Skip to content ↓

Electronic journal system takes shape

By using a prototype electronic journal delivery system known as TULIP, anyone at MIT who wants to read or obtain an article from a collection of 38 materials science journals can do so without ever having to touch a traditional paper-bound volume.

TULIP (The University Licensing Program) is a cooperative venture between Elsevier Publishing, a Netherlands firm that produces hundreds of scientific journals in materials science and other fields, and a nine-university consortium that includes MIT.

Under an agreement between Elsevier and the schools, the publisher provides scanned images of the journal pages and citation records for search and retrieval. These files are sent over the Internet or on a CD-ROM disk in the mail, explained Suzanne Weiner, assistant engineering and science librarian.

The universities' responsibility in this experiment is to make this electronic information available to their materials science researchers. At MIT, the Libraries and Information Systems have deployed a system whereby these journals can be searched, viewed on Athena workstations (and soon on other desktop machines on MITnet), and printed. Bibliographic citations can also be saved or sent to someone else via e-mail.


The MIT system provides users with two methods of access to these bitmapped images of the journal pages. Because they are images, the pages cannot be searched for text strings within the articles. However, users can browse through issues of journals ranging from Applied Catalysis to Wear using a World Wide Web client such as Mosaic, or they can search for articles by such criteria as author or title with WILLOW, a bibliographic search client that works with TULIP and other systems. WILLOW (Washington Information Looker-upper Layered Over Windows) was developed by the University of Washington for its library information system to provide access to bibliographic databases. MIT added support for Medline (the National Library of Medicine's database of bibliographic citations), and MIT and UW have worked together to develop support for WILLOW.

The TULIP implementation team at MIT, called Bulb, consists of staff from Information Systems, the Libraries and Dr. Craig Counterman, a research associate in materials science. The team has coordinated the development and implementation of TULIP and has synchronized its effort with Elsevier and other joint projects sponsored by IS and the Libraries. TULIP is one of several efforts in the Libraries/IS umbrella program known as the Distributed Library Initiative (DLI).

TULIP development work at MIT has consisted largely of tying together various existing applications rather than creating them from scratch. "It's mostly a matter of figuring out the required pieces, gluing them together and making them work fast enough to be useful," said William Cattey, a senior analyst and programmer in Distributed Computing and Network Services. He and others involved with TULIP devised ways of searching for articles and then fetching, displaying and printing the images.

The display resolution of an Athena workstation is one-quarter that of the printers. To allow users to see a full page without scrolling, Mr. Cattey developed a "fast and dirty anti-aliasing algorithm" for a readable display of the 300-dpi (dots per inch) images on the 75-dpi workstation screens. Mitchell Charity, a research staff member of the Laboratory for Computer Science's Library 2000 project, developed a program to turn the journal table-of-contents files into HTML files so they could be accessed from the World Wide Web.

One of the things that libraries have to be aware of with projects like TULIP is the need for a large amount of computer storage space. "That's a big issue with these electronic journals," Ms. Weiner noted. Each page uses about 40K, and all the journal files at MIT currently use about 22 gigabytes, she said.

The TULIP experiment is scheduled to conclude at the end of this calendar year. In the coming months, staff members will gather usage data and evaluate the system to see how valuable it is to researchers. MIT will also need to consider economic and use issues related to providing services such as TULIP. A key issue in the experiment with Elsevier is development of reasonable economic and licensing models for the service, which provides faster, more flexible access to time-sensitive journal information than was previously possible.

PROPERTY QUESTIONSThis is a transitional period for publishers, libraries and universities because information is now being provided in both paper and electronic form. In the electronic environment, there are serious intellectual property issues which are not fully resolved; TULIP is one effort to help understand those issues and to offer real-life approaches to them. Through its participation, MIT is hoping to have some say in the creation of viable economic and intellectual property rules governing the use of TULIP.

During this experimental stage, MIT is receiving the page images of 38 journals from the TULIP group of 44. The Institute gets these journals at no charge because they correspond to existing paper subscriptions received by the Libraries. Elsevier has announced plans to add 41 more titles at a cost of the paper versions plus 10 percent. The company's goal is to offer all its journals in page image form within the next year.

"There are many things that are unsettled. This is a whole new world," said Greg Anderson, the MIT Libraries' associate director for systems and planning. "One of the interesting learning experiences in this is that in many ways, the technological pieces are much the easier. As we continue to build the system, what's rising to the forefront are complex legal and social issues." These issues of ownership, use and dissemination in the electronic arena may eventually have to be decided by Congress, he added.

To use TULIP from an Athena workstation, type and then the first time you use the system. To use the bibliographic search system, type . The table of contents can be viewed with a Web browser at the URL . Those with questions or comments can contact Ms. Weiner at x3-9367 or .

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 1, 1995.

Related Topics

More MIT News