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Letters to the Editor


To the editor:

Willem Noorlander's article ("Rights and Obligations of Information Users," ONLINE, November/December 2001, pp. 22-27) presents a very thorough and balanced summary of the interrelated rights and obligations of information users and suppliers. Based on my own years as a buyer and user of content and on recent discussions with peers who are also involved in negotiating global enterprise contracts, I would like to expand on a couple of his points and add a few more from the information user perspective.

User Rights Section

#3 Access to complete information but only the information needed

I would give equal weight to the need for complete information within services purchased, but also to the need Bill mentions to be able to purchase only the precise information and services needed. In some cases, an information user may already have a discounted contract for a source that is included in one or more content aggregations. Information users should be able to either exclude that source from the content aggregator's version, or, alternatively, access it in the aggregation at the discounted rate. With market research or other proprietary content, instead of having to buy a one-size-fits-all package, buyers should be able to negotiate the number of services and the amount of extra services, such as analyst hours and conference tickets.

#7 Complete and timely usage information

I agree with Bill that this is one of the most critical points, and one of the least satisfactory at present. Although usage data is not the sole indicator of value, it is very important in the current economic climate in order to justify the costs involved in major contracts. Usage data needs to cover both volume and type of use (e.g., among different services) and the usage by individual users and user groups. For those customers who need to do internal cost recovery on vendor-hosted WWW sites or dialup databases, the software also needs to allow for input of project codes and other identifying data, preferably in multiple customizable fields. Finally, usage data should be available electronically, either through an administrative password or as electronic files provided by the supplier on a regular basis to meet the customers' needs for usage data analysis and internal cost recovery.

The points I would add are indicated below.

User Right #11

Clear and effective search tools

It is very frustrating to power users that many databases available in Internet format are significantly less flexible in search capability than the pre-Web dialup and CD-ROM databases were. In addition to providing quick and simple searches for the occasional user, suppliers should respect the time of their information-intensive users by providing tools to enable both effective searching of all or specified parts of their data. It is helpful for WWW products to include browsing modes for targeted access as well.

User Right #12

Responsibility accepted where it belongs

Many content aggregators include clauses in their contracts that exempt them from liability for third-party lawsuits over the content being provided. In other words, the buyer is expected to risk legal costs and liability for all content provided by the supplier, even though the buyer has no specific control over its sourcing or quality or the contract compliance of the other parties. Another example is a content aggregator whose standard contract seeks to have buyers indemnify the supplier for the supplier's negligence. While buyers should always be responsible for complying with their usage according to the contract terms, suppliers should take full responsibility for the products they supply.

User Right #13

Global support for global contracts

Vendors who want to sell global contracts should provide truly global contracts and support. Some vendors require separate contracts for different countries. In some cases, local supplier representatives try to sell local deals to local offices of the customers even after global contracts have been signed.

Customer support hours must overlap normal business hours worldwide, not just the business hours of the supplier's home country. Contact information for support should be provided in multiple ways, both as email and phone numbers for different areas of the world, not just a single U. S.-based toll-free service number.

Finally, all authorized users should be able to obtain some form of training, in a variety of formats that do not necessarily have to include onsite training for distant locations. It is very important that the training not be based solely on in-person models. This training could be online tutorials, Web-based training, or conference calls scheduled at times convenient for the area receiving the training. Ideally, customer support and training staff should be able to cope with native languages of users. If training or support are offered in English only, trainers and support personnel should be trained to communicate with non-native speakers of English by speaking slowly and clearly, and allowing sufficient time for questions to be formulated.

User Right #14

Integrated customer support and communications

In addition to Bill's point #9 about a close client relationship between the suppliers' sales and support teams and the client, it is critical that all departments of the supplier communicate with each other as well. One major supplier communicated directly to end-users about Web site changes and included incorrect and confusing information because the generic message did not recognize the existence of different levels of access to the product by different user groups. Some supplier account reps are totally unaware of technical requirements (e.g., firewall ports that must be opened for the product to work), which can delay or derail the installation of a new product. Finally, the account representatives who are the supplier's main contact with the customer should communicate back (and record for reference) the customer's special instructions, such as how and where to refer random callers from the customer's firm who want to access the product.

