D-Lib Magazine
January 1996
ISSN 1082-9873

Project Briefings and Updates


A Project in the UK to develop multimedia journals

Contributed by:

David Pullinger
Macmillan Magazines Ltd

Christine Baldwin
Information Design & Management

SuperJournal is a project in the Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib), reported on in the December 1995 issue of this magazine, and is supported over three years by the Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Councils and DENI. It is a major collaboration {between} among publishers, universities, and libraries to develop multimedia electronic journals and answer the key questions about successful electronic publishing:

What do readers want from electronic journals?

SuperJournal will develop a wide range of journals in the sciences and social sciences, and determine the features that readers feel add greatest value in their subject disciplines.

What do authors want from electronic journals?

SuperJournal will encourage authors to submit new types of content with their articles and explore how multimedia features can enhance the communication of their research.

What factors are involved in scaling production up from single journals to large volumes?

SuperJournal will develop production and delivery models for publishers for scalable distribution of electronic journals in a network environment.

How can libraries make electronic journals available to their readers cost effectively?

SuperJournal will develop technical and organizational models for libraries to provide electronic journals to readers and provide user support.


SuperJournal brings a consortium of publishers together with leading universities in a collaborative environment to determine the success factors for electronic journals and to develop viable models for network publishing in the future.

Project participants are:

The SuperJournal Consortium includes some 20 society, university press, and commercial publishers. The publishers will plan strategic aspects of the project, contribute their journals, plan the multimedia features, and supply the content in electronic form.
The University of Manchester will perform the production to assemble the electronic journals, develop the host environment to make the electronic journals available to user sites, provide systems for security and user access, and develop the programs for data collection and analysis.
HUSAT Research Institute at Loughborough University of Technology, in conjunction with the Department of Library and Information Science, will conduct the user evaluation studies, focusing on the factors that influence usage, and the strategies that readers employ when interacting with the electronic journals.
User Communities: Leading university libraries will make the electronic journals available to their readers, provide user support, and participate in the evaluation studies. The proposed libraries include University of Birmingham, Cambridge University, De Montfort University, Heriot-Watt University, University College London, London School of Economics and Political Science, Oxford University, University of Ulster, and University of Warwick.

The success of SuperJournal lies in collaboration. The publishers will work with the universities and their journal Editorial Boards to plan the functionality of the electronic journals, identify multimedia features, and arrange for authors to submit multimedia content. The publishers will work with technical experts at the universities and software vendors to develop the electronic journals and a production environment for assembling them. The journals will be mounted on a host server and delivered using the JANET and SuperJANET networks to end users at library test sites. University experts will plan and carry out an extensive programme of user feedback and testing.

The Journals

SuperJournal will develop a wide range of electronic journals in the sciences and social sciences based on well-established refereed printed journals. To develop a critical mass of content, SuperJournal will develop clusters of electronic journals in key subject areas, for example:

  • Molecular genetics and proteins
  • Polymer science and physical chemistry
  • Communication and cultural studies
  • Political Science
  • Computing
  • All journals included in the project will be peer reviewed publications with established reputations as printed products. Journals will be selected for their multimedia potential and relevance to the research excellences of the user communities. Selection will be iterative over the life of the project, in order to maximize benefit to the user communities. Some 50 electronic journals are planned, and the list will expand as new functionalities are explored and user preferences emerge.

    Multimedia Features

    Scholarly journals publish the latest research results, but their potential is limited by what can be communicated by print on paper. Electronic delivery, particularly in the broadband environment of SuperJANET, allows new types of content to be included with the article and for it to be manipulated by the user in different ways.

    Electronic delivery allows users to search and browse for articles of interest, display text and graphics, and follow hypertext links to related information. SuperJournal will build on these concepts to develop true multimedia journals with new content relevant to each subject area and new features to manipulate the content. For example:

    Chemistry journals can display complex chemical structures as 3-dimensional molecular graphics that can be rotated in space.
    Computing journals can deliver the programs and routines the articles describe, and include simulations to illustrate new techniques.
    Journals on communication and cultural studies can include videos and sound recordings to support research findings.
    Journals in all subject areas reporting data from experiments or statistical studies can supply these results as usable databases.

    Multimedia functionality has the potential to change the way academics communicate their research to the science and social science community, and to establish an interactive bond between author and user. This combined with delivery of articles to a wider audience using electronic networks, can substantially increase the impact of reported research.

    Software and Standards

    As SuperJournal will be developing publishing and library models for the future, technical development will be based on some important principles: off-the-shelf software, standards, open systems, and scalable solutions.

    Off-the-Shelf Software: The electronic journals will be built using off-the-shelf development tools, and functionality will be provided with off-the-shelf search, browse, graphics, multimedia, and user interface software.

    Standards: SuperJournal will take advantage of industry standards for preparing the journal files in standard formats (eg SGML, PDF, HTML, and GIF) and JISC standards for storing them in a host environment. A similar approach will be taken for network delivery, using established standards and protocols for Internet and World Wide Web.

    Open Systems: User communities in universities have a diversity of hardware, firmware, internal networks, and technical resources for their support. A key principle of SuperJournal is that user communities should be able to use their existing infrastructures to access and use the electronic journals, with only minor enhancements where necessary.

    Scalable Solutions: SuperJournal will develop and test production, distribution, and usage models on a small scale. Models will be developed using the principle that success in the long run depends on models that are scalable to large volumes, expandable to include new features, and viable in an international context. SuperJournal will take advantage of new formats, tools, and standards as they emerge during the three year project timescale. The journal applications and their features will evolve over time, but these guiding principles will remain in place.

    Software Vendor Participation

    SuperJournal will invite software developers and vendors to participate in the project and provide software tools and applications in the following areas:

  • Search and retrieval software with leading edge features
  • Graphical user interfaces for viewing structured text (eg SGML, HTML), pages, and graphics
  • Internet and World Wide Web browsers
  • Hypertext applications
  • Multimedia applications and development tools
  • Format conversion tools for text or graphics (e.g. SGML-to-HTML).
  • Initially, SuperJournal will focus on translating the journals into an electronic environment, traditional types of content (text, illustrations, equations, etc), and the core functionality that maximizes use, eg searching, browsing, hypertext linking, screen presentation, and ease of use. Over time, authors will submit new types of content, and the emphasis will increasingly focus on multimedia elements (sound, animation, video, etc), interactivity, and integration with other applications in the user's environment.

    Many different software tools and applications will be of interest over the life of the project as authors, readers, publishers, and librarians explore the potential of electronic journals in an iterative way, share feedback with developers, and exploit new tools as they become available. Of particular interest are applications that will enhance the concept of the journal for communicating research, and applications that can be configured to the requirements of different subject disciplines.

    Interested vendors should contact the Project Manager, Christine Baldwin, indicating why they are interested in the project, and whether they would like to contribute software early on or later in the project timescale. They should send documentation on the software, including functional and technical specifications, and indicate how it would contribute to the project's objectives and overall success.

    Technical Infrastructure

    The University of Manchester will develop a host environment to make the electronic journals available to user sites using the SuperJANET network. The host model allows user community sites to participate cost effectively, as all files and applications are stored and managed centrally. Initially SuperJournal will use a single host model, and later explore a distributed host model. A distributed model of hybrid hosts (universities and publishers) is a likely model for the long term future. Files will be mounted on the Cray Superserver CS6400 running Solaris 2.3 (to be upgraded to Solaris 2.5 during the course of the project). A suitable database management system will be selected, and the host database designed for storing the electronic journals and multimedia elements, and managing the applications.

    Technical staff at the Manchester Computing will perform the necessary data conversion on the journal files, add them to the host database, and structure them for use with the various search engines and presentation interfaces.

    Manchester Computing will develop the procedures for user registration and authentication. Access will be by individual username and password following established models of their MIDAS service.

    Evaluation Studies

    SuperJournal focuses on success factors: What constitutes a successful electronic journal? What factors in human behaviour, the organizational and technical environment, and functionality contribute to success? HUSAT at Loughborough University of Technology will design the research to answer these questions.

