Online Journals Now “Journals of Record”

An editorial in a medical journal in 2000, opined it will be “increasingly difficult for any paper-only periodical to maintain a position as a journal of record. It is only a matter of time before electronic journals take over from paper journals as the official archive.”

Since that article was written, there has been a ground-swell of journal publishers announcing that the online version of the journal is, indeed, the “journal of record.”  BMJ, Genetics, Pediatrics, AJR, and Journal of Neuroscience have announced this transition.

One explanation for this change is that electronic journals offer advantages to the readers like instantaneous delivery of each issue (including internationally), RSS feeds, and space and storage savings.

But the main reason that online journals become the official record is due to the enhancements offered in the digital environment. Hypertext links, movies, sound, images, and supplementary tables or data are all now commonplace features.  Also, teaching points in the form of “key concepts” are frequently utilized and bulleted or color-enhanced for ease of use by instructors and students alike.

The popularity of mobile devices and e-readers may contribute to the growth of electronic titles being favored over print.

At present there is no comprehensive list of those journal publishers that have made the switch to online journals as the “journal of record.” The National Library of Medicine (NLM) offers the following guidelines on when they officially index the online version for Medline. NLM indexers:

  • try to identify when the online version of a journal has more content than the print version.
  • search for retractions, errata, and comments in a way that can be cited.

From this determination, NLM almost always indexes from the online version. When publishers are given the option of having their journals indexed from the print or online, NLM reports that “few, if any, journals have ever opted for us to index from the print version instead of the online version of the journal.”

Jeanene Light, MLS