Janice Keeler
Global Content


To the editor:

I am writing to you in response to Péter's Picks and Pans (September/October 2001). Péter Jacsó reviewed sciBASE, a database of scientific information (

Unfortunately, much of the information presented in this article (as well as the information contained in the table on page 90 of the same issue, which compares the prices of document delivery services) is inaccurate and does not reflect the significant enhancements that have been made to the sciBASE service in recent months.

sciBASE now offers free access to approximately 30 million bibliographic citations dating back to 1965, with abstracts available for about 17 million of these. The content of sciBASE derives from many sources. The British Library provides less than half our data and all data sources searched are hosted directly by TheScientitificWorld. Other abstract sources contributing to sciBASE include MEDLINE, PASCAL, BIOSIS, CAB ABSTRACTS, and those from publications issued by several primary STM publishers. Clearly, the amount of data that can be searched without charge through sciBASE is an important benefit to users of sciBASE, as is the "fast and capable software" noted by the author.

Although currently TheScientificWorld markets its products and services primarily to the life sciences sector, sciBASE does cover all fields of science and many business and social science topics as well, as is clearly obvious when the author finds non-life sciences journals in our coverage. In fact, every journal cited in the price comparison table is indeed covered by us, as a search on the correct form of the journal name will reveal.

In the article, an assertion is made that $12 is an "excessive price" for an article in electronic form. However, we would like to point out that this is the price for a printed copy delivered by email after hand-scanning. The article fails to note that TheScientificWorld also has nearly 500 journals from five publishers that are directly and immediately available in PDF format through TheScientificWorld Web site, at significantly lower prices than for standard document delivery—as little as $15 total in some cases. TheScientificWorld will be adding access to many more titles on this basis over the coming months.

Specifically, the high copyright fee for the Journal of Law and Education was the fee quoted by the Copyright Licensing Agency to The British Library at the time of the test. However, the current copyright fee for that title is now 40 cents. Although there are a few publishers who do not set a copyright fee for their material and thereby allow it to be freely copied, the table of copyright fees on page 90 is incorrect in suggesting that sciBASE does not charge a fee for the British Medical Journal. In fact, the fee is $4.88. The table also incorrectly states that the copyright fee for the Journal of Physics (Nuclear and Particle Physics) is $28.50, when the correct fee is $26.88. The fee for Information and Computation is $35.67. It is also noted in the article, that no copyright fee applies for journal titles from Academic Press. The fee is shown as $0.00 because they are not available to be sold by us due to this publisher's restrictions on electronic delivery. Such (rare) restrictions are clearly stated if one attempts to purchase the article by adding the citation to the online shopping cart.

It would seem that the author has objections to publisher copyright fee practices. However, it should be realized that such fees are completely out of the company's control and also that TheScientificWorld makes no profit on them. As illogical as it sounds, some (mostly non-profit) publishers do choose to give away their backfiles free, but still charge either the document delivery services a copying fee, or aggregators a fee to redistribute any of their PDF files. This may seem somewhat inconsistent, but it is the business practice of others and it is highly inappropriate to criticize aggregators such as TheScientificWorld for the policies of primary publishers. TheScientificWorld is working with a number of parties to resolve these issues and aims to bring access to the world's scientific research literature to its members in as cost-effective and convenient a fashion as possible.

This review also obscured the significant benefits of a personalized approach to information supply evidenced by TheScientificWorld's Personal User Profile (PuP). This service alerts our members to the latest scientific research publications, as well as scientific meetings and news relevant to their specific fields of interest, free-of-charge on a daily basis. In addition,this service (pupALERT), meetsusers' current awareness needs for research papers based on a subject or author search, thus providing a more com-prehensive selection of information than a Table of Contents service.

As long as Mr. Jacsó felt it appropriate to delve beyond the database and document delivery service, we find it unfortunate that he did not choose to mention some of the other services offered to members of TheScientificWorld, such as worldMEET, which provides free access to the most comprehensive and extensive searchable database of approximately 4,000 scientific conferences worldwide; scienceWAREHOUSE, where the scientific community can purchase scientific supplies and equipment online; and, i-PUBLISH, which offers researchers the chance to publish original research articlesonline in TheScientificWorldJOURNAL immediately after high-quality peer review.

It is the sum of each of these, and other elements, that enable the TheScientificWorld to offer a "one-stop shopping" solution for scientists by using the Internet to integrate scientific information into a coherent and navigable form designed to enhance and accelerate scientific research for over five million scientists. We invite your readers to take a further and deeper look at TheScientificWorld.

Jeffrey Hillier, Ph.D.
President, Information Services
TheScientificWorld, Inc.

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