Web Magazine for Information Professionals

BIDS Begets Ingenta

The University of Bath concluded an agreement to sign over the ownership of BIDS to a new organisation known as ingenta ltd, while still retaining a substantial share. Terry Morrow looks at the implications of the change, and reviews the latest developments in the services offered.

On 21st September 1998, primary responsibility for the BIDS collection of services was transferred from the University of Bath to a newly formed company known as ingenta ltd. This was the culmination of a period of exploration and negotiation while the University sought a suitable partner to take over most of the financial responsibility for the growing organisation.

A Little History

BIDS has been in existence since 1990, and started running its first public service, providing access to the collection of files supplied by ISI® known as the Citation Indexes in February 1991. This service was the result of an agreement struck between ISI and CHEST, providing the UK HE and research communities with low-cost end-user access to a valuable set of data which indexes all articles published in a selected set of about 7,500 international academic journals. Although ISI stands for the Institute for Scientific Information® (and their own end-user product is now called “Web of ScienceSM”), the databases are in fact multi-disciplinary, with separate files for Science, Social Sciences, and Arts & Humanities (as well as a conference proceedings index known as ISTP®).

Since the launch of the ISI service, it has grown in several different ways. From an initial usage level of around 500 users a day, the ISI service alone is now delivering about 12,000 user sessions a day at peak times. Added to this are several alternative bibliographic databases, a number of them covering more specialist areas such as IBSS (Social Sciences), EMBASE (Medical Science), and ERIC and BEI (the Education Databases). The total number of institutions who subscribe to one or more databases has grown steadily over the years and is now over 130.

BIDS has actively developed the end-user facilities over the 8 years since the service was launched. Although the service started with a simple telnet interface, a web interface was launched a couple of years ago, and this has recently been updated using frames and JavaScript to improve the look and usability. A very popular feature that was introduced earlier this year is called AutoJournals, allowing users to select up to 50 journals covered by the ISI service and have the contents pages automatically e-mailed when updates are received. Over 10,000 AutoJournals lists have already been set up.

Although initially set up to provide services within the UK, BIDS has delivered services overseas for a number of years, including EMBASE and the British Librarys Inside Information to Oslo University, and Compendex to Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden. More recently, with the co-operation of IBSS and the ESRC, BIDS has conducted a trial of the IBSS Online (International Bibliography of the Social Sciences) database in Australia and New Zealand, with the result that 4 of the 7 universities in New Zealand, and a further 6 in Australia have agreed to take out licences.

Full Text Online

As the popularity of BIDS bibliographic data services grew, the technical problems of mounting and distributing electronic versions of full text were gradually being resolved (primarily through the growing use of the Adobe Acrobat PDF file format and the ready availability of PDF viewers). BIDS started to take an interest in delivering full text services, and was an active participant in eLib with the InfoBike project. A successful approach to the JISC and the HEFCs resulted in BIDS being able to mount an embryo consolidation service using technology developed under InfoBike, by providing a single point of contact for material from three of the four publishers involved in the Pilot Site Licence Initiative [1] (Academic Press, Blackwell Science and Blackwell Publishers).

The service, known originally as JournalsOnline [2] but now re-badged as ingentaJournals, was launched in November 1996. Initially it took a while to collect and load the material, but eventually approximately 450 titles from the three publishers, were mounted. Delays in acquiring and mounting the material in electronic form highlighted the fact that publishers do not, by and large, print their titles. It is a larger number of smaller, separate print houses that are responsible for creating the SGML header files and PDF article files for individual titles, and it has taken quite a while to get the processes of routine creation and delivery of this material working smoothly. Use of the service has grown fairly steadily, but initially the popularity of this early service was somewhat limited because of the relatively small number of journals available.

However, a very attractive and unusual feature for users of ingentaJournals, which has encouraged take-up, is that there is no fee for accessing the database (and consequently no mechanism for subscribing). The service is free to all, analogous to freely distributed mail-order catalogues. Publishers effectively buy "advertising space" in the combined database of articles. Full text delivery is then dependent on the user or institution taking out subscriptions either directly with the publisher or via subscription agents.

