UKOLN AHDS Providing Access To Full Text Journal Articles


In 1996, the BIDS [1] team launched a new service called JournalsOnline. The service was one of the first to provide a single point of entry to electronic versions of articles published in academic journals by more than one publisher. The service was a development of two initiatives, both of which emerged out of the 1993 Higher Education Libraries Review [2] more commonly referred to as the "Follett Report".

The first of these was eLib [3] whose aim was to fund a variety of experiments which would collectively make progress in the sphere of electronic access to library materials.

The second was an experiment known as the Pilot Site Licence Initiative [4] which was designed to try and find a way of stabilising the problem of rising journal subscription costs and to sponsor experiments in providing network access to the full text of these journals.

The BIDS JournalsOnline service brought together these two initiatives into one service. In 1998 management responsibility for BIDS passed to the newly created company known as Ingenta, and JournalsOnline was renamed IngentaJournals.

The Problem Being Addressed

By the mid 1990s it was common for students and researchers carrying out literature searches to have searched one or more of the growing number of networked bibliographic databases to identify an article of interest. Having discovered an article they wished to read, they had to note down the reference and either try to find a physical copy of the journal containing the article in their local library, or ask the library to order a copy under arrangements commonly known as 'inter-library loan'. In practice this often meant ordering (and paying for) a copy from the British Library's Document Supply Centre. The costs were either covered by the library's budget, or recovered from the enquirer's department.

Around that time, some of the larger publishers were beginning to establish their own Web sites which provided network access to electronic versions of their journals.

The challenge was to find a way of enabling end-users to find articles in these journals, given that they were unlikely to know which publisher would be likely to own journals covering their particular area of interest.

Approaches Taken

JournalsOnline was a synthesis of two separate activities involving the BIDS team: the eLib-funded Infobike project and the Pilot Site Licence Initiative.


BIDS was a successful applicant for an eLib grant to develop a system for online access to a range of electronic journals from a variety of different publishers. The project, with the rather unlikely title of Infobike [5], had a remit to develop and test in general service a system architecture that would allow end-users (as opposed to intermediaries such as librarians) to identify articles of interest by searching or browsing bibliographic databases or publishers catalogues, to check on the status of the enquirer in relation to institutional subscription rights, and to deliver the full text article, either free of charge or for an on-screen payment.

The original partners in the project included Academic Press, Blackwell Science, CALIM (the Consortium of Academic Libraries in Manchester), ICL and the Universities of Keele, Staffordshire and Kent.

Pilot Site Licence Initiative (PSLI)

This initiative was the outcome of discussions which took place in 1994 between a small number of publishers and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The result was a three year experiment (later extended) involving four publishers - Academic Press, Blackwell Science, Blackwell Publishing and the Institute of Physics Publishing. These publishers offered access to their entire journal collection for between 60% and 70% of the normal price. BIDS submitted a proposal to provide a single point of access to the material from the PSLI publishers and three of the four (IOPP declined) agreed to participate.


By taking the technology that was developed under the Infobike project, and combining it with the material that was covered by the PSLI proposal, BIDS was able to create an entirely new service which was christened JournalsOnline. This was launched in November 1996.

The service consisted of a merged publishers' catalogue of bibliographic details of published articles, including titles, authors, affiliations and the full text of any available abstract. Access to the catalogue was set up so that it could be searched either as a registered user or as a guest user. Alternatively the 'contents pages' of journal issues could be browsed to identify articles of interest.

When the user requested the full text, the administration software checked their status. If s/he was registered as belonging to a site that had a subscription to the electronic form of the selected journal, the article was delivered immediately to the screen — typically as a PDF. If the user was from a site that did not subscribe to the selected title, they were given the option of paying for the article, either by account (if one has been set up) or by credit/debit card. Similarly, guest searchers were given the option of article delivery with payment by credit card.

Bibliographic Databases

A further development was to take existing bibliographic database services, such as the original BIDS ISI service or IBSS service, and use these for the resource discovery phase. The search systems carried out a check to see which, if any, of the bibliographic search results matched articles in the full text catalogue. Where there was a match, the user was shown a hypertext link to follow to the full text. Special 'fuzzy matching' software was used to cater for minor discrepancies between the titles provided by indexing services such as ISI, and the titles supplied by the publishers.

