[SJ Logo]SuperJournal Annual Meeting

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Thursday, 17 April, 10:30 AM - 4:30 PM
Harkness Hall 2, Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London
Summary of Presentations

Overview of the Research

Introduction to the Research – David Pullinger, Project Director

David opened the meeting by summarising the purpose of the project research: to find out what readers and authors really want from electronic journals. As this is not a question you can ask them directly, we have taken the following approach:

Currently we're at the stage where we have built the application and developed the user communities. Now the real work of studying usage and exploring it with readers and authors is just beginning.

The purpose of the Annual Meeting is to:

The SuperJournal Application – Ross MacIntyre (Manchester Computing)

Ross began by outlining the development approach. This is “in the spirit” of Rapid Application Development (RAD), in that a structured approach to development is used, with specs, timescales, prototyping, testing, and use of fourth-generation languages. However, the project is unusual in that it doesn't start with a list of user requirements; indeed these are the output of the research, not the starting point.

Functionality for the application was structured in a rollout plan: the application available with the first journal cluster, Communication & Cultural Studies (CCS), has basic functionality, and as each subsequent cluster is launched the application will be upgraded with new features. Ross gave a brief demo of the application showing various features, eg browsing, choice of search engines, viewable indexes, and user-defined preferences. He also noted that the functionality available on Day-1 for CCS exceeded the initial spec.

New features that users can look forward to include:

Attracting Users – Gerard McFall (University of Ulster)

Gerard began by stressing that attracting users is central to the success of SuperJournal. The presentation was based on the techniques used at the initial three user sites (Warwick, Birmingham, and Ulster).

The first task was to identify potential users, and here it is important to exploit both formal and informal structures. It is also important to cast the net as wide as possible initially, as users “drop out” at various stages of implementation. Formal methods included:

Informal methods are just as important (if not more so) for identifying specific individuals. In addition to tapping your own personal contacts on the academic staff, tap the knowledge of others. For example, Ulster enlisted the help of 4 subject librarians with detailed knowledge of research interests, and the periodicals staff who know which academics use the periodicals collection extensively.

In contacting users to participate, it's important to sell the benefits of participating in the project, and results are likely to depend on a good match between research interests and the journal titles included. To attract sufficient users, there is need for both a direct approach to specific individuals and a more blanket approach. Personalised email/memos and phone calls were used, with patchy response rates. This underlines the importance of follow-up, and don't assume that everyone is an email user, even if they have an email account. Blanket approaches included posters, stacks of brochures in the library, notices in journals, articles in newsletters, and Web pages.

Once users agree to participate, a certain level of training and support is required to get them registered, and then using the application. The registration process does not put users off once they have found the registration form. It's useful to offer training, particularly for users who are less IT-literate and need some hand-holding. All the sites found that the best way to attract users was to have continued regular promotion using various formats and approaches, and to follow up on all initial contacts to maintain interest. Once data has been received on specific usage, follow-up promotion can be targeted to low usage participants and to those registered but who have not used the journals.

Preliminary Results

Printed Journals: Current Methods – Ken Eason (HUSAT)

Ken began with a diagram showing graphically the structure of the research: there is research on readers and authors, in each case there are four journal clusters, and data is collected on their initial expectations, actual usage, and their informed assessment once they are users. It also includes the informed assessment of other stakeholders to the primary research on readers and authors. The findings reported at the Annual Meeting should be considered very preliminary, as they are based on the initial expectations of readers for one journal cluster, and we may well expect differences among the different subject areas.

The preliminary findings were based on 25 prospective users at Warwick, Birmingham, and Ulster who answered a questionnaire on the WWW. Their use of printed journals might be characterised as follows:

In terms of their perceptions of printed journals, the following issues were raised:

Based on this preliminary research, time and access will be important issues to track.

Electronic Journals: Reader Expectations – John Richardson (HUSAT)

Focus groups were held at Warwick, Birmingham, and Ulster to follow up on the results of the questionnaires, and in particular to explore their expectations for electronic journals. From a positive point of view, they hoped that electronic journals would bring the following benefits:

However, from a negative point of view, they felt that electronic journals would probably present the following problems:

Views on the Preliminary Results

The participants broke into groups to discuss the preliminary findings and emerging issues. The objective was to identify ones which seem important and/or interesting, and to see if the different stakeholders (publishers, librarians, software developers, etc) found it easy to reach a consensus or had different views. In terms of logistics, three groups were asked to discuss findings, three to discuss issues, and each was given a list to guide discussion.

Preliminary Findings – David Bull (Routledge)

Each group was given a list of reader expectations for electronic journals. All three groups felt that access was the most important, whether immediate access, convenient access, or personal access. The groups differed in their ranking of the remaining factors, with the importance of backfiles and linking to abstract services coming second, and searching across a range of journals, bookmarking, and quality printouts coming third.

Emerging Issues – Joanne Lomax (University College London)

Each group was given a list of 8 issues mentioned by readers in the focus groups. The three groups identified the following four issues as important (descending order), with unanimous agreement on the first:

However, they disagreed with some of the issues:

Learning from Experience

Library Implementation Issues – Richard Parker (University of Warwick)

Richard Parker looked briefly at 4 groups of issues that have implications for projects like SuperJournal, and ultimately electronic journals on a commercial basis. He looked in particular at the different approaches of the 3 user sites for the first journal cluster: Warwick, Birmingham, and Ulster.

Staffing and physical organisation is often a circumstance rather than a choice, but it does affect results. Warwick has a centralised structure and one contact; Ulster has a distributed campus making four SJ contact necessary. The uptake at Ulster was managed more easily, as the workload could be spread over more people, and infrastructures that proved useful (eg videoconferencing) were already in place.

