Faster, cheaper online access to individual articles in journals could be available soon to students and staff at universities thanks to a pilot document-
delivery service to be developed by Lancaster University.
The service is being developed for the funding councils' Joint Information Systems Committee. For academics it should be a big advance on the existing paper-based method of accessing individual articles via the inter-library loan system.
Crucially, the service has the support of the Association of Learned and Professional Publishers and The Publishers Association, which between them represent most major academic journal and book publishers.
Fred Friend, director of scholarly communication at University College London, said copyright agreements between publishers and libraries have traditionally restricted access to single paper copies of journal articles for
personal study, available from whichever library subscribes to the relevant journal.
There has been concern among publishers that the use of networks to supply electronic copies of such articles might lead to uncontrolled redistribution of the materials.
Mr Friend, who is also chairman of the scholarly communications committee of the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries, said the new delivery service addresses the concerns of publishers while meeting the needs of students and staff.
The system will allow the supply of single journal articles for personal study and research from the publisher's server rather than from another library. A payment will be made to publishers for each transaction but at a cost to libraries no greater than they pay for inter-library loans.
Mr Friend said: "This solution will provide protection of rightsholders' interests and a fair payment to publishers."