Resource limitations meant that it was impractical to carry out a subscription status check for every search hit, so the 'full text' link only meant that the article existed in full text form in the collection. Accessibility could only be tested by the user following the link — the system would then carry out the subscription check and either offer to deliver the full text (usually PDF) or sell a copy of the article.

Lessons Learnt

There were numerous issues uncovered by these experiments. There isn't space in this short document to describe all of these in detail, though a number of articles have been published covering many of them. The following summarises some of the major ones.

The myth of the one-stop-shop

One of the original goals of the JournalsOnline service was to provide a one-stop-shop, a single web entry point which was the network equivalent of a well-stocked library. From here it should be possible to find 90% of the material needed to support teaching and research.

The reality has turned out to be a bit different. There are tensions between the requirements of the players, including libraries, funding agencies, commercial publishers, and academic researchers. Each has a different ideal solution and optimum economic model. JournalsOnline explored one model, namely a service largely paid for by commercial publishers to provide a shop window for their material. They are also charged for hosting the full text where this is part of the contract.

In 1998 the JISC awarded the National Electronic Site Licence Initiative (NESLI) managing agent contract to a consortium of MIMAS and Swets Blackwell. Part of their remit was to provide another resource discovery service for searching and retrieving electronic articles. Many of the journals covered by NESLI continued to be available in parallel via JournalsOnline.

In the meantime libraries continue to complain about the high costs of journals (paper and electronic), while commercial publishers say that their costs have risen because of the growing amount of material submitted for publication and the additional costs of parallel publishing. At the same time researchers want peer-group recognition for their work in the recognised leading journals in their sphere (usually commercially published), but also want free and instant access to everyone else's publications. They would also prefer to be able to find them with only one search operation (the Google effect).

A number of major publishers have developed their own end-user services, and there has been a growing tendency for smaller publishers to be taken over by, or merge with, their larger peers. While this is going on, parts of the research community are testing out new models of publishing, including self-publishing, institutional publishing and pre-print publishing.

So the original goal of JournalsOnline of providing the user community with a genuine one-stop-shop was unsuccessful. It did however (and still does in the form of the IngentaJournals service) provide an extremely useful service for identifying and delivering a large body of full text material.

Commercial publishing vs community initiatives

As noted earlier, commercial publishing is only one possible model for exposing the results of research. There are numerous experiments for alternative models being carried out, including self-publishing on the Web, publishing of their research output by individual institutions, and pre-print archives. Some references for more information about this work are listed at the end of this article [6], [7], [8].


An apparently growing problem for teachers in higher and further education is the ease with which network publishing has made it possible for students, especially undergraduates, to copy sections of material from already published articles and to portray the work as original. The JISC has set up a unit to provide advice and guidance on this difficult issue [9].

Migrating a project into a commercial service

Not all JISC-sponsored initiatives have the potential for developing into a fully fledged commercial service. JournalsOnline and, more recently, HERON [10], have provided examples of a successful transition from funded experiment to profitable commercial product.

One lesson to learn from this is that the possibility of eventual commercialisation should be thought about whenever a new JISC project is commenced. If it is thought likely that the resulting service could have a commercial application, then even greater care needs to be taken with issues such as choice of development platform and the integration of community-developed material which may have been made available in the spirit of mutual sharing.

Another issue to consider is who owns the intellectual property rights of any software, data or other products that may emerge from a project. Even if the JISC has provided funds for the project, the IPR typically belong to the major grant receiving organisation. But you should check carefully to see what the situation is with your project.


  1. BIDS,
  2. Joint Funding Council's Libraries Review Group: Report,
  3. eLib: The Electronic Libraries Programme,
  4. Report on Phase I of the Evaluation of the UK Pilot Site Licence Initiative,
  5. Infobike,
  6. ePrints UK, RDN,
  7. BioMed Central Agreement, JISC,
  8. Focus on Access to Institutional Resources (FAIR) Programme, JISC,
  9. JISC Plagiarism Advisory Service,
  10. Welcome to HERON,

Contact Details

Terry Morrow

Phone: +44 1373 830686
Email: tm_morrow AT

Terry was Director of the well-known BIDS service from 2000 until September 2003. Previously he had been the Marketing and Training Manager for BIDS from the beginning of the service in 1990. He is now an independent consultant and a member of the UK Serials Group Executive Committee.