NASIG 2008: Managing Divergence of Print and Online Journals

Presenters: Beth Weston and Deena Acton

The National Library of Medicine spent 2007 examined the impact of content differences between print and online journals on library operations and services. They then followed up on this in 2008. In evaluating the situation, the NLM team working on this project were tasked with locating the differences between print and online, noting them, and then determining their impact.

One thing that is worth noting here is that the NLM is an archival library, by which I mean they consider it a part of their mission to retain copies of everything they collect. And, their ILL service to other libraries is considered an essential function.

Because NLM is responsible for indexing content for MEDLINE, they were able to locate the differences through the indexing workflow. They have noticed that there is anecdotal evidence of an increase in online-only content. Aside from the indexing, which will be decreasing over time, differences between print and online are discovered by patrons and reference librarians, as well as interlibrary loan staff.

The working group recommends that publishers take responsibility for identifying the version of record, and develop and implement a standard for communicating that version to subscribers. However, that’s only a start. Libraries will then need to determine how they will note that in their records, as well as workflows for following up on it.

The set that the working group looked at included 149 titles from 58 publishers, in both print and online formats, but which had additional online-only content. Data was collected for a specific set of these journals on: number of complete articles in each edition, editorials, commentary/letters, book/media reviews, advertisements, announcements/calendar items, and continuing education materials. Notifications about new issues, author correspondence information, and other extraneous content that is format-specific was not considered.

Approximately 13% of the articles were online-only, and 18% of the articles contained article-level online-only supplementary materials. Based on the one year sampling, they estimate that 12,739 articles from these 149 titles could be online-only.

One reason why there may be an increase in the divergence is due to the volume of content publishers want to provide versus the cost of printing all of it. It is likely that as the cost of publishing ejournals decreases in relation to the cost of print publishing, we will see more of this divergence.

[Side note: I really wish we would move away from the “presenting the data from my study” sessions to “here’s how I applied the data from my study” sessions.]