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April 1996 Progress Report

Kickoff Meeting

A Kickoff meeting was held on 26 March to formally launch the project, and all project participants were invited to attend. The purpose was firstly to make sure everyone involved understood the project, its objectives, timescale, and the role of all participants. Secondly, it enabled everyone to meet each other, make personal contact, and explore the issues which would make the project a success from their individual perspectives.

David Pullinger, Project Director, set the scene by describing the project's history and context, and gave an overview of the project objectives and activities. Three presentations provided a framework for the actual project work: the project plan, the evaluation studies, and the technical capabilities of Manchester Computing as a host, service provider, and in user support.

This was followed by two sessions on issues from the publisher and library perspective. Representative publishers and libraries described the electronic future as they see it, the issues they feel are important, why they are participating in SuperJournal, and what they hope to learn from the project.


The publishers have developed clusters of journals in five subject areas, and agreed the titles for each cluster. The clusters are: Communication & Cultural Studies, Molecular Genetics & Proteins, Political Science, Polymer Physics, and Computer Graphics. Communication & Cultural Studies will be the first cluster made available to the user sites, followed by Molecular Genetics & Proteins.

Some work has also been done to profile the functionality of the electronic journal applications for SuperJournal. This has included the core functionality like searching, browsing, and hypertext linking, and the multimedia functionality that might be suited to each subject area. This groundwork on functionality is essential to ensure that we select the right software for the journal applications, and enable readers to interact with the content in an electronic environment as intuitively as they would with print.


Each publisher has supplied information about what types of files they currently produce, sample files, and specifications to document file formats. These were analysed by an external consultant, Alden Electronic Products, which does typesetting work for most of the publishers, and has practical experience using SGML in a production environment. Their report made recommendations on what file formats to accept, how these formats should be specified, and options for file delivery to Manchester Computing. A key area addressed was the variation among the various SGML DTDs used by the publishers, and the degree of harmonisation which might be achieved.

Subsequent discussions with Alden have allowed us to assess the optimum balance between uniformity/variation in input formats and conversion necessary in the production process. Where originally we had planned to ask all publishers to adhere to a single DTD for the project, we now feel it will be possible to allow them to continue to use their own individual DTDs. This is significant in that it will enable the project to more fully assess scalability issues within the production process.


HUSAT have prepared an evaluation strategy for the project, and the full Evaluation Plan is scheduled for June.

A provisional list of research questions is being circulated to the project partners, to focus our thinking on particular aspects of the research, to set priorities, and to assess interest in particular topics across the range of institutions involved. An outcome might be the formation of “interest groups” on particular topics, eg journal functionality, multimedia.

HUSAT are completing work on two “state of the art” literature reviews. The first is called “Factors Determining Usage of Electronic Journals” and reviews the content and results of previous studies on electronic journals. It focuses on what has been learned to date focusing on the reader's perspective. The second is called “Evaluation Methods for Electronic Journal Research” and reviews the relevant human factors methods, highlighting strengths and weaknesses, so that the suitability of each can be assessed for use in the project. Both reports will be completed in May.

Technical Development

Manchester Computing have completed training for ODB-II and have done a preliminary design for the database environment for SuperJournal. This has included defining the various data type and formats, and defining the various supporting processes, eg conversion, parsing, and data loading.

In late February a “Call for Software Vendor Participation” was publicised, and software developers and vendors were invited to submit proposals. The Call for Software was sent to some 40 vendors of application software and tools. 4 proposals have been received that merited serious consideration, and a few more are expected. Follow-up visits were made to the different vendors. Criteria were developed for evaluating the proposals, and the decision process is currently under way. Software for the first application will be selected in May.

Partner User Community Sites

In April and May the Project Manager and a researcher from HUSAT will visit each of the proposed library sites. The purpose of the visits is to:

The visits are supplemented by a technical questionnaire to profile their local technical infrastructure. On completion, a report will profile the partner user community sites, and make recommendations on the role of each site, and phasing of journal clusters. Partner sites will be asked to sign a formal agreement regarding their participation.


A brochure describing the project has been produced and circulated widely, both within the project and outside. It has proved a useful communication tool to gain support for the project within the institutions involved, eg for publishers to describe the project to their journal editors and authors, or libraries to describe the project to their faculties.

Associated with the brochure has been the creation of a project identity and logo.

Manchester Computing has developed a Web site for SuperJournal at http://www.superjournal.ac.uk/sj. This includes “public” information about the project, and will include results as they are achieved. The Web page also provides access to “private” Web pages for project participants for work-in-progress.

Numerous presentations have been given, and articles submitted for publication.

Project Planning

A first draft of the Project Plan has been prepared. This is being reviewed by the project partners, and the final version will be sent to the Steering Committee in May. Preparing the Project Plan has raised a number of issues for discussion within the project, eg how to achieve an effective project organisation, manage the decision process, create a range of useful deliverables, and identify/minimise project risks.

Terms for the Letter of Understanding for project partners have been agreed. A lawyer is translating them into a legal Agreement for signature in May.