"More, More, More, How Do You Like it?" Who knew that Andrea True's disco lyrics would presage today's digital information dichotomy? When you really need to know, quantity without quality just won't do. Anybody using a search engine realizes that, unless you get a perfect hit on page one, too many results are a very bad thing. And if you are a researcher, the seemingly endless resources of the Web seem swell until you actually have to pull a needle of data out of a haystack of results.
Thus, researchers rely on databases, fee-based info services, and digital libraries to provide them with access to quality information in an orderly fashion. At the same time, these researchers have also become accustomed to the benefits of the Web search metaphor in that they want to search across a vast number of repositories in one fell swoop rather than perform a multitude of individual searches.
Elsevier, the scientific, technical, and health limb of the Reed Elsevier content leviathan, has put its might to work to bring researchers not just quantity but quality too. While Elsevier boasts an impressive collection of 1,800 journals, it is officially launching its Scopus abstracting an indexing (A&I) project this month with 14,000 STM sources from 4,000 publishers. Scopus offers cross-discipline access to more than 27 million abstracts and citations, stretching back to 1966, and includes cited references from 1996 onwards. And this ambitious project all started with a hunch.
"About two years ago we decided that there was a gap that we could fill by providing one interface that would allow researchers to browse, search, and navigate all science literature and all of the related information on the Web," according to Harriet Bell, the senior marketing manager for Scopus. "This hunch prompted us to meet up with librarians all around the world to find out how they serve their users and if they saw any issues where we could help."
Working with 21 libraries—which include those from Pepperdine in the U.S. to Oxford in the U.K. and Chiba in Japan to the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization in Australia—Elsevier put together its Scopus development partners. First, Elsevier surveyed these librarians to find out how they serve their patrons and the challenges they face today. What they found was that librarians invest heavily in full-text digital collections and want them to get maximum usage, which requires user awareness and training. Yet, as a result of the increasingly dispersed patrons using "libraries without walls," generating this awareness emerged as a key issue along with what they call the "Googleization effect." Users want data interfaces to work like a search engine, but at the same time they want the kind of quality sources and full-text access they expect from libraries. Along with searching A&I info from publishing partners, Scopus integrates Elsevier's Scirus scientific Internet search engine to deliver relevant Web results as well.
Bell says, "With other A&I services, users had to know a lot of command language to do effective searches but librarians couldn't expect all of their users to be trained in these techniques." She says that one of the most gratifying quotes from a development partner about the product was that, "When users use Scopus, they can focus on searches instead of operating the database."
But usability was not the only issue; Scopus' development partners wanted a complete A&I resource that would allow them to effectively tap all of the investment they make in full-text resources. So, once a user has done a search and narrowed it down to an article they are interested in, librarians wanted them to get to full text, which usually resides on a publisher's site. To enable this, Scopus employs a link resolver that shows within search results which documents the user has full access to—before they click. Librarians can upload their subscription list into the system as well as add links to show which results patrons can order from a document delivery service or obtain in a paper copy. Scopus also allows researchers to set up alerts that will notify them when a new article of interest comes out.
Scopus development partner the University of Toronto has licensed over 32,000 electronic journals and over 300 A&I databases for use by the University community. They operate the ScienceServer system on behalf of all of the Ontario universities as part of the Ontario Scholars Portal. According to Marshall (Peter) Clinton, director of information technologies services for the University of Toronto Libraries, "Maximizing the use of this system is important from an operational perspective, but one of our primary objectives is to help improve the productivity of the researchers who use it. The easier it is for users to link to electronic resources, the more they will be used."
Clinton says that, "By designing a system based on contemporary search technology and the ways in which researchers actually use information—rather than on the way that system developers and librarians think that they should use information—the Scopus team has produced an information system that will be convenient to use by researchers." Every month, development partners like the University of Toronto evaluate Scopus' functionality. Bell believes that "Scopus will fly based on the user experience. It has to be something people are going to use so librarians can relax and not worry about training people."
As this type of information offering evolves, it becomes clearer that the roles of libraries and librarians are changing. Scopus, as Bell describes it, "makes the, dare I say it, ‘I'll-do-the-search-for-you librarian' less necessary. But for the information professional who needs to manage collections and meet the needs of users, products like this make them more necessary. As a collection manager deciding how to best design a digital library to allow the user to get the information necessary, then it makes the librarian more necessary." And for the user, Bell says, "If you want expert results, but aren't an expert researcher, then Scopus is for you."