Archives and Research

Emerging Technologies in Document Delivery Services

Curtis L. Kendrick, April 1994

Until the last quarter of the twentieth century the technologies used for delivering information were relatively static. Paper, bound in monographic or serial volumes, conveyed the printed word. Until the last quarter of the twentieth century the processes by which scholars obtained research materials were relatively restrictive. Obtaining a book or journal article required a walk across campus to the library or coercing a research assistant to fulfill said request. Recently, we have seen the nascence of new technologies and services born of the digital revolution. While digitalization ultimately offers the promise of technological convergence, at the present time we are witnessing the emergence of multiple technologies vying for primacy. Each of these technologies represent an alternative solution to the question of how research and scholarship will be conducted in the future. This paper presents a view of some of the emerging technologies and services now being developed and used to deliver information to scholars.

Reports from the Field

A complete document delivery system is one which electronically supports the identification of an item that might be of value, assists users with locating the item, allows a request for the item to be initiated, and provides a mechanism for the delivery of the item to the requester. Furthermore, the system should support management activities such as billing and copyright tracking. Such document delivery systems do not fully exist today, but rapid developments are occurring in several areas. The following project descriptions may suggest directions where the technologies and services are heading. These projects are grouped by the type of technology or service, and include compact disk read only memory (CD-ROM) technologies, digital transmission projects, document supplier services, full-text database and ordering services, and leading edge developments and projects.

Compact Disk Read Only Memory Technologies

Compact disks are an economical way to store a great deal of information. This technology forms the basis of many document delivery systems. In general, the CD-ROM approach to document delivery provides in-house access to a system mounted within a single institution. The installations tend to be stand alone, but increasingly access will be distributed over networks. Typically, each of these systems requires dedicated equipment that is readily available commercially, rather than requiring significant system enhancement or development. The nature of the technology means that access is provided to a restricted universe of publications, usually driven by market demand. As a closed system, the technology provides only one source for documents—either an item is stored on the CDs or it is not. The options for delivery tend to be limited—either print locally or print at a remote station. Increasingly, however, fax delivery will become more commonplace as the CD-ROM systems are available over networks. With CD-ROM document delivery systems there is a high degree of predictability—the technology is known and controlled, the costs and speed of delivery are known in advance. These systems tend to offer "immediate delivery," often provide a link with local holdings, and may offer some copyright tracking and billing tracking functions. The Adonis project and University Microfilms' ProQuest system are two examples of CD-ROM based document delivery systems.


Adonis is a CD-ROM subscription service providing access to five hundred journals produced by forty publishers. Publishers pay to have their material included in the database. Coverage is primarily in the fields of biomedicine, chemistry, and biotechnology. Images are scanned from a hard copy of the journal and stored in bit-mapped form. Users access the system using Optisearch, a proprietary software system. Adonis can be implemented as a stand-alone unit or in a network. The subscription costs include permission for unlimited copying, although an additional fee of $5 to $8 is charged per article printed.

University Microfilms, Inc.

University Microfilms' ProQuest MultiAccess System combines personal computers, CD-ROM jukeboxes and proprietary software. The system stores bit-mapped images from high-use journals in the ABI/Inform, Psychological Abstracts, IEEE/IEE, and General Periodicals databases. Coverage is back to 1987/88. After a user conducts a search, Imageserver receives the request, locates the compact disk on which the data resides, then routes the image to a local printer or a remote dedicated high-resolution printer. Images can also be routed to a fax machine or to a personal computer with a fax board. Purchase and lease options are available, and costs vary depending on the options selected, number of users, etc. In addition, UMI charges $.10 per printed page. In the near future, UMI plans to offer access through this system to the UMI Article Clearinghouse, which will expand access to include fourtenn thousand journals.

Digital Transmission Projects

The digital transmission projects that are occurring generally rely on gateway access to information rather than locally mounted data. The Internet is most commonly used for transmission. While each system requires that users learn a unique search language protocol, these systems typically use multipurpose equipment—standard personal computers, scanners, and fax machines. Consequently, the equipment investment risk is low. Theoretically, any written work can be scanned and transmitted digitally. The limitation is usually a function of copyright provisions. Because the technology is so open there are multiple sources for most documents—virtually anyone with a scanner can become a supplier. Similarly, there are multiple options for delivery: fax, print, computer work-station. These systems tend not to provide significant links with local systems. Typically there is no link to patron databases, no link to local holdings, and limited copyright tracking and billing features. Among the digital transmission projects which have been mounted are those offered by the Research Libraries Group, the National Agricultural Library in conjunction with North Carolina State University, and Ohio State University.

