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Google Scholar Adds Pay-Per-View Delivery from The British Library
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Posted On March 13, 2006


Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com) continues to enhance its ability to not only find (discover) scholarly content but also to fetch (access) it. To its existing three routes—the open Web, authorized publisher feeds, and library holdings links—it has now added a connection to The British Library (BL) Direct pay-per-view service (http://direct.bl.uk). Searchers will find a display of access options available with the initial cluster entry in Google Scholar search results, where a “BL Direct” option will appear when appropriate. The British Library launched BL Direct in June 2005 to open up a subset of 9 million articles from 5 years’ worth of approximately 20,000 scientific, technical, medical, business, economics, and law journals. Once transferred into BL Direct, users can also link to the full collection of The British Library document supply content, although this would require the user to already have the known item references in hand. Prices for the service are expressed in British pounds with no Euro or U.S. dollar equivalents. That is not likely to be the main “sticker shock” for the guileless Web scholar, however; The British library charges full copyright fees assigned by publishers plus a base price of at least $13. A couple of articles could end up costing as much or more than a month’s worth of broadband Internet access. However, building a market for articles—as opposed to a market for subscriptions—powered by Google could affect future developments in the document delivery marketplace.

In announcing the partnership, Lynne Brindley, chief executive of The British Library, attributed the move to BL’s longstanding commitment to service independent of borders. “We exist for everyone who wants to do research, and we give priority to initiatives that make our collection more easily accessible.”

The British Library’s collections encompass 150 million items extending back millennia. Mat Pfleger, head of sales at The British Library, said that, even in the emerging paperless society, BL adds about 14 kilometers of print material each year. For decades, its document supply service has supported academic, business, research, and scientific communities within and outside the U.K. Subject strengths for The British Library Direct service focus particularly on food and nutrition, law, intellectual property, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, banking, and finance. The full collection encompasses major collections in medicine, engineering, science, economics, environment, and education.

The content available in BL Direct, to which Google Scholar will link, includes the 20,000 most popular journals, a list continuously reviewed with new journal titles added each month and less popular titles removed. Content includes the last 5 years with daily updates. When Google Scholar users click on the “BL Direct” link, they will automatically go to an online ordering form already filled out with the bibliographic details from the Google Scholar listing.

Standard delivery times are 2 hours, 24 hours, or 2 to 5 days, with appropriately adjusted base prices. Out of the 20,000 journals, 3,500 are available for immediate electronic download, due to being stored on-site at The British Library electronically or “born digital.” A PDF logo indicating this status appears on the result screen. Users can also limit selections to items available immediately. Immediate Downloads are available 24/7/365, but operating hours for delivery of other articles are “24/5,” according to Pfleger, with off-hour orders placed the following work day. The British Library Direct service is not open on weekends or selected national holidays.

Orders are taken and electronic delivery supplied through a Secure Electronic Delivery of encrypted PDF files. To view and print the documents, users must have Adobe Reader 6.0 or better, with 6.0.1 or 7 recommended. Users must also have activated the Digital Rights Management function in Adobe Reader. Once downloaded, the documents should appear in a default folder called “My Bookshelf” for Adobe Reader 6 versions or “My Digital Editions” for Adobe Reader 7. To test the connection before attempting to download an order, there is an electronic delivery test document available from the FAQ for BL Direct (http://direct.bl.uk/bld/Faq.do;jsessionid=8B98363D8B0337746D1E34DC5877B1FD).

It is important to get all the Adobe compatibility tested and ready before completing, or even placing, an order, because the system at present is rather rigid. The British Library Direct service does not send the article as an attachment. Instead, it sends an e-mail announcement that the article is available or users can check their list of “Confirmed Orders.” The announcement will indicate the number of pages in the article and the size of the file. However, once the user clicks on the link to the document, the download is automatic, and the service allows access to the document on the secure server only once. And, once completed, documents only remain on the server 14 days after e-mail notification; after that, they are deleted. Orders for documents cannot be cancelled after submission, and The British Library reserves the right to charge the full price of a request if it received incorrect bibliographic information. The service urges people with problems to use the General Help Desk (bldirect-help@bl.uk). Pfleger pointed with pride to “our great customer service. We have 35–40 individuals in customer service while lots of outfits are outsourcing or just cutting back. That’s one of the key reasons people come back to us.”

