Superjournal Update

Christine Baldwin describes work so far on the Superjournal project which set out to study factors which make e-journals successful and useful to academia.

SuperJournal [1] is studying the factors that will make electronic journals successful. What features and functionalities should be present in electronic journals to deliver real value to the academic community, and what are the implications for publishers and libraries? This article gives a brief update on the project research and the early results.

Overall Approach

The objective of the research is to answer the question: What do readers really want from electronic journals? The problem is that if you ask them the question directly, they can't answer it. They need hands-on experience using electronic journals to provide a context for their views and opinions. The project has therefore adopted the following method:

  • Conduct baseline studies that establish how academic researchers use printed journals and their expectations for electronic journals ("before" data)
  • Deliver clusters of journals in an electronic application which can be changed over time, analysing usage patterns to identify critical success factors and barriers ("during" data)
  • Once the users have experience using electronic journals, hold informed discussions with them to explore what they really want, and the critical success factors as they perceive them ("after" data).

To guide the research, we developed lists of hypotheses that could be tested in the following areas:

  • The features we felt would be most valued
  • Why users might prefer electronic journals to print (or vice versa)
  • The factors that would discourage use (barriers)
  • How users would actually use the electronic journals, initially and over time
  • How local factors would influence use
  • The differences we would expect to see between users in the sciences and the humanities/social sciences, for all of the above.

Manchester Computing developed the SuperJournal electronic journal application, which contains clusters of journals contributed by participating publisher. To date three clusters have been launched: Communication & Cultural Studies (CCS), Molecular Genetics & Proteins (MGP), and Political Science (PS), and a further cluster will be launched early in 1998: Materials Chemistry (MC). All clusters are available to the ten participating university sites, though baseline studies and promotion have been targeted at sites and departments where we felt there would be greatest interest. Access is password protected, all usage is logged, and the resulting logfiles are analysed in detail.

Reader Expectations

The baseline studies allowed us to explore with readers their initial views on electronic journals and what they thought would be important features. The following potential benefits were mentioned most frequently by readers in the sciences and humanities:

  • Immediate access
  • Guaranteed access (no missing issues!) I
  • mproved time management (browsing or following up on a reference when you have a few minutes spare)
  • Convenience of remote access
  • Powerful (fast and flexible) search engines
  • Improved current awareness
  • Hypertext linking to abstracts or other articles
  • Electronic bookmarking.

Users in the sciences also mentioned the following:

  • Getting the latest articles sooner than they are available in the library
  • Email alerts to let you know about new articles
  • High quality colour images, often not published in printed journals due to cost.

Users in the humanities also mentioned the following:

  • In many subject areas having access to the backfile is critical
  • Access to more journals than the library may subscribe to
  • Links to multimedia, for example video clips.

So already we're building a list of the features that readers think will be important. Now that they have access to the electronic journals, we're looking at how they use the journals to see if usage patterns support their initial wish list.

Initial Usage Trends

SuperJournal has been available to eight of the user sites for a year, and to two newer sites for four months. Over this time period, 1,770 users have registered, and in a typical month there might be 350-450 user sessions. We're just starting to analyse usage and map out patterns. These work will be followed up with interviews to explain the behaviour behind the usage patterns. So far the following initial trends have been observed:

  • For all the journal clusters, usage has built up slowly over a period of months
  • Growth of usage for the MGP cluster (life sciences) has been faster than for the CCS cluster (humanities)
  • There are three times more users for MGP than for CCS, which may reflect the larger department sizes at the university sites
  • The percentage of repeat usage is similar for both clusters (say 30%)
  • Use of the CCS cluster has spread more widely within the university sites, certainly beyond where promotion was initially targeted
  • Most usage is browsing of current issues, and relatively few users are taking advantage of the three search engines available.

We're now studying the logfiles in detail to see how users really use the journal clusters, what features they use, how often, and why. Watch this space or visit the SuperJournal Web site over the coming months to find out what we learn!


[1] The Superjournal Project

Author Details

Christine Baldwin
SuperJournal Project Manager,
Information Design and Management Broom, Hinksey Hill Oxford, OX1 5BH

Date published: 
Thursday, 19 March 1998
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