Research Libraries Group Citadel/Ariel

Citadel is the article citation and document delivery system developed by the Research Libraries Group. Citadel provides access to over a dozen scholarly databases, all sharing a common interface. RLG's goal is to make document delivery available for most items in the Citadel files. Articles can be delivered to users over the Internet by use of the Ariel system. Ariel is software developed by RLG which supports digital transmission over the Internet. Ariel uses off-the-rack IBM-compatible components. Staff can scan directly from bound volumes, articles are then compressed for transmission and sent to an Ariel station at the receiving location.

North Carolina State University/National Agricultural Library

North Carolina State University and the National Agricultural Library have also implemented a digital transmission project. Like Citadel/Ariel, images are scanned and transmitted over the Internet. Two key differences are that delivery can be either to a library or direct to a user's work station, and the system utilizes Macintosh technology. Copyright law dictates what material can be scanned. Only fair-use or non-copyrighted works are scanned.

Ohio State University Internet/Fax Delivery

A third digital transmission project has been developed at Ohio State University. The key difference is that this project involves fax technology instead of scanning text. The system uses group III fax equipment linked to microcomputers. Images are transmitted over the Internet via transfer control protocol/Internet protocol. Images are received by a user's work station, decompressed, then sent to a fax machine for printing.

Document Suppliers

There are a plethora of firms which, for a fee, will supply researchers with copies of articles and other documents. Document suppliers firms tend to be small and to fill niche markets. Most specialize in one or more of the following fields: business, legal, medicine, or the scientific and technical fields. Prices vary with the speed and method of delivery, but tend to be in the $15 to $25 per article range. Delivery options typically include mail, fax, or courier. Users connect with document suppliers either by telephone or by fax. Some companies can take requests over the Internet. Taken as a group, document suppliers can provide access to most publications, and for many documents, there are multiple sources. Because of the proliferation of document suppliers the quality of service across the board is unpredictable. The supplier firms do not typically provide any links with local systems, but they do handle copyright tracking. Article Express, the British Library Document Supply Center, and the Genuine Article are three examples of document supplier services.

Article Express

Article Express is an example of a typical document supplier. The firm specializes in scientific and technical information, with a major emphasis on engineering. Coverage is back to 1991, but the firm can provide some documents from as far back as 1980. Article Express receives about twelve thousand requests per year, with a fill rate of 95 percent. The average cost is $12 per article, plus royalty fees.

British Library Document Supply Center

The British Library Document Supply Center is the largest document supplier in the world. They handle 14,000 requests per day, more than most firms handle in a year. The British Library employs a staff of 750 to serve their 15,000 customers.

The Document Supply Center maintains an extensive in-house collection to which they add $7 million worth of new materials per year. The majority of requests are for serial articles in the scientific and technical fields. The charge is $9 for standard mail delivery, $45 for fax.

Genuine Article

Genuine Article is a service of the Institute for Scientific Information. Coverage is provided to seven thousand multidisciplinary journals for a five-year period. The company charges $12 per article for standard delivery, higher for expedited delivery. Genuine Article staff actually tear out articles from the journals in which they appeared and send, well, the genuine article to clients. This low-tech approach has a certain appeal.

Full-Text Database and Ordering Services

Connection to the online full-text database and document ordering services is usually made through a gateway. The services tend to offer several search options including by author, title or keyword, and may support Boolean searching. In order to use the full-text database and ordering services users need to know, learn, or be trained in how to access the systems. These services will deliver from a limited universe of publications, driven by market forces. For many documents, however, there will be multiple suppliers. For example, at least half of the titles in the Faxon database are also available over OCLC. Delivery is usually limited to fax.

While some of the services provide a link to local holdings, for example OCLC, others, such as UnCover, do not. No link to a local patron database exists. Libraries have varying control over how these systems are used by patrons. Anyone with a credit card number may use UnCover, while OCLC only markets through libraries. Copyright payments tend to be included in the charge for receiving an article. Some billing management capability exists, provided libraries set up accounts with the service provider. OCLC's First Search and UnCover are two leading examples of this type of service.


UnCover, a joint venture of Carl Systems, Inc., and B.H. Blackwell Ltd., provides article-level access to journal collections. Coverage is to articles from thirteen thousand journals, but will soon expand to over twenty thousand. Book reviews, letters to the editor, etc. are not included. UnCover has filled thirty-five thousand orders since beginning this operation in September 1991, or about one hundred per day. Currently they are filling about three hundred requests per day, but this is expected to increase to five hundred to seven hundred by the end of 1993. Access to UnCover is via a password account or over the Internet. After conducting searches, users mark articles for delivery. The cost of delivery appears on the screen, and users can pay online with their credit cards or establish a debit account. Articles are delivered via fax. When requests come into UnCover, they are farmed out to one of several Carl System libraries. The libraries scan the items, then transmit them to a central machine in Denver. From Denver the document is then transmitted to the user. When given permission by the rights holder, UnCover stores documents once scanned. Previously scanned documents can be delivered to users within one hour.