The ingentaJournals full text service was made even more useful as a result of work carried out by BIDS to integrate the bibliographic databases such as ISI with the full text service. Bibliographic database search results are compared by the system with the material in the ingentaJournals service, and where there is a match, the display shows a “Full Text” tag alongside the hits. Clicking on this triggers the delivery of the full text (assuming the user has right of access to the material). This means that people who want to carry out searches over a greater time-span than is currently possible with full text services can still readily check the online availability of full text without searching multiple services.

The Birth of ingenta

The growing importance of the ability to deliver full text, and the labour intensive nature of the work required to meet with publishers, draw up contracts, organise file formats and delivery procedures meant that BIDS needed more resources. Since the JISC wasnt in a position to underwrite this sort of work, and because it clearly wasnt a core activity for the University of Bath, early in 1998 the University started discussions with a number of possible partners. The end result was an agreement to set up a new company, to be known as ingenta ltd, which would take responsibility for BIDS and ingentaJournals and the development of the service. The new CEO is Mark Rowse. In this unique public/private partnership, the University has retained a substantial, but minority, stake in the new company, and for the foreseeable future ingenta will remain on campus. The agreements with the JISC to run dataservices have been successfully sub-contracted to the new company, though the University remains the body with primary responsibility.

A key feature of ingenta is that it remains an organisation that is independent of any particular sector of the publishing business, including both publishers and subscription agents. At the same time, through the widespread use of the bibliographic databases, it is a widely known service in academia. These characteristics make the organisation very attractive to publishers who are looking for greater visibility for the electronic versions of their materials, without having to enter into business arrangements with competing publishers.

Having settled the organisational arrangements, ingenta has been very active in opening or re-opening discussions with a long list of publishers interested in a service which can promise such widespread exposure for their material. As a result, there are now 14 publishers with agreements in place, and a large number of other leading publishers who are in detailed discussions. Any publishers who enter into licensing agreements via NESLI [3] will also be welcome to make their material available via ingentaJournals. Already, with well over 600 titles available or soon to be available, ingentaJournals is a very valuable resource, both to UK HE and beyond.

As for BIDS, the service name has such a high profile and level of awareness, its name (and URL) will be retained, especially for the services delivered to the UK Higher Education sector. BIDS Academic, in a subcontracting arrangement with the University of Bath, will continue to operate the JISC supported services such as ISI, INSPEC, IBSS etc, on a separately accountable and not-for-profit basis, and will bid for new services as and when they are announced. ingenta recognises the importance of bibliographic databases with their longer time coverage, which will undoubtedly complement the full text services for some years to come.

A reflection of the need for greater integration of these services was the launch at the beginning of October of the revised login procedures for BIDS services. Instead of selecting a single service, such as ISI or ingentaJournals, users can now login to BIDS. Having completed the ATHENS [4] authentication, the system now presents a list of services that are available to that particular username. Searches can be switched from service to service without the need for re-authentication, simplifying access and hopefully increasing awareness of some of the other resources that institutions have bought into.

Future Growth

The next few years are likely to see rapid growth in the range and usefulness of services offered by ingenta and BIDS. While continuing to take an active interest in any new or renewed bibliographic database contracts negotiated by CHEST or JISC, ingenta will be putting most of its new resources into increasing the range of full text services as rapidly as possible, and promoting their widespread use. Since academic publishing is an international business, a priority will be to increase awareness and usage outside the UK, particularly in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe, North America and Australasia. This should enable the organisation to attract even more publishers, making the service still more useful for those in UK HE and beyond. Whatever happens to research publishing on the web, ingenta intends to be playing a major rôle.


[1] The HEFC’s Pilot Site Licence Initiative

[2] JournalsOnline: the online journal solution (Ariadne Issue 12)

[3] NESLI - the National Electronic Site Licensing Initiative

[4] ATHENS Access Management system

Author Details

Terry Morrow
Academic Marketing Manager
ingenta ltd
University of Bath
Email: T.M.Morrow@bids.ac.uk
URL: http://www.bath.ac.uk/~ccstmm/