the service via IP validation only.
Technical staff at Manchester University and Swets therefore co-operated to build the already established ATHENS authentication system on to the SwetsNet NESLI delivery service. ATHENS control has now been tested successfully, and will be available as an option for any institutions wanting to control access for their readers in this way.
ATHENS provides HE institutions with a unique and effective way of providing their staff, students and researchers with a single password for all the electronic resources they are entitled to access. Each separate password can be set up with access rights to different combinations of services, appropriate to the individual’s subject interests and level of study or research.
The mechanism implemented is best explained as consisting of three elements: authentication, reconciliation and connection. The user enters their ATHENS username and password on the login screen and these are authenticated against the ATHENS system for the resource type of 'NESLI'. The call to ATHENS is made by the server hosted at Manchester and uses the 'C' Application Programmer Interface (API). Once authenticated, the ATHENS identifier and resource type is converted to SwetsNet account data, again on the Manchester server. This data is then passed to the SwetsNet server, based in Netherlands, and a user session is initiated.
Other customization work has been carried out on the SwetsNet service, to provide an interface "tailored" to NESLI, and reflecting the feedback received from library and information staff in the HE community about what their end-users would like to see, and which options they would prefer not to show! The NESLI interface will continue to be revised and amended in the light of comments and suggestions received by the Managing Agent.
A Help Desk at the University of Manchester will be available for end-users and librarians who experience difficulty accessing the service.
The linking of SwetsNet with ATHENS, and the construction of the "NESLI version" of SwetsNet, ensures that the burgeoning number of off-site users will not be excluded, now that negotiations with publishers by the Managing Agent have started to bear fruit.
The Managing Agent has the remit to negotiate - on behalf of the HE community - value for money agreements with publishers of electronic journals, if possible by encouraging them to offer separate deals for print and electronic versions of their journals. As part of this remit, the Managing Agent is also mandated to explore with publishers the possibilities for deals on subject-based clusters, pay-per-view, and standardized licensing terms and conditions.
Fundamental to this part of the Managing Agent’s work is the NESLI Model Licence. The Model Licence (based on the JISC / PA Model Licence) seeks to standardise publishers’ approaches to issues such as site definition, inter-library loan, "walk-in" users, continuing access to subscribed-to material once a subscription has expired, inclusion of subscribed-to material in course packs and users’ rights to save and print articles etc. All publishers are being encouraged to accept the terms and conditions of the Model Licence with minimal modifications.
The Managing Agent has already done a great deal of work to push the Initiative forward in this respect. Negotiations have focused on the publishers whose material is most in demand by UK HEIs. In determining the priorities for negotiations, the views of library and information professionals in the HE community - expressed via the NESLI listserver and via a series of regional seminars - have been given high priority.
At the time of writing (May 1999), over 40 UK Higher Education Institutions are accessing titles from publishers participating in the initiative - either on a subscription basis, or as part of a trial.
Blackwell Science are making 130 of their electronic journals available to NESLI at a special package price, with the acceptance that a single educational institution can be considered a "site", regardless of the number of physical locations it actually occupies. All users within an institution are allowed access, and archival files are available for 3 years via the Managing Agent, and thereafter subject to any archiving solution explored by the Managing Agent. In addition, all new titles published during 1999 will be included in the NESLI offer free of charge.
Johns Hopkins University Press has offered two options involving "unbundling" print and electronic subscriptions to NESLI. The first option is a full year subscription to all Johns Hopkins electronic journal titles for a fixed fee with discounts according to the number of sites. The second option is a three-month free trial to all their electronic journals, with offers of substantial discounts for access during the remainder of the year. Each site will pay a maximum of 50% of the full subscription price for 1999, and there may be further discounts, depending on the number of sites participating.
Blackwell Publishers have offered the HE community the option paying a flat fee for a combined print and electronic subscription - including access to a year of backfiles - to journals not currently purchased. Orders will be invited shortly.
The Company of Biologists is offering electronic only access to the current issue and to the complete backfiles of their main title - Development - for a special price. Feedback about this offer has so far been positive, and it is likely that the title will be available on an electronic only basis in 2000.
HighWire Press is offering discounts, according to the number of participating sites, on 29 electronic only titles from the 9 publishers in the HighWire Marketing Group.
At the time of writing, discussions are also underway with Elsevier, Kluwer, Mary Ann Liebert, NRC Press and Academic Press. Offers are now likely to be valid for the year 2000, and it is expected that many more will be forthcoming.
However, what will the benefits be for library and information professionals, and the users they serve, outside the HE community?
The development of licences that deal realistically with the question of "offsite" access for members of organizations is, it is to be hoped, something that will benefit all subscribers to and users of electronic journals. There is certainly relevance to commercial and other multi-site or trans-national organizations, many of which also have a large number of staff who need to gain access to electronic journals while they are working at home, or away from their normal "base". It is clear that the development of a standard and more liberal definition of "site" is something that can only be positive.
Clarification and standardization of licences in general is something which should benefit all electronic journal subscribers. It is unlikely that publishers agreeing to new standard licences for HE institutions will still insist on a bewildering range of different texts and conditions for other subscribers.
Work for both subscription agents and subscribers in recording licences and ensuring compliance with their conditions should therefore, over time, become easier.
The development of separately available print and electronic journals will also increase the choices available to all information professionals, allowing them to tailor the services they offer much more closely to the specific needs of the information user communities they serve, and to their budgets.
The initiative will also be a useful test of the versatility of the ATHENS authentication system. The system - now adopted in all HE institutions - has already proven particularly useful for "offsite" members of such organizations, such as distance learners. If and when ATHENS becomes more widely available outside the HE community, it may give useful answers to questions of secure offsite access for members of all types of institution.
In addition to the above, it is likely that, over time, the Initiative will also address other issues holding back the widespread adoption of electronic journals, notably archiving.
Finally, of course, the development of a true "one-stop" point of access for all electronic journals will be to the advantage of all library and information professionals and the users they serve. This service, which already links to library OPACs, also has a growing number of links from secondary information sources. Management information on electronic journal usage provided by the system will encourage the development of information services truly targeted at the specific needs of information users and maximum efficiency in the use of financial resources.
In conclusion then, the benefits of the Initiative should flow outside the UK HE community, and those benefits are likely to be: A resolution of technical and licensing problems for site, multi-site, and offsite access, clarification and standardization of licence terms and conditions, separation of print and electronic subscriptions, and the further development of a single seamlessly linked electronic journal delivery system. Developments over the next few months will be crucial in determining the extent to which these benefits appear.
Crucial to the success of the Initiative so far have been the complimentary strengths of Swets & Zeitlinger and Manchester Computing. The latter’s technical expertise and the former’s long experience as an intermediary between publishers and information professionals has helped to achieve a great deal in a comparatively short space of time.
If NESLI is to continue to work, however, it will depend to a very great extent on the flexibility, imagination and willingness to experiment of the publishers of scholarly journals. The Managing Agent will be actively encouraging them to participate in the scheme and to offer value for money packages for their electronic journals. Whilst NESLI is fundamentally an electronic journals initiative, it is recognised that separating the print and electronic product cannot necessarily be achieved overnight. Publishers are still considering their options. Many are unprepared for "unbundled" deals at the moment, and are still uncertain about the commercial subscription model to use.
However, although these are early days, it does seem that NESLI is helping publishers to understand the requirements of user communities and that publishers are seeing the benefits of participating in the Initiative. It may even eventually help them to consider alternatives to the subscription model, such as "pay-per-view". Further progress seems likely.