ONLINE, September 2001
Copyright © 2001 Information Today, Inc.
The picks include two publishers' sites that are especially useful for library and information science and technology topics: Emerald and Academic Press. The pan goes to sciBASE that opened its door well before it could offer novel and competitive information services, and has appalling prices for delivering documents to your desktop.
Emerald, the new name of MCB University Press, reaches out to information professionals in various ways. One is its Emerald Journals of the Week (JotW) (http://www.emeraldinsight.com/jotw). Every week it offers access to two journals from its stable of about 130 titles. The week I was working on this column, one of the titles was Information Technology & People. The repertoire for the forthcoming eight weeks included such Emerald titles as OCLC Systems and Services, Library Management, Library High Tech, and Library Review, just to mention the library and information science titles on the menu.
In previous weeks and months, I could have accessed Campus-Wide Information Systems, Information Management and Computer Security, Journal of Knowledge Management, Library Consortium Management, Reference Reviews, Reference Services Review, The Electronic Library, Internet Research, and Online Information Review (OIR). (Disclosure: I write a column for OIR, but that is not the reason I picked JotW. The reason is that it is a very impressive free document delivery service even for non-subscribers.) Emerald has about a hundred scholarly journals in management, accounting, and education, in addition to those covering library and information science, that keep rotating on the JotW list.
It is quite unusual for commercial publishers to be so generous with non-subscribers. Throughout the week there is unfettered access to the full text of the articles, for both the current issue and an archive of varying timespans. For Information Technology & People, 38 issues from nine years were available. Some articles, issues, and volumes are not included because the author, and/or the previous publisher, such as Learned Information Ltd. for The Electronic Library, retains copyright. Even with this limitation it is a very impressive collection of articles. A few of those are available either for free on FindArticles.com or for a very reasonable fee on Northern Light, but only in ASCII format, which often just does not cut the mustard because you can't see the important tables and charts to which the text refers.
Emerald offers an unparalleled variety of output formats (all of them free). You can choose HTML format, three Portable Document Formats (PDF) (one page at a time display, full article display at once, and direct downloading), as well as the RealPage format. Not all the articles are available in all these formats, in some cases simply because for a short review of pure text it would be overkill. Only Catchword, pioneer of RealPage format, comes close to this variety of output options.
Emerald also offers databases (Emerald Fulltext, Emerald Reviews, Emerald Abstracts, and Emerald Journals) for management, computer technology, civil engineering, and library/information science. Many universities license these for campus-wide distribution. The search software is smart enough to show you that the document is freely available if your results include records for a journal that happens to be the free one for the week. With its excellent coverage of highly regarded library and information science journals, substantial abstracts, and many free full-text articles, this database should be consulted before spending money for searching LISA and Information Science Abstracts for current materials, or ordering documents from document delivery agencies.
IDEAL (http://www.idealibrary.com) is a well-chosen name, and it is indeed ideal in many respects. Harcourt's online library for science, technical, and medical publications offers free access to tables of contents and abstracts to any user, and access to documents in HTML and/or PDF for subscribers, or for a fee for non-subscribers.
Academic Press (including its imprints Mosby, Churchill Livingstone, W.B. Saunders, and BalliŹre Tindall) and Harcourt Health Sciences have more than 350 journals, many of them top ranking in their own category. Academic Press is best known for its biomedicine journals, but it has enough information and computer science journals to please the information specialists and researchers who are interested in more scientific and more in-depth treatises than they would find in information technology journals.
The information and computer science subset of the Academic Press journals is relatively small, but it includes such highly respected titles as the International Information and Library Review, the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies (and its former title version), Information and Computation, Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, Journal of Visual Communication and Image Representation, Computer Vision and Image Understanding, Computer Speech and Language, and Knowledge Acquisitions. All of these cover the past nine years, except for the last title, a short-lived, but useful journal published only between 1993 and 1994.
When you search in the abstract field for data or information visualization articles, you get a good set of 77 records from a variety of journals with about 80% relevance (or rather pertinence). This is better result than you would get from LISA and Information Science Abstracts combined, especially if you care about the science part in the name of those databases. Every record that I looked at had an abstract (even when I did not limit the search to the abstract field), and a very informative one at that. IDEAL does a good job also in psychology and social sciences, so it can be a useful starting point to find scholarly articles about, say, job stress.
Why would you want to do that when the free MEDLINE implementations deliver far more results? There are several reasons. One is that many of the most current MEDLINE records are still in process, others may not have abstracts (although you can limit the search to ones with abstract), and yet others may not be in English (although these can be filtered out). But there is an even more compelling reason.
If you have several Academic Press imprints in your library, then you can access the page image (and sometimes also the HTML version) of the documents. It is also an advantage of IDEAL that it offers the full document several weeks before your issue arrives. For good measure, IDEAL offers a check box to run your query in PubMed, and passes the query to PubMed. There is a glitch, however. The phrase searching symbol, the quotation mark pair, is not translated correctly for PubMed. So when you search for "medical informatics" your query ends up as "medical" in PubMed, which produces a few million records.
The rest of the search process is intuitive and has good features. There is automatic stemming so the query word search will retrieve search, searches, searching, searcher, and searchers. You can use Boolean AND, OR, and NOT operators as well as exact phrases. The default operator is AND between query terms. You can list the results by reverse chronological order, relevance, or journal title. You can also limit the search to a broad subject category, and to a specific journal (but you cannot choose more than one journal at a time).