Once on The British Library Direct site, users will see a number of options on the left of the screen that connect to other document supply offerings from BL. The most useful will probably be the “Blank Order Form,” a template that people with correct bibliographic information can use to order copies of articles from the older Articles Direct service. Documents from this service are supplied by mail, fax, Ariel, or electronic delivery. For information on all the journals covered by this larger service and the copyright fees involved, go to http://www.bl.uk/services/document/serials.html.

Base transaction charges for BL Direct articles are:

  • Immediate download: £7.45 (U.K.) £7.75 (International)
  • Standard delivery—electronic: £7.45 (U.K.) £7.75 (International)
  • 24-hour delivery—electronic: £16.00
  • 2-hour delivery—electronic: £21.00
  • Mail: £7.75 (U.K.) £8.25 (International)

To that base price, the service will add a copyright fee set by publishers (according to Pfleger, usually ranging from $5 to $30) and, where applicable, a VAT tax of 17.5 percent. Payments are by credit card only. Charges are only placed once orders are satisfied. NetBanx handles the credit card details through a secure technology. The British Library does not receive credit card information itself. Users get a unique reference number by e-mail for each transaction for use in any discussion about payment. Google has no involvement in any of the transactions, according to Anurag Acharya, designer of Google Scholar. “There is no financial aspect in this relationship at all. It is primarily a convenience for users,” said Acharya.

The Google Scholar connection to BL Direct actually went online the last week of February. Even in this test period, it has already had an impact. Pfleger said the BL Direct site has “already seen a big surge in traffic and interest. Even just from people tripping over the link on Google Scholar, we’ve seen a proportionate increase in orders. The early indications are that it will be successful.” The arrangement is not exclusive. Pfleger said: “We will work with other partners, but this is a really good fit here. Google Scholar is becoming much more widely accepted as a good tool. It’s seen as a key resource.” Acharya, however, stated he is “not looking for other partners at this time. We’re taking a first look at this and studying it.”

Google Scholar already has direct relationships with publisher Web site content flow, some of which include pay-per-view. Ingenta, for example, another British service, hosts both its own related publications and those from other content providers. When I tested an article title on Google Scholar that carried a “BL Direct” link, clicking on the title in the initial search results page took me straight to IngentaConnect. Apparently, the publisher-held content links to the title, while the links to library holdings, open Web pages, and BL Direct appear at the bottom of each result listing. Librarians should start warning their users about shopping around title by title, lest they find themselves paying unnecessarily high amounts. For example, Acharya said that the links to library holdings now covers collections from more than 650 libraries, with more expected.

“The document supply market has changed enormously in the last 10 years,” Pfleger commented. The British Library Document Supply service now serves a smaller market, according to Pfleger, but it still has more than 20,000 customers worldwide. “Needs keep changing, and we have to change with them,” said Pfleger. “More recently we’ve seen a change in the attitude of publishers to pay-per-view. Now a lot of big publishers offer pay-per-view, and it has become very competitive. We’ve found demand has gone down for easier-to-find information, for example, the main publications. We’ve had to innovate, to become more efficient. The key is providing access to our collections in a fast and cost-effective manner. It’s a tough market, and now the open access movement is having more impact.”

Why Google Scholar? Pfleger responded: “We’re not a leader in technology and search. So we look for partners to provide what we’re not expert in. That’s why we’ve partnered with Google Scholar. It’s all about the user experience. They do the discovery and we do the delivery.” The British Library also has a major book digitization project underway with Microsoft and the Open Content Alliance as well as another digitization effort with Google.

Jill O’Neill, director of planning and communications at NFAIS, a trade association of services that sell abstracting and indexing (“discovery”) instead of giving it away like Google Scholar, commented: “There is a tremendous interest in developing new partnerships and new collaborative efforts within the information community. This is just one example of the fruits of that interest. The more diverse these partnerships are, the more respectful organizations are of each other’s needs and obligations, the better the chances will be that users’ needs are satisfied.”


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

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