The Use of Electronic Scholarly Journals
Models of Analysis and Data Drawn from the Project MUSE Experience at Johns Hopkins University
James G. Neal
Project MUSE is a collaborative initiative between the Johns Hopkins University Press and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins University to provide network-based access to scholarly journals including titles in the humanities, social sciences, and mathematics. Launched with electronic versions of 40 titles still published in print, Project MUSE coverage has now been expanded to include electronic-only publications. Funded initially by grants from The Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Project MUSE seeks to create a successful model for electronic scholarly publishing characterized by affordability and wide availability. It has been designed to take advantage of new technical capabilities in the creation and storage of electronic documents. It has been developed to provide a range of subscription options for individual libraries and consortia. It is based on a very liberal use and reuse approach that encourages any noncommercial activity within the bounds of the subscribing organization.
Project MUSE has been produced from the outset for usability, with a focus on user-centered features. This focus has evolved as a participative and interactive process, soliciting input and feedback from users and integrating user guidance components into the system. An on-line survey is available to all users, and libraries are providing information about the local implementation and the results of campus and community focus group discussions on Project MUSE. As the number of subscribing libraries expands and the activity grows, a valuable database of user experiences, attitudes, and behaviors will accumulate. A new feature will be the ability to track and analyze individual search sessions and to observe closely user activities. This feature will monitor the impact of new capabilities and the efficiency of searching practices.
Six models of use analysis are discussed in this paper that cover both the macro, or library-level, activity and the micro, or individual user-level, activity:
1. subscribing organizations-which libraries are subscribing to Project MUSE and how do they compare with the base of print journal customers?
2. subscriber behaviors-how do libraries respond as access to electronic journals is introduced and expanded, and in particular, how are acquisitions like Project MUSE accommodated in service and collection development programs and budgets?
3. user demography-what are the characteristics of the individual user population in such areas as status, background/experience, motivation, attitudes, and expectations?
4. user behaviors-how do individuals respond to the availability of scholarly materials in electronic format as they explore the capabilities of the system and execute requests for information?
5. user satisfaction-what objectives do users bring to network-based access to scholarly information, and how do users evaluate system design and performance and the quality of search results?
6. user impact-how are user research and information-seeking activities being shaped by access to full-text journal databases like Project MUSE?
One of the objectives of Project MUSE is to achieve full cost recovery status by the completion of the grant funding period in 1998. Therefore, it is important to monitor the growth in the base of subscribing libraries and to evaluate the impact on the print journal business of the Hopkins Press. An analysis of those libraries subscribing to the full Project MUSE database as of June 1997 (approximately 400 libraries) demonstrates a very significant expansion in the college, community college, and now public library settings with very low or no history of subscriptions to the print journals (see Table 15.1). The result is a noteworthy expansion in access to Hopkins Press titles, with 70% of the subscribing libraries currently purchasing less than 50% of the titles in print and over one-fourth acquiring no print journals from the Hopkins Press.
One explanation for these patterns of subscription activity is the purchase arrangement for Project MUSE. Over 90% of the libraries are subscribing to the full Project MUSE database of 43 titles. And due to very favorable group purchase rates, nearly 80% of Project MUSE subscribers are part of consortial contracts. The cooperative approach to providing access to electronic databases by libraries in a state or region is widely documented, and the Project MUSE experience further evidences this phenomenon.
Another objective of Project MUSE is to enable libraries to understand the use of collections and thus to make informed acquisitions and retention decisions. The impact on collection development behaviors will be critical, as libraries do indicate intentions to cancel print duplicates of MUSE titles and to monitor carefully the information provided on individual electronic title and article activity. Use information is beginning to flow to subscribing libraries, but there is no evidence yet of journal cancellations for Hopkins Press titles.
An important area of analysis is user demography, that is, the characteristics of the individuals searching the Project MUSE database. An on-line user survey and focus group discussions are beginning to provide some insights:
• The status of the user, that is, undergraduate student, graduate student, faculty, staff, community member, or library employee. As Project MUSE is introduced, library staff are typically the heaviest users, followed by a growth in student use as campus awareness and understanding expands.
• Type of institution, that is, research university, comprehensive university, liberal arts college, community college, or public library setting. As Project MUSE subscriptions have increased and access has extended into new campus settings, heavier use has initially been in the research universities and liberal arts colleges where there is either traditional awareness of Project MUSE titles or organized and successful programs to promote availability.
• The computer experience of users, that is, familiarity with searching fulltext electronic databases through a Web interface. Project MUSE users tend to be knowledgeable Internet searchers who have significant comfort with Web browsers, graphical presentations of information, and construction of searches in textual files.
• The location of use, that is, in-library, on-campus in faculty office and student residence hall, or off-campus. Preliminary data indicates that the searching of Project MUSE is taking place predominantly on library-based equipment. This finding can be explained by the inadequate network infrastructure that persists at many campuses or by the general lack of awareness of Project MUSE until a user is informed by library staff about its availability during a reference exchange.
• The browsers used to search the Project MUSE database. An analysis of searches over an 18-month period confirms that Netscape browsers are used now in over 98% of the database activity, with a declining percentage of Lynx and other nongraphical options.
