In 2000, the editorial board of Mississippi Libraries, the quarterly publication of the Mississippi Library Association, determined that Mississippi Libraries should establish an online presence. The board assigned this task to two individuals with web authoring experience. In an effort to distinguish the online version from the print, the web editors began referring to the online presence of Mississippi Libraries as eML (electronic Mississippi Libraries).
The project was begun by creating technological guidelines and considering a variety of issues, primarily access, format, maintenance, timeframe, and copyright. In addition, the web editors felt that examining other state library association journals online would help generate ideas that could be applied to eML. At that time, eight association journals (Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia) were examined and judged on the issues being considered for eML.
It has been a year and a half since Mississippi Libraries added its electronic counterpart to the arena of online state library association journals. In order to determine where eML stands, the web editors re-examined the electronic journals of the eight other associations to compare and contrast the issues considered previously. Of the eight state library journals originally examined, four are either no longer accessible online or are not currently updated.
1.0 Project Background
In 2000, the new editorial board of Mississippi Libraries, the quarterly publication of the Mississippi Library Association, considered creating an electronic counterpart to its journal. After some debate, the editorial board decided that the electronic counterpart should be an archive of the print publication. The electronic archive became known as eML (electronic Mississippi Libraries).
A recurrent issue raised by the editorial board centered on how the availability of eML would affect Mississippi Libraries print subscriptions, which are included in a person's annual dues to the association. The editorial board did not want to undermine the benefit of the print subscription to Mississippi Libraries that members' dues afforded them with the addition of a freely available electronic counterpart. However, the editorial board saw the creation of eML as an innovative step for Mississippi Libraries and wanted to proceed with the project.
In debating this issue, the editorial board determined that they had two options from which to choose. The first option involved the creation of a true electronic counterpart to Mississippi Libraries that would appear online concurrent with the print issue, available to members only and with password protection. The editorial board recognized the creation and maintenance of a members' database would be necessary to implement the password-protected solution. This proved problematic because the two web editors assigned to this task had limited time and expertise to commit to eML and the creation and maintenance of such a complex solution. In addition, the editorial board decided it did not want to limit eML access to members only. In fact, the editorial board recognized the public relations value that would result from the creation of eML, and the board wanted the rest of the library/information science community to know what Mississippi libraries are accomplishing.
The second option involved making the electronic issues available after a certain "embargo" period. This option suggested that the electronic issues be freely available to the Internet community. However, in order to maintain the benefits of the Mississippi Library Association member, the electronic issues would be available one issue behind the print, thus becoming an electronic archive instead of an electronic journal. The editorial board agreed that the second option, the electronic archive, provided the best solution.
Following the decision to create eML as an electronic archive, the web editors assigned to the project considered a variety of issues -- particularly the issues of access, format, maintenance, timeframe and copyright -- and then created technological guidelines. In addition, they felt that examining other state library association journals online would help generate ideas that could be applied to eML. At that time, eight association journals were examined and judged on the issues being considered for eML. At that time, the state associations with online journals included: Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.
2.0 Issues Considered
When designing eML, five key issues emerged that needed careful consideration. The five issues were access, format, maintenance, timeframe, and copyright. Discussions involving the full editorial board raised questions that made apparent the need to take interface design considerations into account as well.
The first questions the Mississippi Libraries editorial board asked about eML were related to access. Who can have access to the online journal, and how do they obtain access to it? The board addressed these questions before eML was put online, deciding to create an electronic archive as opposed to an electronic journal. That way, the entire Internet community would have access to the electronic archive, and they would be able to access the archive through a standard web browser.
If Internet users were to access articles in eML online and were unaware of the direct URL, the web editors recognized that users would search using any number of standard search engines. In order to facilitate the search engines locating articles from eML, the decision was made to include metadata. Each article would include metadata relating to the article topic, and each table of contents page would have standardized metadata added to it as well.
The web editors also felt it necessary to address an additional matter in conjunction with access: PDF vs. HTML. While the goal of the web editors was to make eML available to the greatest number of users possible, the editorial board hoped the primary clientele of eML would be Mississippi library employees -- regardless of membership in the Mississippi Library Association. Given the technological demographics of the state of Mississippi, the web editors felt that eML should be designed with those in mind who would be using text browsers, computers with low memory, or slow modems. Therefore, the web editors felt that simple text documents created in HTML would benefit more users than would documents scanned and presented in PDF format.
The choice between PDF and HTML then led the editors to consider the issue of and questions related to format. What should the online journal look like, and what components of the print journal should be included in the online counterpart? With the decision to mark up documents in HTML, the web editors partly addressed what the online journal should look like. However, both questions relating to format required thinking about and addressing electronic journal interface design issues.
The web editors next studied the available literature on electronic journal design. Most of the literature studied focused on the design (or lack thereof) of aggregators (McKnight) or the cognitive issues related to reading scholarly publications online (Dillon). However, it was possible to extract some ideas from the literature that were pertinent to the design of eML. This literature classified the reading process into three activities: browsing, skimming, and reading, and suggested that one of the most important things to consider when designing an electronic journal is how these three activities are impacted by technology. (Dillon, McKnight)
In addition, the web editors reviewed the literature for information about basic elements of screen design, such as contrast, balance, proportion, navigation, consistency, placement of icons, typography, and color (Nicotera).
After studying the literature, the web editors chose components of the print journal to migrate into electronic format. In order to facilitate readers' browsing of eML, the web editors decided that the table of contents was an essential feature to include, and to exploit the maneuverability of the web, the web editors chose to create each article as a separate web page and have the title of the article from the table of contents hot link to the web version of the article. As a way for the reader to associate the electronic version with the print, the web editors also chose to scan each issue's cover.
