Availability of electronic full text

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 44, No. 4, May 2002, Page 181 College Library

Just how many articles that BC doctors want to read are available in electronic format via the Internet? Are we closer to the dream of a collection entirely online, or is electronic publishing suffering under the same illusions that led to the nightmare of the dot.com meltdown? To answer these questions, I looked online for all of the 44 articles in the February issue of Cites & Bytes, first when the issue came out, then 2 weeks later. Had you tried to find the full text, you would have found:

In print at MLS 44
Free to the world 14
Single article purchase 10
Subscription required 9
MDConsult 10

Print only


Here is a summary of my findings:

  • All were available at MLS from issues received in print through the mail up to a month earlier.

  • 34.1% (15 of 44) were available free to College members because they were free to everyone or via MDConsult accounts (contact us for an MDConsult account) or both. This figure rose to 45.5% (20 of 44) in 2 weeks; five MDConsult articles were not immediately posted online. Four MDConsult articles were also available on free sites; one was in a journal requiring a subscription for online access.

  • Only 13.6% (6 of 44) were available only in print to MLS staff. Of these, 6.8% (3 of 44) were found on Journals@OVID, a competitor to MDConsult. Other competitors, such as EBSCO, were not checked.

  • Almost 32% (14 of 44) were free to everyone. Almost 23% (10 of 44) were available for purchase as single articles. Charges varied from US$7 per article to US$35 per article (compare 18 free articles annually, then $3 for all College members from MLS). One in five (9 of 44) required a subscription to the journal to access the online version.

  • A few (6.8%; 3 of 44) were difficult to reach because the publishers had posted them with incorrect addresses; all errors were corrected 2 weeks later.

  • Another 6.8% were guidelines not available on journal sites, but hidden on sponsoring organization sites.

  • Time to retrieve and photocopy articles from the Library stacks is approximately 3.5 minutes per article. Once a source is identified, time to access and print the electronic version is generally slightly less. However, one article was purchased as a test—it took 3 minutes to establish that it was unavailable. The next day, it took 4.5 minutes to access, obtain and input passwords and credit card information, and print.

Overall, notwithstanding the limited sample size, results indicated that articles were available electronically more slowly than print. Technical barriers were significant. A number of problems in access and in quality of posting were experienced. For someone working in a library, the print was much faster than online access simply because of the variety of sources and interfaces to be checked—as an interface, reading print in one library is efficient. For those more remote from a print collection, electronic access is preferable for immediate access, although cost may be a factor and, in some cases, prohibitive when articles are available only by subscription, not on a single pay-per-view basis. However, this survey indicates that if the need is not immediate, requesting from a library would be more reliable, cost less, and take less time than tracking down the online version.

Electronic publication, as well as improving access and convenience for readers, is also encouraging use of the literature in clinical practice. With the improved access to the literature, there is a growing expectation that practice will reflect what is known through research. It is certain that publication of clinical research will be dramatically changed in a few years. The changes will probably not be as dramatic as the dot.com meltdown, as it is clear from this survey that a good number of articles are readily and rapidly available electronically. However, the economics and some of the technology—such as links from MEDLINE searches—are changing and the best choices not clear. Research is largely paid for from the public purse, as is much of the cost of journal publication, through library subscriptions. Is this model sustainable? Will publishers be cut out of the loop? Will libraries be? Only time will tell.

—Jim Henderson, Director
Medical Library Service
College of Physicians & Surgeons of BC

Jim Henderson. Availability of electronic full text. BCMJ, Vol. 44, No. 4, May, 2002, Page(s) 181 - College Library.

Above is the information needed to cite this article in your paper or presentation. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends the following citation style, which is the now nearly universally accepted citation style for scientific papers:
Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Caplan AL, Marion DW, Palmer AM, Schiding JK, et al. Solid-organ transplantation in HIV-infected patients. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:284-7.

About the ICMJE and citation styles

The ICMJE is small group of editors of general medical journals who first met informally in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1978 to establish guidelines for the format of manuscripts submitted to their journals. The group became known as the Vancouver Group. Its requirements for manuscripts, including formats for bibliographic references developed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), were first published in 1979. The Vancouver Group expanded and evolved into the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which meets annually. The ICMJE created the Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals to help authors and editors create and distribute accurate, clear, easily accessible reports of biomedical studies.

An alternate version of ICMJE style is to additionally list the month an issue number, but since most journals use continuous pagination, the shorter form provides sufficient information to locate the reference. The NLM now lists all authors.

BCMJ standard citation style is a slight modification of the ICMJE/NLM style, as follows:

  • Only the first three authors are listed, followed by "et al."
  • There is no period after the journal name.
  • Page numbers are not abbreviated.

For more information on the ICMJE Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals, visit www.icmje.org

BCMJ Guidelines for Authors

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