Once the bibliographic citation with abstract is displayed, you may launch a search for articles related to the topic, or by the same author (although this feature is not refined sufficiently, as only the last name of a person is used, which brings up a lot of records for articles written by other Cookes, Whites, and Smiths). If there is an abstract in MEDLINE about the article, there will be a hot-link to look it up. I have to add that MEDLINE almost always has the same abstract as the publishers because it is taken from the journal, rather than created by indexing and abstracting specialists.
An increasing number of publishers offer similar services, but they may have far fewer journals, or user-hostile software. Academic Press offers a very convenient service from a respected stable of scientific journals.
PR materials claim that sciBASE "gives...free access to a unique collection of the world's premier databases of scientific, technical, and medical literature. sciBASE currently includes approximately 19 million documents published since 1965 in more than 30,000 journals and is updated daily with approximately 7,000 new journals." However, even The Scientific World's president states that sciBASE is primarily interested in the life sciences.
What it does now is free access to bibliographic citations through a fast and capable software. There is nothing new in this. Many services have been offering that and much more for free, like Northern Light, PubSCI, ingenta, and Infotrieve.
Citations in the database come predominantly from the British Library. Secondary databases (indexing and abstracting) of STM literature, including MEDLINE, PASCAL, CABI, and a portion of BIOSIS, provide abstracts when available. Most of the records from my test searches had no abstracts. This is no wonder, as sciBASE tries to find a matching abstract in MEDLINE or one of the other secondary databases. But it can't always find them even when MEDLINE has the abstract. Remember, the MEDLINE database with its 3,600 journals, represents, at best, less than 20% of what sciBASE claims to have. When sciBASE finds a match in MEDLINE, it does not always supply the full abstract, merely repeats the title information. It does not even link you to PubMed, which is really pathetic in 2001.
Apparently, the reason for these baseless claims is to lure you into the shop to order documents, at often ridiculous prices. sciBASE charges a $12 article fee, and a variable copyright fee set by the publisher. As most of the articles are supposed to be in electronic form, $12 is excessive, and the copyright fee is simply appalling. Just think of the journals that are widely known to be available free of charge in HTML and PDF, including many years of archives (British Medical Journal, Journal of Clinical Investigation) or for its entire run (The Oncologist), then wonder why should you pay $15.87 or $17.81 for an article that you can easily get for free. There are other journals that have five to eight years of back issues for free and you have to pay only for articles in the most current 12 months, such as with Genome Research or Hypertension. Then there is the absurd category, like the Journal of Law and Education. Its subscription cost for an entire year is $67.50. The copyright fee at sciBASE is $96.86 for each and every one of the 229 articles from this journal, including the short introductory one that is available in HTML format free of charge on the Web at http://www.law.sc.edu/jlawed02.htm. Infotrieve's copyright fee for articles from this journal is 35 cents. On the other hand, the copyright fee listed for several Academic Press journal titles is zero, which is equally hard to believe.
The interface and the search engine are fine, but sciBASE seems to be enamored of its Personal User Profile (PUP) feature, and its cutesy dog logo–more appropriate for shops selling dog food than life science literature. PUP is the first item among the search tips: you are urged to train your PUP and search with PUP. The PUP logo shows up throughout the search and display process. As it stands now, sciBASE is a dog.
Note that this price comparison uses the published prices on the companies' Web sites. For institutional users, this considerably overstates the case. Most libraries will negotiate contracts at considerably lower than the posted pay-as-you-go rates. Nonetheless, the following gives a sense of the differentiations among the companies and spotlights some of the absurdities that Péter tends to unearth.
Péter's other point is that information professionals should not be paying good money for articles they can obtain for free on publishers' Web sites. Although the frugal part of me agrees with him, the practical part disagrees. Viewing the issue from the vantage point of a corporate librarian, I would not want to spend the time wandering a number of publisher Web sites, wondering if my article was there and learning navigation techniques for each individual site. More importantly, I want a guarantee that copyright is covered. Acquiring an article for my individual edification is vastly different than supplying an article to a corporate employee through an information department. If a publisher knocks on my library's door, claiming copyright infringement, I want to point fingers at an outside supplier, not take the blame internally. On the other hand, if there is a publication that your library consistently needs articles from, it might indeed be advantageous to establish a relationship with the publisher to use the Web site, particularly if they have value-added information on the site as does the British Medical Journal (http://www.bmj.com).
Infotrieve claims a database of 20 million articles and 10 million abstracts; ingenta claims over 11 million articles from 26,000 publications; and sciBASE claims 19,000,000 articles from 30,000 journals. Infotrieve, ingenta, and sciBASE all charge a base fee plus copyright. Infotrieve's "service fee" is $10.75; ingenta's "delivery fee" is $11.00; and sciBASE's "article fee" is $12.00. Several articles in my test could have their citations verified by ingenta, but ingenta did not have permission to actually supply the article. One article, from Blackwell Science's Heredity, had an ingenta delivery fee of $10.70 rather than the standard $11.00.
|British Medical Journal|
|Information & Computation|
|Journal of Dairy Science|
|ingenta||no permission to copy|
|Journal of Law and Education|
|ingenta||no permission to copy|
|Journal of Medicinal Food|
|Journal of Physics q: Nuclear & Particle Physics|
Péter Jacsó (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate professor of Library & Information Science at the University of Hawaii's Department of Information and Computer Sciences.
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© 2001, Information Today, Inc. All rights reserved.