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According to Declan Butler, writing inNature 1 earlier this year, the way scientists and clinicians obtain information will radically change as more journals move over to a full electronic format. Indeed, this will alter the nature and organisation of libraries and scientific archives such that researchers will gather information from their PCs and not set foot in the library at all. In fact, this is already happening as more and more readers obtain their reference sources by downloading abstracts and whole articles from literature databanks such as Medline and BIDS. Subscribers to many journals now have the choice of either or both hard copy and electronic format. Indications are that the latter is rapidly becoming the preferred option. The impact is enormous not only on how scientific information is retrieved and handled but on how libraries themselves operate. According to Butler, one university library in Denmark has already dispensed with hard copy altogether and only deals in electronic journals.
Obviously the extent to which this works for the scientific community is limited by the number of journals available on the web. Only a few years ago there were fewer than 100 journals online. Now there are thousands with an exponential rise in the number expected to occur over the next few years. Intriguingly, acquisition of online status is not related to impact factor. Indeed, many of the “in house” journals linked to associations or colleges are as likely to go online as other mainstream journals with the consequent increase in the chance of their being cited solely because of their accessibility online.
The British Journal of Ophthalmology is now joining the ranks of full text online journals. It is doing so through the not for profit concern HighWire Press,2 a division of Stanford University’s Green Library, whose aim is to “increase the output and quality of society journals” as Butler puts it. TheBJO is one of seven specialist journals from the BMA publishing group which will go online with HighWire Press and will be joining a group of around 100 journals including theJournal of Biological Chemistry and theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. HighWire Press is one of several online publishing groups which are actively promoting fundamental changes in the way journals are produced and processed and consequently how information is dealt with.
The web site for the BJO remains as it currently stands—www.bjophthalmol.com—and its electronic name will beeBJO. There will be a fully searchable archive from January 1997 as well as abstracts and tables of contents from earlier issues. In addition, hypertext links with other journals with HighWire Press will be available and it is expected that similar links will be available with the huge electronic resource of the Institute for Scientific Information in the near future. There will also be “customised @lerts”, which will automatically flag up items of interest in a specific field on request and the “collected resources” feature will permit rapid searches for material of a similar nature. For subscribers from outside the United Kingdom there will be the added advantage of having early access to the full text of the journal.
There is little doubt that progress of this type will greatly assist in coping with the volume of information that is flooding through the pages of an ever increasing number of journals. Readers, once adjusted to the new format, will find it very acceptable and remarkably simple to use. Communication, which is after all the basis of science, will once more be facilitated.