It was necessary for the web editors to consider one other issue related to format: graphics. Should graphics from the print version be included in the eML version? Because the goal of eML is to reach as many people as possible, regardless of technology, the editors decided that only graphics essential to the message of the article would be included in the eML version.
The web editors recognized web site maintenance as one of the most important issues related to eML. Maintenance issues centered on the basic upkeep of the eML website, whether or not to add links to articles, and how often links and other related information within the site should be updated.
The basic upkeep of the eML website included the maintenance of previously added issues as well as the addition of new ones. Overall, the table of contents and articles added to the eML website would be static web pages. Once the information content was there, with the exception of the verification of hyperlinks, it would not need to be changed. Maintenance of these pages would include making sure the pages remained on the server and periodically checking the article hyperlinks to make sure they were still working. The web editors addressed the addition of new issues of eML under timeframe.
The issue of linking was somewhat problematic. First of all, there was the issue of whether a link should be added merely because one existed. For example in an article that mentioned a library, should a link be put in the document to that library's web site merely because it existed? Second, there was the issue of links that came with the article. Would it be the web editors' responsibility to maintain an article's web links, and if so, how much maintenance would that involve? The web editors discussed the situation and devised a policy to deal with links. The policy is as follows:
Timeframe addresses the question of when each issue should be put online. In accordance with the agreement that eML be an electronic archive, as opposed to an electronic journal, Mississippi Libraries content would be added to the eML website one issue behind the release of the print version. For example, when the Summer issue of Mississippi Libraries came out in print format, the web editors would then begin creating the electronic archive of the Spring issue. However, it was also recognized that the web editors of eML had many other responsibilities in addition to producing eML and that Mississippi Libraries would have to be electronically archived as time permitted.
When designing and implementing eML, the final essential concern the web editors considered was that of copyright. Mississippi Libraries is a copyrighted periodical, and the editorial board agreed that its copyright should be extended to eML. Therefore, each web page associated with eML includes a simple copyright statement.
3.0 Content of eML
Once technical guidelines were created, the web editors then had to determine what elements of the print version of Mississippi Libraries to put online in eML. Based upon trends among other state library association journals, editorial board suggestions, and a desire to have a content-rich electronic publication, the web editors settled upon feature articles, columns, and book reviews.
The decision to include each issue's feature articles was assumed from the start. Each issue of Mississippi Libraries contains three to four feature articles, which make up approximately half of the journal's contents. The feature articles are the most content-rich area of the publication and address timely issues in librarianship.
Likewise, the decision to add regular columns from Mississippi Libraries did not generate opposition. There are six column editors, and in each issue of Mississippi Libraries three to four of these columns appear on a rotating basis. The columns include: "Academic Focus," focusing on issues in academic libraries; "What's So Special About…," centering on Mississippi library special collections; "Library Education Update," focusing on continuing education and helpful information for library school students attending the University of Southern Mississippi's library school; "Tech Notes, et. al," spotlighting the technical services side of librarianship; "In the Public Eye," concentrating on issues in public libraries; and "Preservation Notes," providing tips and topics concerning preservation of library materials.
It occurred to the web editors that most state library association journals include a number of book reviews. However, no state library association journal that the web editors examined included its book reviews in its electronic publication. The web editors felt the inclusion of book reviews in eML would be a fantastic promotion tool for Mississippi-related materials, would serve as a helpful collection development tool, and would give eML a unique presence among online state library journals. The web editors approached the editorial board with this suggestion and it was accepted.
4.0 Trends among Electronic Archives/Journals Examined
As previously mentioned, when the web editors began to put eML into action, eight other state library association journals online were examined. This examination led the web editors to detect certain trends among online state library association journals. Three trends were noted:
When the web editors re-examined the state library association online journals a year and a half later, the previously mentioned eight association journals were revisited. Of the eight, only four were still available for the web editors to re-assess. In addition, the web editors also located many other state library association journals online that had come into existence since the first evaluation was done. Many state library associations are currently in the process of putting up electronic counterparts to their journals or newsletters. Among the first batch of online journals, the three trends listed above were still applicable. When the web editors looked at the latest set of state library association journals to be put online, they too tended to apply the same attributes of including feature articles, columns, and news items, and offering a table of contents. Many online state library association journals continue to display their contents in PDF format rather than HTML. This trend, while not universal, remains very common.
Bringing a state library association newsletter or journal online is a vast undertaking. There are many issues to consider, and primary among these are issues of access, format, maintenance, timeframe, and copyright. Much can be learned from the literature and from examination of those newsletters or journals that have already been put online.
When originally conceptualizing eML, it was envisioned as providing more than just electronic access to articles available in the print version. eML was intended to be an electronic archive of the print journal Mississippi Libraries as well as an Internet gateway leading to broader understanding of the topics covered in the journal's articles. eML takes full advantage of the pliability of the Internet to achieve this vision.
Texas Library Journal, <http://www.txla.org/pubs/pubs.html>.
Dillon, Andrew. "New Technology and the Reading Process: With Electronic Journals, How They Look is as Important as What They Say." Computers in Libraries, vol. 11, June 1991. p. 23-26.
McKnight, Cliff. "Designing the Electronic Journal: Why Bother?" Serials, vol. 10 (2), July 1997. p. 184-188.
Nicotera, Cindi and Nicotera, Doug. "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Elements of Screen Design." Computers in Libraries Conference, 13th 1998. p. 133-135.
Copyright 2002 Renée Goodvin and Brooke Lippy