Electronic Journals: impact on scholarly communication, user and library

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Electronic Journals: impact on scholarly communication, user and library

Shiv kumar*

Electronic journals are increasing day by day. The changes are taking place in infrastructure of libraries due to electronic journals’ related issues. This paper deals with different aspects of electronic journals and their impact on users, authors, indexing services, scholarly communication, accessibility and libraries. The academics are still in the process of adopting this medium. There is variation in the use of electronic journals from discipline to discipline. The electronic journal publishing is growing. Researchers have positive attitude towards electronic journals. Budget allocation for journals has been shifting from print to electronic form, which has necessitated a change in collection development policies of libraries. The article describes all such aspects of electronic journals.


Scholarly communication is a social phenomenon whereby intellectual and creative activity is passed on from one scholar to another. It can be formal and informal. Formal communication is when contributing to the journals and informal when presenting the results in the conferences and other meetings. Scholarly communication has many roles as making formal knowledge available to the public, developing new knowledge and teaching. The four major functions of scholarly journals are dissemination of information, quality control, canonical archives and recognition of authors (Rowland, 1997). Generally, the communication of research findings between scientific communities is through the scholarly journals. Scholarly journals provide high quality validation through peer review. Strong journals are identified on the basis of learned editors and society to which they belong.
The journal is the primary medium of scholarly communication. It has a long history. Journal des Scavans was the first scholarly journal published in 1665. Journals contain original research. The term “journal” is frequently used for periodical, particularly more learned periodicals. It is a publication issued in successive parts, intended to be continued indefinitely. Typically it is a periodical that contains a collection of articles by different authors, often in a particular subject. Journals are also known as periodicals or serials. Journals are often published by a professional association, society, foundation, commercial publishers or institute. A refereed journal is one in which an article will be evaluated by editorial board of a journal for accepting for publication.

* Library Assistant, Panjab University Library, Chandigarh

** Deputy Librarian, Panjab University Library, Chandigarh

Refereed journal is also known as peer-reviewed journal. According to Webster’s Third International Dictionary of English, journal is defined as “a periodical publication, especially dealing with matters of current interest, often of official or semi-official publication of special groups. In AACR2 (1978) “the definition of serial is a publication in any medium issued in successive parts bearing numerical or chronological designation and intended to be continued indefinitely”.

The recent developments in the field of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) have changed each and every aspect of the world scenario. It has permeated the publication industry also leading to the change in medium of scientific communication. The format of scholarly publications has changed from print to electronic media now-a- days. Today’s libraries provide electronic access to a wide variety of resources including indexes, full-text articles and complete journals.

Electronic journal is any journal which is available in electronic or computerized form on the internet or on CD-ROM. Electronic journals have been called by various names such as virtual journals, paperless journals, online journals, scholarly electronic journals, networked journals and CD-ROM journals (Sasse and Winkler, 1993). In simple words, electronic journal is one which is available electronically and used with the help of computer and other communication technologies (Singh and Krishan Kumar, 2005). Electronic journal may be defined broadly as any journal, magazine, newsletter or type of electronic serial publication which is available over internet. Electronic journals are mostly available via Web. Out of the electronic journals which are available on Internet, some are delivered over the World Wide Web and by e-mail. Some of them are in ASCII text and in HTML WWW pages. Some journals use PDF (portable document format). The editorial process is the same for electronic journal and print journal. The articles submitted by individuals are peer-reviewed by editorial board members for accepting and rejecting. After completing this process, journals are published.

Harrod’s Librarian’s Glossary and Reference Book (Prytherth, 2000) defines “electronic journal” as strictly a journal in which all aspects of preparation, refereeing, assembly and distribution are carried out electronically. In other words, an electronic journal is one where writing, editing, refereeing and distribution of items are carried out electronically without any paper intermediaries.


The electronic journals are available in many forms. The criterion for their classification is format of publishing, distribution and free access. The free access may be partial or complete to the journal. They can be classified according to the content also. If the content is of pure academic nature, then they are known as scholarly journals.