Project MUSE enables searching by author, title, or keyword, in the table of contents or the full text of the journals, and across all the journals or just selected titles. All articles are indexed with Library of Congress subject headings. Hypertext links in tables of contents, articles, citations, endnotes, author bibliographies, and illustrations allow efficient navigation of the database. User searching behavior is an important area for investigation, and some preliminary trends can be identified:
• The predominant search strategy is by keyword, with author and title inquiries occurring much less frequently. This strategy can be partially explained by the heavy undergraduate student use of the database and the rich results enabled by keyword strategies.
• Use of the database is equally distributed across the primary content elements: tables of contents, article abstracts, images linked to text, and the articles. An issue for future analysis is the movement of users among these files.
• Given the substantial investment in the creation of LC subject headings and the maintenance of a structured thesaurus to enhance access to articles, their value to search results and user success is being monitored carefully.
• With the expansion of both internal and external hypertext links, the power of the Web searching environment is being observed, the user productivity gains are being monitored, and the willingness to navigate in an electronic journal database is being tested.
• Users are directed to the Project MUSE database through several channels. Libraries are providing links from the bibliographic record for titles in the on-line catalog. Library Web sites highlight Project MUSE or collections of electronic journals. Subject pages list the Project MUSE titles that cluster in a particular discipline.
• Users are made aware of Project MUSE through a variety of promotional and educational strategies. Brochures and point-of-use information are
being prepared. In some cases, campus media have included descriptive articles. Library instructional efforts have focused on Project MUSE and its structure and searching capabilities.
• Printing and downloading to disk are important services linked to the effective use of Project MUSE, given the general unwillingness of users to read articles on-line. Libraries have an interest in maximizing turnover on limited computer equipment and are focused on implementing cost-recovery printing programs.
• Project MUSE is increasingly enabling users to communicate with publishers, journal editors, and the authors of articles through e-mail links embedded in the database. Correspondence has been at a very low level but is projected to expand as graduate student and faculty use increases and as familiarity and comfort with this feature grows.
With over 400 subscribing libraries and over three million potential users of Project MUSE in the communities served, it is possible to document global use trends and the changing intensity of searching activity (see Table 15.2). The progression of use over time as a library introduces access to Project MUSE is being monitored. Early analysis suggests that the first two quarters of availability produce low levels of use, while third quarter use expands significantly.
Data is also being collected on the number of requests for individual journal titles. During the 12-month period ending August 1, 1997, the total number of requests to the MUSE database was just over nine million, for an average of just under 25,000 hits per day. For data on the average number of requests per month for individual journal titles, see Table 15.3.
In addition, data is now being collected on the number of requests for individual journal articles. During the 12-month period ending August 1, 1997, 100 articles represented 16.5% of the total articles requested. The article receiving the largest number of requests was hit 3,944 times. Two journals, Postmodern Culture (33 articles) and Configurations (22 articles), included 55% of the most frequently requested articles.
User satisfaction with the quality and effectiveness of Project MUSE will be the central factor in its long-term success. Interactions with users seek to understand expectations, response to system design and performance, and satisfaction with results. The degree to which individuals and libraries are taking advantage of expansive fair use capabilities should also be gauged.
Project MUSE has focused on various technical considerations to maximize the dependability and efficiency of user searching. Detailed information on platforms and browsers is collected, for example, and access denials and other server responses that might indicate errors are automatically logged and routed for staff investigation.
Expectations for technology are generally consistent: more content, expanded access, greater convenience, new capabilities, cost reduction, and enhanced pro-
ductivity. It will be important to monitor the impact of Project MUSE in the subscribing communities and to assess whether it is delivering a positive and effective experience for users.
It is also important to maximize the core advantages of using information in digital formats:
• accessibility, that is, delivery to locations wherever users can obtain network connections
• searchability, that is, the range of strategies that can be used to draw relevant information out of the database
• currency, that is, the ability to make publications available much earlier than is possible for print versions
• researchability, that is, the posing of questions in the digital environment that could not even be conceived with print materials
• interdisciplinarity, that is, the ability to conduct inquiries across publications in a range of diverse disciplines and discover new-but-related information
• multimedia, that is, access to text, sound, images, video in an integrated presentation
• linkability, that is, the hypertext connections that can be established among diverse and remote information sources
• interactivity, that is, the enhancement of user control and influence over the flow of information and the communication that can be integrated into the searching activity
Project MUSE will be evaluated against these quantitative and qualitative models. Its success will ultimately be determined by its support for the electronic scholarly publishing objectives outlined in the work of the American Association of Universities and the Association of Research Libraries:
• foster a competitive market for scholarly publishing by providing realistic alternatives to prevailing commercial publishing options
• develop policies for intellectual property management emphasizing broad and easy distribution and reuse of material
• encourage innovative applications of information technology to enrich and expand the means for distributing research and scholarship
• ensure that new channels of scholarly communication sustain quality requirements and contribute to promotion and tenure processes
• enable the permanent archiving of research publications and scholarly communication in digital formats