OCLC supports document delivery for items in the ArticleFirst and Periodical Abstracts databases over the First Search system. Coverage is offered to one million articles in eleven thousand journals. Users have a choice of supplier and delivery method, with costs varying accordingly. OCLC is currently using UMI, the Genuine Article, and Dynamic Information as their suppliers, but plan to add to this. There is a link with local holdings so users do not unnecessarily order documents. OCLC has recently established a link with their Prism System so that users can place interlibrary loan requests. These requests are routed to library for mediation.

Leading Edge Technologies and Services

Technology evolves quickly; many of the products and services that will be commonplace tomorrow exist today in laboratories and in pilot projects. Some of the more exciting of these leading edge technologies and services are described below.

AT&T Bell Labs

AT&T has developed the Right Pages electronic library. Users establish a profile of keywords which are then matched against journal articles. Periodically, images of the cover of all journals with articles matching the user profile are sent to the user. Recipients can click on the cover of a journal which causes the table of contents of the journal to be displayed. Clicking on one of the articles listed in the table of contents results in a copy of the article being sent to the user. The database is composed of scanned images of articles. Once scanned, images are compressed for efficient storage. Three representations are made of each article—bit mapped, text content (ASCII), and the location of logical fields such as table of contents.

OCLC Guidon

Guidon is OCLC's graphical user interface for electronic journals such as Journal of Current Clinical Trials and the Online Journal of Knowledge Synthesis for Nursing. These journals can be accessed over the Internet. The Guidon software supports full-text display including graphics, Boolean searching and document ordering, and provides hypertext links. Guidon runs in the Windows environment.

IBM/Case Western Reserve University

IBM and Case Western Reserve University have teamed up on the Library Collection Services Project. The main purpose of the project is to provide network distribution of multimedia information. Information, independent of format, can be distributed to users throughout the network. For example, a scholar studying music can view a score while hearing the sound recording. Clicking on part of the score calls up references in context to the particular section of music. An important by-product of this project is the royalty management tracking system. This system records each use of a piece of information within the system for the purpose of tracking copyright.

University of California

Baker is UC Berkeley's fee based document delivery and citation verification service. Requests are received via e-mail or telephone, and library staff deliver books and photocopies to user's campus mailbox. A charge of $2.50 per item applies. At UC Irvine, Meldoc links the MELVYL catalog with document delivery and ILL sources. Users are charged a fee for using commercial firms. Cost and expected delivery time defined at the point of access. The system validates each user.


Ohiolink is a joint project of seventeen university libraries and the State Library of Ohio. The goal is to create a single electronic library service. Phase I includes access to a combined catalog which eventually will represent more than fourteen million volumes and support 2,500 concurrent users. Document delivery service is planned for late 1993. The system will support delivery either to a library or direct to a patron.

Triangle Research Libraries Network

North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Duke comprise the Triangle Research Libraries Network. The network recently received a Department of Education grant to develop an automated document delivery system. Users will be able to request documents directly from online bibliographic systems. The types of document included in the system will include monographs, journal articles, government documents, microforms, and electronic documents such as electronic journals, scanned materials, and multimedia documents.

The system will employ document servers to access databases of deliverable items, customers, and interlibrary loan and circulation policies to determine the formats and delivery methods, authenticate patrons, and set charges and establish loan periods.


To a large extent, technology is serving as the catalyst for the changes now occurring in document delivery services. Apart from technology, however, the external environment in which document delivery services are being developed is shaped by political, legal, economic, and social forces. The emerging technologies allowing the extension of document delivery services offer exciting prospects for the future. The delivery of textual data has been the focus of this paper, but as the infrastructure is developed to support the transmission of digital information, one can readily imagine audio, graphic, and moving image data utilizing the same networks. The future seems almost limitless, but as with many developments during the twentieth century, it is likely that utilization of the new technologies will be circumscribed more by the ability of our political, legal, economic, and social institutions to embrace and adapt to it, than by any inherent limitations of the technology itself.

—Curtis L. Kendrick is currently assistant director in the Harvard University Library for the Harvard Depository. This essay is a revision of a presentation originally made to the Harvard University Library Automation Planning Committee on April 28, 1993, and later revised and presented at the Harvard University Library Professional Development Committee Forum on Research Resources and the New Technology, June 8, 1993.