The last two years have witnessed an explosion in the number of journals available online. At the end of 1995 there were just over 100 . By the end of 1997 The Open Journal Project estimates over 3000 will be produced in the UK alone. This massive increase is causing libraries and readers some practical difficulty. Libraries are faced with an increasing burden of administration and concern over archiving. For the user, a multiplicity of access points and search interfaces can cause uncertainty and confusion. These problems tend to reduce the advantages of the electronic format, such as 24 hour access, searchable text, interactivity, moving images, hypertext links from references to cited articles and availability before the print equivalent.
In November 1996 BIDS announced a completely new World Wide Web service called JournalsOnline. The service, which is free of charge, currently provides a single access point to full text articles, including graphs and illustrations, published in the journals of Arnold, Academic Press, Blackwell Science and Blackwell Publishers, with more publishers expected to join the service shortly. JournalsOnline offers access to 52,000 full text electronic articles from around 500 journals and hopes to increase this number to 1000 by the end of the year. Tables of contents (TOCs) and abstracts are free to all, but full text is available free only to those users in UK HEIs who log in with a registered user name and password (the ATHENS3 system is to be used) and whose institution has either subscribed to that journal, or is entitled to view it online under the terms of the HEFC agreement. The cost of the full text of other articles in the service is [sterling]7.64 including VAT, with access a third more expensive for users outside the higher education sector. The full text may be displayed or printed using an Acrobat PDF viewer.
JournalsOnline was given a head start because of its JISC funding and looked as though it would lead the way in one-stop shop access to electronic journals. It does have the advantage of an enormous end-user base that the publishers are very keen to get access to, but so far the number of publishers agreeing to join the service has been limited. Its most significant development to date is in providing links between articles which appear in the BIDS ISI, IBSS, Compendex and CAB HEALTH databases to the full text in JournalsOnline. Greater functionality is planned for JournalsOnline, which at present lacks some of the more sophisticated features being offered by the commercial services.
1997 has seen the launch of a number of commercial electronic journal services: Blackwell's Electronic Journal Navigator, SwetsNet, Information Quest and OCLC FirstSearch Electronic Collections Online. Unlike JournalsOnline, these services charge institutions an annual fee for initial access. Each service offers online access to an integrated collection of titles from the publishers who have entered into agreements with them. A growing number of publishers, including Blackwell Science, Kluwer Academic and Carfax, are signing up for all the commercial services rather than limiting themselves to one or two. Users of these services are entitled to search and browse all the journals, but the level of what they see depends on whether their institution holds a subscription to a particular title in its electronic form, or is entitled to see it free. Common features are a single point of electronic access and authentication for library users, subscriber-only access to full text articles in PDF and increasingly RealPage and other formats, online help, customer and technical support, email alerting services, and archiving solutions. Differences are apparent between products at this relatively early stage of development but it seems reasonable to expect they will become more alike as they develop, particularly in respect of document delivery or pay-per-view access and in enabling links to the library catalogue.
The Blackwell's and Swets products combine the services of a subscription agency with the provision of a single searchable Web interface to the titles of signed publishers. SwetsNet expects to offer 1000 titles by the end of 1997 and 3000 by the end of 1998, and the others are projecting similar figures. SwetsNet is already capable of integrating with Web OPACs, providing a direct link from the journal title in the library catalogue to the title in SwetsNet. In 1998 it will merge with SwetScan, the TOC service. Non-subscribers to particular titles can only view TOCs; document delivery of abstracts and full text is planned for the future. Blackwell's Electronic Journal Navigator offers transactional (pay-per-view) delivery of articles the user is not entitled to download, with the fee determined by the publisher's rates. Non-subscribers can view abstracts in addition to TOCs, and links to free journals are also being developed. A CHEST deal for Navigator has recently been announced. There are, however, disadvantages in using either of these services. SwetsNet will only allow full text access to electronic subscriptions handled by Swets. Navigator will allow access to titles not handled by Blackwell's, but will charge an annual fee to do so, plus an additional fee per title. For libraries who use only one agent for their journal subscriptions, this will not be a problem. Those who don't, and are not inclined to move their business in reply, may prefer to look elsewhere.
Information Quest (IQ) has been developed by a Dawson company of the same name. IQ does not handle subscriptions, but simply provides a searchable interface to the online journals in its collection. Provided they have a subscription to any of these titles, regardless of which agent used, libraries can access the full text. IQ has teamed up with Uncover to provide a fax back document delivery service for occasions when electronic versions do not exist and when the library does not hold a subscription to a title. They have provided over 8 million TOCs from over 12,000 journals since 1990. What sets IQ apart from its competitors are its enhanced searching capabilities, including Adaptive Pattern Recognition and Natural Language Processing, and the fact that it indexes every word of a journal; the other services index only citations, keywords and/or abstracts. Unfortunately for most academic libraries. IQ concentrates on scientific, technical, medical and business information and currently includes only a limited number of social sciences and humanities titles.
One product which does cover all subject disciplines, and is not linked to subscription management, is OCLC FirstSearch Electronic Collections Online. Integration with the FirstSearch online reference service will take place in 1998, when document delivery will also be introduced. TOCs are available to all users, with abstracts and full text for subscribers only. It also promises support for those involved in consortia publishing.
Librarians have a number of decisions to make about online journals. At the most elementary level, they need to decide whether to cancel any of their print subscriptions and replace them with electronic versions. This will in part be determined by how easily their users can access networked computers.
Libraries not intending to subscribe to many online journals may not feel the need for an electronic intermediary service. After all, there is only one more year left of the HEFC agreement and free online access to the journals of its contributing publishers. Also, some major publishers ,like the Institute of Physics and Elsevier, are providing their own Web journals service, and so far have chosen to go it alone. Is it likely they will throw in their lot with any of these intermediary services? The online journal service has much to offer, but because all are still being developed it is very difficult to judge and compare the different alternatives. What are the criteria by which these services should be measured? Should librarians be aiming to direct developments, for example by uniting to draw up a list of requirements for such services, rather than merely providing feed-back on what is presented to them?
 The Open Journal Project. Project description.
Available from: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib/projects/open/