The American Society of Information Science (ASIS) Mid-Year Meeting in May focused on the emerging world of electronic publishing, featuring sample projects, current research, legal considerations, and the support technologies that make them all possible.
[Editor's Note: For full coverage of the ASIS meeting, see the related article, "Publishing in Cyberspace" on page 24.]
One project in particular seemed to capture the imagination of the attendees, exciting them to ask questions, and later to mob the speaker, Todd Kelley. His presentation introduced Project Muse, an electronic publishing initiative developed by the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University Press, the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins, and Homewood Academic Computing.
Kelley, the project co-founder, explained that Project Muse is "an effort to offer the Johns Hopkins University Press' publications online through the Internet with fully formatted text and graphics." Its Web home page is a new venture in electronic scholarly communication.
Providing access to a small group of journals through an easy-to-use electronic environment and then collecting data on amounts and types of use for an access and costing model are the short-term goals of Project Muse, according to Kelley, librarian for information technology initiatives. In the long run, "we are hoping to enhance the value of scholarly work and research, and control the cost of publishing scholarly journals," he said.
The fact that the project came together at all is almost miraculous, he explained, since the various units at Johns Hopkins tend to work very independently from one another. The JHU Press, the oldest in the country, never had occasion to work closely with the library, which, in turn, hand't worked on any research and development projects with the academic computing department.
In the Beginning
Kelley indicated that the project really began with the hiring of Susan Lewis, who was brought in form the Pennsylvania State University Press for her technical expertise, her knowledge of English literature, and her charge to move the Press into the electronic age. Even though the Press Journals division has both history and clout, owning two journals that go back over 100 years, its managers realized that clout was not enough; it had to move forward to keep up with the changing world of publishing.
This recognition led to the collaboration between the library, the press, and the academic computing department. Kelley indicated that then-library director Scott Bennett was instrumental in the process, encouraging the work that continued on nights and weekends.
The Library and Press initially identified four areas perceived as key to success: marketing, rights and permissions, true costs, and product pricing. Initially, electronic versions will be available to libraries only with a flat-rate subscription instead of site-license or pay-per-view model. Downloading and printing will be acceptable. The library may download and archive files to a local server as long as access is not granted to off-site users.
Kelley had been looking at some of the technologies already available, considering gopher as a limited, intermediate step. He eventually came across Mosaic, the Web browser that has now become one of the standards, and the team decided that Mosaic would be utilized to provide access to full-text versions of the journals.
One of the first problems encountered dealt with the conversion of the PostScript documents (the current format of the journals) to the HTML (HyperText Markup Language) used for Web documents. The project representatives from academic computing put the word out on the Internet that they were looking for someone who could come up with such a conversion program quickly. What they found was a college student majoring in computer science who was able to develop a program that handled the text conversion automatically. …