    The methodology will be based on an action research paradigm, identifying factors that influence usage, and adjusting parameters during the course of the project to optimize the service and maximize usage. The project will take advantage of previous research, and initially develop a hypothetical model to explain usage and identify variables to investigate. The main independent variable is technology delivery, a product of the electronic journal delivered and the internal technical services of the university. Models will be developed for the service structure at each of the user sites and variables identified.

    The dependent variables will be the extent of use and non-use, and the strategic character of the use -- what strategies readers employ for access, searching, reading, printing, etc. Quantitative and qualitative data will be collected and analyzed. Usage of the journals will be tracked for over 2 years, and surveys in the universities will assess changes in contextual variables and seek explanations of the usage patterns found.


    The SuperJournal project starts in December 1995 and is funded for three years.

    Initial activities will include agreement on the list of journals, rollout of multimedia features, software vendors and packages, and submission formats for journal files.

    This will be followed by design and development of the storage, production, and host delivery environment. In parallel the user evaluation studies will be planned.

    In 1996 the first electronic journals will be delivered to the user community library sites, and a full programme of user promotion and user training will begin. Usage of the journals will be monitored and evaluation of the journals and their functionality will be conducted until the end of the study. As the project progresses, an expansion plan will be developed to add additional journals, features, and user communities.

    The project will result in a series of reports which will be widely circulated.

    Results and Benefits

    Success through collaboration: The publication chain involves authors, publishers, libraries, and readers. SuperJournal provides a framework for groups of academics, publishers, and libraries to work together to translate printed journals into new electronic paradigms and redefine the value chain from author to user. No single publisher or university is likely to achieve this alone.

    Success factors: Electronic publication has enormous potential to change the way scientists and social scientists interact, but only if we understand what authors and readers want, what electronic features enhance the value of information, and how preferences vary by subject discipline.

    Success models: For multimedia electronic journals, for scalable electronic publishing, and for cost effective library services.

    Better value from research: Understanding how multimedia content and electronic delivery can increase the impact of academic research and deliver it to a wider audience.

    Wide dissemination of the results of the project.

    The SuperJournal Consortium

    In 1992 the SuperJANET Project on Information Resources (SPIRS) invited 9 UK publishers to demonstrate how the SuperJANET network could be used for electronic publishing. The publishers formed an informal consortium, secured œ50,000 in funding from the British Library Research and Development Department, and in Spring 1993 developed a demonstration system illustrating what electronic journals might be like. The demonstrator included some 30 articles from 13 journals, that could "viewed" with different software interfaces, including AT&T's Right Pages, EBT's Dynatext, and Oracle Book. The project was led by Dr David Pullinger and is described in his book, "The SuperJournal Project: Electronic Journals on SuperJANET", British Library R&D Report 6126, published in 1994 by Institute of Physics Publishing.

    In 1994, the SuperJournal consortium expanded to include 20 members. These publishers have continued to collaborate on a pre-competitive basis, exploring a range of issues related to electronic publishing, including standards, technical issues, user issues, and copyright. In 1995, together with the Loughborough University of Technology and the University of Manchester, they submitted a successful proposal for the present project to FIGIT. The SuperJournal consortium includes:

  • Academic Press Ltd
  • Blackwell Publishers
  • Blackwell Science Ltd
  • CAB International
  • Cambridge University Press
  • Carfax Publishing Company
  • Chapman & Hall Ltd
  • Churchill Livingstone Ltd
  • Elsevier Science Ltd
  • Institute of Physics Publishing Ltd
  • Institution of Electrical Engineers
  • Macmillan Publishers Ltd
  • Oxford University Press
  • Rapid Science Ltd
  • Routledge Ltd
  • Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Sage Publications Ltd
  • Society for Endocrinology
  • Taylor and Francis Ltd
  • John Wiley and Sons Ltd
  • The Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib)

    SuperJournal is a project in the Electronic Journals division of the Electronic Libraries programme (eLib). The Joint Information Services Committee of the Higher Education Funding Councils and DENI established eLib as a direct result of the Follett Report on the future of libraries. The programme has a budget of about œ15 million over three years and has so far funded some 30 projects. eLib objectives include the use of IT to improve delivery of information through increased use of electronic library services, to allow academic libraries to cope better with growth, to explore different models of intellectual property management, and to encourage new methods of scholarly publishing.

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