Mainly they can be classified according to media of publication which is as follows:


These are those journals which are available in electronic format with print version. Some publishers provide printed journals with online access on nominal charges. Some journals are available in electronic version and print version is available on some extra charges. Some electronic journals are free with print version.


Electronic-only journals are those that are originally published in electronic format. They have no print counter parts. They may be on payment of subscription or free.


Open access journals follow same procedure of peer-review as traditional jounals.The articles in open access are peer-reviewed before the publication. These journals allow copyright to authors or publishers. The journals are published to make available their articles free online immediately after the publication. This is also called as the “golden” road open access. Some of the publishers providing open access journals are BioMed Central and Public Library of Science.


The objective of paper is to study the impact of electronic journals on:

  • Attitude of users towards use of electronic journals

  • Attitude of authors at the time of contribution to electronic journals

  • Quality of information

  • Indexing services

  • Scholarly communication

  • Accessibility

  • Management of journals in libraries.




In early 1990s there were only a few electronic journals. There were 27 electronic journals in 1991.The strength of electronic journals had increased from 3634 titles in 1997 to 8000 titles in 1999 (Okerson, 2000). The use of electronic journals depends on many factors such as disciplines, age of users, types of institutions and awareness about electronic journals. Users have different attitudes towards journals in print and electronic format. There is variation in the use of electronic journals by academics. The academics are still in the process of adopting this medium. There is also a variation in the use of electronic journals from discipline to discipline. The users are using electronic journals more in sciences than in social sciences. According to Tommey and Burton (1998) because of less familiarity of technological knowledge of electronic resources, academics have to spend more time in accessing electronic journals.

The electronic journals have affected the processing of information for research. With the advent of electronic journals there are different approaches in the use of research journal formats. Print journals were used for reading articles and scanning contents; and for printing and checking references, electronic journals were used. Users think electronic journals are easier to access and search than print journals (Sathe, et al, 2002). Age of the user influences the use of electronic journals, the higher age, the lesser use. Researchers and students are preferring electronic journals and faculty is preferring print journals. Use pattern for electronic journals varies in different institutions and working environments. Tenopir (2003) found that users of medical institutions are using more electronic journals.

There is a significant change in the acceptance of electronic journals in the recent times. Hallmark (2004) found that majority of scientists adopted conventional ways for access and retrieval of new citations in the field of geosciences and chemistry during late 1990s. He further found the rapid evolution of electronic journals have been used for internet access and retrieval of recent articles of journals in the field of geosciences and chemistry.


Electronic journal publishing is growing. Even then some authors do not consider electronic journals as legitimate publication in spite of electronic journals being peer-reviewed rigorously by an editorial board. Many researchers have misgivings about format and intellectual quality of electronic journals. They think that electronic journals are of lower quality than print journals. Researchers are in dilemma where to publish their research output whether in print journals or electronic journals. Generally authors prefer to submit their manuscripts to electronic journals which have print version. Only few authors contribute to electronic–only journals because they have apprehension about their stability. Author’s opinion is that submitting papers to print journals is more beneficial because electronic journals may cease to continue (Kiernan, 1999). Another reason for non-submission of papers to electronic journals is that authors are not confidant that promotion committee will accept electronic publication at par with print publication. Their views are that electronic journals will not give much credit to their promotion and tenure. An interesting point is that researchers have positive attitude toward electronic journals as a reader but they are conservative while choosing where to submit their articles.
The use of print journals is decreasing. Patrons prefer to access online journal even if it has print counterpart. The convenience is major factor for selecting articles in electronic journal. They are preferring the articles which are easily available over the quality (Groote & Dorsch, 2001). Today a number of scholarly free electronic journals are available on World Wide Web. Users search information in subscribed electronic journals or scholarly free electronic journals by keywords, titles and authors limiting their choice to what is available easily. They do not want to take pain to locate print journals on shelves because it requires the time for browsing and to search information needed by them. Thus users are sacrificing qualitative information at the cost of convenience. In developing countries, whatever is freely available on the Web is being cited more.
Indexing plays a crucial role for gaining acceptance of journals. Indexing services face the problems to cover electronic journals. The fleeting nature of medium and unstable websites are some of the obstacles to cover electronic journals in indexing services. Electronic journals do not follow the procedures of print journals as electronic journals bring out articles as soon as they are ready for publication and do not wait regular issues. Some electronic journals allow authors to modify the text of articles after publication.
Some journal publishers and authors post abstracts of their own journals in the public domain. A large number of electronic journals are available free on internet and scholars search information in electronic journals and abstracts by keywords, titles, authors, etc, and search engines like Google make an index of a number of related articles. In this way user also gets information on interdisciplinary subjects.

