APS News


The APS online journals archive is more than just a pretty acronym.

PROLA, Physical Review On-Line Archive, presently consists of a nearly complete electronic version of Physical Review from 1985 through 1996. Soon it will allow electronic access to the entire Physical Review archive, back through 1893. It is made up of scanned images of the printed journals, most of the original electronic data used in typesetting, and a searchable SGML bibliographic database. PROLA brings the century's achievements in physics straight to the desktop in a form that allows fast customized extraction of data for research purposes or out of pure curiosity.

On a simple search screen, users select articles by a certain author, that reference an author, include a designated string in text, abstract or elsewhere, or combinations of these. "One search algorithm I'd like to see," joked Marty Blume, APS Editor-in-Chief, "would produce a list of all papers that didn't reference my work but should have."

PROLA sprang from an effort in 1992-93 by Ben Bederson, then APS Editor-in-Chief, and Bob Kelly, APS Director of Journal Information Services, to create a searchable index for Physical Review from the (presciently) saved keystrokes used in composing the paper journals over the preceding decade. A Los Alamos National Laboratory group eagerly took on the job of converting the arcane data into a searchable archive mounted on a unique 'jukebox' storage system originally developed for weapons data. At about the same time, the Naval Research Laboratory was engaged in a CRADA with APS to scan images of Physical Review and make them available to its researchers as part of their electronic library initiative. In the midst of all this activity, the World Wide Web bounded onto the scene. The result was a cooperative APS-NRL-LANL agreement in which the NRL images were delivered to the Los Alamos PROLA group and integrated into the search engine they were creating for online delivery via the burgeoning Web.

In July of 1996, Mark Doyle, a young physicist who had worked at LANL with Paul Ginsparg on the XXX e-print archive joined the APS staff and took on further development of PROLA among his responsibilities. A prototype web server for PROLA was sufficiently developed by 1997 to be tested at LANL; the project relocated to the APS Editorial Office in May, 1998.

In 1999, the first two years of Physical Review, 1893-94, were entered into PROLA. PROLA currently includes half of the roughly 1,600,000 pages that APS has ever published. Phase II, to come online next July, will add another quarter, going back to the beginning for PRL (1958) and RMP (1929), and to 1970 for the rest of the Physical Review journals. Phase III will complete the archive with the years from 1895 to 1969 for Physical Review. "Physical Review is one of the few physics journals where people are still regularly using the early issues," said Pam Yorks, head of the Physics-Astronomy Library at the University of Washington. "I'm looking forward to having the rest of those older issues scanned. Our print copies are literally falling apart - the paper and bindings are disintegrating."

Enhancements expected by the end of the year include display of references and forward citations, inter-article linking (comments, replies, errata, related papers), a better search engine within PROLA and a Physical Review All search engine.

In addition, Doyle says that PROLA is a good test bed for experimental features such as Herbert van de Sompel's (Univ. of Ghent/Los Alamos) SFX feature. SFX would allow APS and other publishers who use it to provide links back to individual libraries within the online journal pages. These links enable the librarian to add customized online services for users based on local resources and environment.

Donations of archival journals that can be unbound and efficiently scanned have come from several sources. A gift of the first series of the Physical Review, through 1911, came from its birthplace, Cornell University. A large collection of Physical Review from early in the century through the 1970s came from Frances and Herbert Bernstein in 1998. Lancaster Press, publishers for AIP and APS, will round out and fill in the modern day collection. PROLA has made a hit with libraries and their researchers since it was first offered for only $300 in January 1999. In July, it became available to members for $100. Feedback is actively sought as more researchers make use of the archive. Occasional problems may be encountered in scanning quality or links, and suggestions for enhancements are also welcome.

Because it held the copyright, APS was able to bring the archive back to life and offer it to libraries and individuals in this infinitely more useful and durable form. "This experience argues strongly for APS retaining copyright, while extending a broad license to authors to use their work as they see fit." Blume says. "Physics papers are most valuable to the worldwide community in unified accessible collections like PROLA," he continued. "Provided that we have the freedom copyright allows to assemble and reformat the archive as technology changes, we can leave authors with wide-ranging liberties."

You are invited to browse Volume 1 of Physical Review from 1893 by going to the APS website www.aps.org under the Research Journals button. PROLA subscription information may be found there also.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Barrett H. Ripin
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette