An Open Journal Framework: Integrating Electronic Journals with Networked Information Resources

This is the text of the original sheet flyer on the project issued in 1995 by the Electronic Libraries programme office. An updated version was issued in 1996.


Library users everywhere have become used to electronic information systems but their means of accessing information remains rooted in generations-old methods: traditional library indexes pointing to printed materials. Fifty years ago these methods were recognised as inadequate. 'Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing. The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association', wrote Vannevar Bush in his visionary depiction of the hypertext model of information retrieval.

Today, documents are increasingly being stored electronically and retrieved both in and outside libraries through a wide range of access points, typically desktop computers, using simple and familiar-looking interfaces. The major leap forward that electronic systems can now support is the ability to mimic Bush's thought associations. Modern hypermedia technology can form a 'web of trails', or links, not just between text but any form of electronic information including still or moving pictures, sound and database information. Further, these links can be made retrospectively, applying to almost any archival electronic document. Modern publishing practices have so far not been able to take advantage of these sophisticated linking methods owing to the common requirement to link different document types that may be stored in different computer formats at different geographical locations.

Until recently these distributed electronic documents were invariably difficult to find and retrieve given the vagaries of computer network protocols, but the emergence of the latest search and information service on the Internet, the World Wide Web, with its freely available browser interfaces, has dramatically simplified access. Within the academic community the Web has suddenly raised awareness and expectations of the benefits of distributing information electronically, and has profound implications for journal publishing. The Web on its own, however, is limited in its publishing capabilities for page presentation, hypertext linking, user authentication and charging, but it defines a flexible basis to which more advanced technologies can be added. It is in these areas that the Open Journal Framework project intends to provide mechanisms to combine the wider potential for networked journals that has been created by the Web with the facility for linking journal papers with other information resources.


The philosophy of the project, at the most basic level, is to provide immediate access to electronic versions of existing quality refereed journals, the information content of which includes scientific formulae, tables, diagrams and high-resolution colour photographs. Beyond that the aim is to provide powerful hypermedia linking techniques to allow naive users direct access to secondary information resources, instead of requiring them to use these resources independently. The links are created dynamically at the users' request and do not need to be explicitly embedded in the journal papers when they are authored, thus realizing the concept of the 'open' journal.

This will be achieved by making use of current hypermedia technologies, for example Adobe Acrobat for presentation, and an open hypermedia system, Microcosm, for information linking, as well as the World Wide Web. In this way access to information will be faster, with less user-based navigation in and out of separate resources, and more precise, going directly to the relevant article or section of text rather than to a table of contents. In addition, through the development of subject-expert software 'agents' the user will be offered a greater range of resources than he or she alone would normally be aware.


Initial work will focus on the Company of Biologists' print-based journal Development which will be made available in Acrobat format through the World Wide Web. The added value which the project aims to deliver is in the mechanisms provided to allow subscribers to move between the journal articles and other pertinent network-accessible information resources such as gene sequence databases. The hypermedia link services layer will provide the ability to establish this open functionality.

Once this framework has been established, its scope will be extended to other publications, and it will be made available to other publishers enabling them to apply it to their materials. The end product will be an Open Journal Framework: a combination of document server and hypermedia client technologies which allow customised access to a range of secondary information resources from a central primary source. This will include a Web-based distribution system for various journals' contents, with a document management system allowing various methods of access - by author, keyword, similarity of content - to each document.

For each journal a 'published package' of a formatted electronic version and a set of link databases that are specific to the articles of that journal will be created. The software agents will be configurable and hence usable for other open publications in different subject areas. To interpret the bibliography entries used by various journals, a bibliography agent will be developed to return referenced articles from existing on-line sources.

The Open Journal Framework could easily be extended to provide guided or free searching through a prepared database to create a powerful learning environment. Using expert system technology, the software agents become 'intelligent' tutors to direct students through material available on the network. The Company of Biologists is at present negotiating with other publishers to allow the use of resource material, such as standard texts, to complement the content of their journals for teaching purposes. The benefits of the project therefore extend beyond electronic libraries for research and into customised teaching and learning environments.


The hypermedia link service layer between the journal articles and the secondary information sources will be developed at the University of Southampton, the home of the Microcosm project. This is an 'open' hypermedia system in that it enables multimedia resource material to be accessed in its native format from any application and linked dynamically into other applications. The Multimedia Research Group will also produce the network agents for information retrieval. Professor Stevan Harnad, who is the founding editor of Psycoloquy, the first peer-reviewed electronic journal on the Internet, has recently moved to Southampton and will advise on a framework in which no parallel paper publication is maintained.

The publisher Company of Biologists, based in Cambridge, has been producing fully digitised versions of its journals, some 12 000 pages per year, many in full colour, since 1993. Postscript output files have been distilled into Adobe Acrobat format for one year of Development (approximately 4000 pages). In addition to providing the data and advising on the use of secondary sources, the Company of Biologists has expertise in providing an electronic publication in parallel with a high-quality printed journal, and will contribute experience in developing charging models and data encryption mechanisms for the new media.

The University of Nottingham has collaborated in the publication of a parallel electronic archive of an existing paper journal using Acrobat, and has acquired particular knowledge about how an Acrobat journal is used by readers. Through the CAJUN (CD-ROM Acrobat Journals Using Networks) project, a CD-ROM consisting of the entire archive of the Wiley journal Electronic Publishing --- Origination, Dissemination and Design was published in 1994. A key feature of CAJUN research has been the high degree of automation in recognising features, such as figure captions and reference citations, that are to be components of hypertext links and arranging for these links to be placed in the Acrobat version of the journal.

Further publications for testing and delivery within the framework will include the prestigious Computer Journal provided by the British Computer Society, Europe's largest professional computing society and a major publisher of journals and books.

Steve Hitchcock, Department of Electronics and Computer Science, Southampton University, Southampton SO17 1BJ. email:
April 1995

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