Major indexing services are indexing electronic journals. Few electronic titles which are not included in indexing services have been found out and cited heavily by scholars. (Llewellyn, et al., 2002). Researchers may not find articles in print journals if not indexed which are valuable to their research. In electronic journals users are finding articles without going through indexing services. Due to the above reasons dependence on indexing services is decreasing. Electronic journals also affected the value of indexing services.

551 Connecting Authors and Users
Journals play a crucial role in scholarly communication. The electronic journals help in promoting scholarly communication. The scholarly publishing has made direct connection between authors and users. Some references cited in articles of electronic journals have hyperlinks. Clicking these links reader can read original articles. Some of journal publishers and some authors also post abstract or full text of research articles of electronic journals on Internet. Some authors provide their e-mail addresses in abstract or full text of research articles of electronic journals through which user can make contact with authors to get full text of articles electronically (Kling & Covi, 1995). E-mail addresses were also available in print version but due to non-availability of electronic format authors were unable to transfer articles to users.
552 Scholarship and Research
Electronic journals influenced the scholarship and research. The influence of electronic journals can be examined by the technique of citation analysis i.e. the journal articles and its references. Citation is a pivotal part of scholarly communication process. Many researchers have done studies on citation analysis of electronic journals from 1996 to 2004. In the beginning authors found that electronic journals had not played any role in scholarly research in their respective fields. The impact of electronic journals increased in scholarly research in their respective disciplines slowly with time. Now researchers are discovering articles in electronic journals and citing them in their research. Electronic journals are becoming component of scholarly research process and playing a role in the advancement of knowledge (Harter, 1996; Harter, 1998; Fosmire and Yu, 2000; Llewellyn et al, 2002; Hallmark, 2004).
56 Accessibility
Access to published research has become easy through electronic journals. A number of publishers are providing keyword search through electronic journals. User can access any time electronic journals anywhere via computer. At a time a number of users can access electronic journals if subscription is multi user or free on World Wide Web. Electronic journals are made available by vendors or publishers through the internet. Patrons can access online journals from their home according to license agreement. In this case there is no need to visit library.
There are many issues for libraries providing access to electronic journals such as computer technology, access through aggregators and publishers. For many years, a number of electronic journals were available on CD-ROM which required considerable computer hard wares and technical expertise for accessing and subscribing them. Now electronic journals are coming via internet because of ease of access and wider acceptance of web technology. Publishers and aggregators are providing access to online journals through assigning passwords to library patrons or IP addresses of universities and institutions. It is difficult to maintain a set of distinctive passwords for libraries and service providers (Kling & Covi, 1995) .Training to users is required to deal with online journals. The users who are accustomed to use print format do not feel it easy to access electronic journals.

The access via IP address to university is restricted to university campus and reader can not access online journals at home .The speed of internet connection at home is generally not fast to enable quick transmission of networked electronic journals. Sometimes servers of publishers and universities are down. The URLs of some journals do not work accurately. Sometimes a single journal has a number of the URLs. To decide which webpage is home page is difficult for librarians. Users also face problems which websites they should cite in their research. After sometime the URLs of many electronic journals cease to exist. Expired links of electronic journals also make users embarrassed

57 library management

571 Infrastructure
Electronic journals have changed the infrastructure of libraries. To provide access to electronic journals, networks, servers, computer hard wares/soft wares are required. For using the print journals all these are not required. The infrastructure of libraries is changing with time to provide access to electronic journals as new developments in hard wares and soft wares are taking place. These all demand investing a large amount of money and skilled staff for handling them.
572 Collection Development and Management