All sites had to address a core of technical issues: how to assign usernames/passwords for user registration, provide access from the library Web pages, and arrange for installation of appropriate software (eg Acrobat). In addition Ulster has a large number of Apple Macs, which presented compatibility problems. An issue currently being addressed by all sites is how to build links from the OPAC to electronic journals, so access is logical from the user's point of view.

Each site followed a different approach to promotion, as indicated in Gerard's presentation. For example, Warwick followed a low-key approach, using email to personal contacts. Ulster followed a “blitz” approach, using many techniques at once. At Birmingham word of mouth was important. All found difficulty in arranging the focus groups, and share concern about how large a focus group has to be for the results to be valid.

Timing was an important issue for all sites: launching the first cluster in the Fall term was not ideal, for the library or users. When everyone is busy, it's difficult to fit in the work, so it gets done in fits and starts. And most important, it all takes longer than you think!

Multimedia Issues – Ross MacIntyre (Manchester) and Ros Spry (Sage)

Sage Publications publishes journals and books in the social sciences and humanities. Sage is putting together its commercial electronic publishing strategy, and involvement in SuperJournal has worked in three ways:

In looking for audiovisual material to attach to existing journal articles, Sage felt it was important not to disadvantage the paper version of the journal. Multimedia should therefore be peripheral or amplificatory, not core. As Sage doesn't have a regular electronic outlet to reward the efforts of authors and editors, they felt it would be important to hand pick a few, rather than making an open invitation.

In doing so they looked for links to URLs, material that had already been created as part of the research, and content enhancement using sound or images. The example Ross demonstrated is an example of the latter: video/sound clips from TV news to support an article on viewer identity. In preparing the material Sage:

Ross then commented on the technical aspects. Sage supplied 6 VHS video extracts with the clips identified. The Graphics Unit at Manchester Computing, a national centre for MPEG compression, generated from these 6 MPEG files 1.8-4.4 Mb in size for 10-25 seconds of duration. As each needs to be decompressed (while the user waits), users would ultimately ask “Is it worth the wait?”, unless like Sage they had special software for the task.

As the sound element was more important that the moving element of the image, MC generated sound files that could be used with a still image. WAV sound files were generated from the MPEG videos at various levels of quality, and needed only 200-500K for the lowest quality level acceptable for human speech. They made a link from the journal article to a Web page with the 6 images and sound files.

In terms of what Manchester learned, firstly a key attribute is likely to dictate the preferred format, eg sound in this case. Secondly, they need not have settled on just one format/quality. They could have taken a representative sample and the real McCoy. The sample could be used by those with low end kit, and as a multimedia “thumbnail” for the higher quality version. SuperJournal is research: use it to try things out!

Scalability Issues – Ann Apps (Manchester)

One objective of SuperJournal was to develop scalable production processes to load large quantities of data with the minimum of manual intervention. Ann Apps developed these production processes, and commented on some of the data problems that arise that require manual intervention, and therefore affect scalability.

In terms of receiving and logging in files, the following problems arise:

Each file type presents its own special problems. The main problem for PDF files is that it's very labour intensive to change them after they are created: turn security off and thumbnails on. Links from PDF (eg to multimedia files) may always need some manual intervention, but MC intends to minimise this by using relative filenames.

The main problem with SGML is data quality: publishers should parse files before sending. For headers, they should ensure that the following minimum data elements are present: journal title/ID, volume/issue, page numbers, article title, cover date, and copyright statement. Some problems have implications for the application as well a data loading: in order to index author names, they must be tagged. Similarly, with SGML full text articles, in order to build links from bibliographic references to abstracts, the elements of the reference must be tagged.

Ann is currently doing work on the more complex aspects of full text SGML articles, eg tables and special characters. Currently character entities are translated as text, eg [alpha], as Web browsers cannot display them. She is also looking at alternative and supporting standards, eg XML/CML, HTM3/Cougar, and DSSSL.

Moving to the Future

Project Targets – Christine Baldwin (Project Manager)

As most of the day focused on where we are now and where we've been, Christine took a quick look at the next year focusing on milestones and deliverables. As a key objective of SuperJournal is to generate knowledge, there will be many reports of different types, eg:

However, SuperJournal should deliver more than knowledge, so the project hopes to deliver tangibles as well, for example:

Milestones take into consideration different dimensions of the project:

Planning the Future Research – Ken Eason (HUSAT)

The research on authors is currently in the planning stages, and Ken described the process. There are two strands to the research: to assess electronic journals and multimedia from the author's point of view, and in each case the benefits and implications for the authoring process. Selected authors of articles in SuperJournal journals will be invited to view the application, respond to a questionnaire, and participate in follow-up interviews. Some authors will be invited to submit multimedia content with their articles, to evaluate the impact on the authoring process, and to create a testbed of multimedia content for readers to evaluate.

This is the plan the project is developing currently. However, there is the conundrum that time and availability are the top priorities for readers; multimedia came rather far down the list. Though we think multimedia is an interesting area, readers and authors may not share our enthusiasm. So in designing the research, we must keep one eye on what they are telling us, and set priorities accordingly.

Dissemination and Stakeholder Review – Conrad Guettler (Cambridge University Press)

SuperJournal is about knowledge-generation, not system building. One of its main missions is the dissemination of this knowledge using a variety of techniques:

Each of the stakeholders will learn from the project and decide what action to take within their organisation. Conrad commented on this process from the personal perspective of a publisher. From his point of view, SJ is an opportunity to:

Publishers can take this into consideration when making decisions, eg to:

However, it's essential to remain aware of the potential limitations of such a project: it is a research project, not a commercial service. The scope is therefore limited: the journals covered, lack of backfiles, and geographically (the UK). These factors must be taken into consideration in assessing the results.


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Last modified: May 07, 1997