Print collection subscriptions are decreasing. Budget allocation for journals has been shifting from print to electronic form. Subscription cost per title of electronic journal has been lowered. The selection process has become more complex for electronic journals as compared to print journals because the business strategy of publishers has changed. Some journals are available in only electronic format which do not have print version. Some journals are published in both the modes and price is the same. Some times publishers charge extra payment to access electronic with print journals or vice versa. Managing both print and electronic version of same journal is double burden on staff. Each print/electronic journal is evaluated before its renewal and subscription in terms of cost and benefit to library and patrons. It is very difficult for library to decide whether a print journal should be cancelled or continued for the coming year. The subscription cost of aggregator is hard to calculate as it includes some part of database and some part of electronic journals. Considerable library staff becomes engaged to keep abreast with all offerings of electronic journals over the year. Thus subscription pattern has changed (Montgomery, 2000).

Reviewing and negotiating terms and conditions for electronic licenses is difficult task for library professionals. Once contract is decided with vendors/publishers/distributors, IP addresses are sent to them or a set of distinctive passwords to patrons have to be maintained by library staff. To keep track of day to day activities of electronic journals, skilled staff with computer knowledge to take care of new developments in computer technology is required.

The electronic journals require the activities such as measuring and changing strategies for electronic resource acquisition, developing appropriate skills in library staff, keeping in mind technological changes, making changes in budget allocations, reviewing and negotiating contracts and joining consortia. These activities require involvement of the head of institution and have affected his role.

573 Technical Processes

Electronic journals decreased workload in some areas of libraries whereas they increased workload for serials acquisition and catalogue database to provide access to electronic journals. Presently majority of libraries have developed their own websites and make available a list of electronic journals. The electronic journal collection is not stable due to link break and coverage changes and some electronic journals change their distributors. Updating the database of electronic journals is a major new issue. Every year library staff faces problems to maintain the online catalogue database as to whether cataloguing processing should be done or a list of these should be provided on library’s website due to impermanence of these journals.

There are various problems faced by the cataloguers applying catalogue rules. Applying AACR, finding out the first issue of electronic journals is a problem, which is a requisite information, according to AACR. Another big question is whether the print and electronic counterpart should be catalogued on same record or on different records separately.

574 Reference Services

Queries for reference staff have increased regarding journals. Patrons want to know whether a particular journal is being subscribed online or in print format. Patrons have many questions about the access of electronic journals or to know where they can access electronic journals. Reference staff assists in finding out electronic journals titles from online catalogues or resource available and to search articles in particular volume or issue. The workload on account of instructing users and making them aware about electronic journals and e-resources has increased.

575 Space

Print journals have been growing day by day and created the problem of space. Electronic journals solved problem of space up to some extent in stack area. A large portion of space occupied by print journals in library is saved and only little space is required for hardware. Another effect of electronic journals is that shelving is not required for them.

576 Staffing

Electronic journals and their concerned new processes have definitely increased the workload for selection and management of journals. In case of electronic journals shelving is not required whereas other staff tasks such as developing and updating library’s websites to access electronic journals have increased. If library subscribes both formats of journals i.e. print and electronic, library staff has to manage both. Clerical assignments have decreased in maintaining print journals. Computer literate and acquainted with electronic resources staff is needed to evaluate and promote electronic journals.

6 Conclusion

The electronic journals as means of scholarly communication have come of age. The recent developments in the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) have changed the format of scholarly communication from print to electronic media. Open access as a variant of electronic journals have become popular with the users, as they are published to make available articles free online immediately after the publication. There has been a significant change in the acceptance of electronic journals in recent times.

Notwithstanding the fact that some of the authors have misgivings about format and intellectual quality of electronic journals, the electronic journals publishing is still growing. As far as researchers are concerned, they have positive attitude towards electronic journals. With the Google search under keyword, author, title etc., the dependence on indexing services has decreased. Electronic journals have made easy access to published work. Libraries need to reorient themselves with new infrastructure, staffing pattern and services, for providing access to electronic journals.


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