Péter's Digital Reference Shelf
This is my farewell review. Mary Kay Dodero offered me this platform 10 years ago, and many editors have helped me, Mary Claire Krzewinski for the longest time, in getting my message through every month. I much appreciate their support and the privilege to have had the opportunity to publish 227 database reviews. It was icing on the cake that my favorite reviewer and predecessor, Jim Rettig, recommended me to take over his position as Gale's reviewer for digital ready reference sources. While it is the omega of my column, it happens to end with a review of an innovative and promising factographic database called Wolfram Alpha.
This second coming of a free academic database is much smaller than the earlier (very poor and withdrawn) version was, but it is far better in terms of both content and software, focusing on computer science and – to a limited extent on information science. It is a promising start by the Microsoft Research Asia group for extending it to many other disciplines.
The DOAJ database, with bibliographic information about nearly 5,000 open-access journals, offers more than its name implies, by
virtue of also having searchable traditional bibliographic data, keywords and abstracts for 331,000 articles of 1,725 open-access
scholarly journals. The software offers good browsing options for the journal records, but the search and output features should be
enhanced. Adding records about journals with delayed open access (of 6-12 months moratorium) would significantly enhance this
HighWire Press remains the best host of the digital collection of scholarly publishers who want to offer access to the digital versions of their journals, but don't have the skills, resources and/or interest to do it on their own.
HighWire Press has not only the largest full-text searchable, hosted collections of more than six million scholarly articles, but also the largest free subset of them, with nearly two million open-access items.
This well-designed service also has feature-rich software, and detailed, accurate, informative statistics about the features of the hosted collection — as well as some limitations.
The beta version offers some useful additional options, such as result clustering and quick filtering by descriptors, classification codes, journal names, author, publication year etc. But the search is still limited to bibliographic metadata excluding the text of the papers, Open access full-text searching is the norm these days in almost all societies' archives. It aggravates the problem that Scitation is also the host/digital facilitator of journals and conference proceedings of other societies and associations.
EBSCO once again made another important indexing/abstracting database freely available to librarians, other information professionals and the entire public (that cares). It deserves more up-to-date information than is currently offered by EBSCO because its content was good at the start, and grew by 25% since the launch of the database - thus has valid bragging rights. The software has very good browsing, searching, clustering and filtering options, as well as the splendid linked-full-text filter, but there is a software glitch that may deprive those users from tens of thousands of records. who browse and then search by journal names.
At this much-coveted URL, there is far more than meets the eye of the user who looks up the list of ready reference sources. Actually, it offers the largest free collection of widely respected encyclopedias, guides and compendiums of Gale and Oxford University Press, including many Oxford dictionaries, as well as a collection of almanacs, biographies, maps and images, along with subscription-based access to magazine, journal and newspaper articles, TV transcripts and some additional ready reference sources. The site needs a far more complete listing of all the sources, consistent and correct indication of the completely free sources in the result list, and an advanced mode of searching to increase its popularity and efficiency.
Web of Science (WoS) remains by far the largest citation database. In my estimate, WoS has about nearly 73% (33 million) of its 42.1 million unique records enhanced by more than 720 million cited references. This is the most important measure when comparing WoS with its only competitor: Scopus, which I reviewed last month. I pointed out that with its appealing and smart software it offers a similarly large collection of 38.1 million bibliographic records from 1850, but only 15 million (39.4%) of them are enhanced by about 330 million cited references. The reason for the huge difference in the number of total references is that Scopus has references added to the bibliographic records from 1996 onward as opposed to WoS which has consistently included the cited references with the bibliographic records since 1900.
Scopus has been continually enhanced since its debut in November 2004, both in terms of content and software. It offers now more than 38 million records, nearly 15 million with cited references. The massive efforts to fill in the gaps of coverage of many journals is to be applauded, but there are still serial publications with significant gaps in coverage even in the most precious 1996-2009 segment of the database, which should have been given top priority.
The most current free subset version of the World Development Indicators (WDI) is a half-hearted effort from the World Bank, less generous with indicators than many alternative free sources such as the excellent, far better designed and implemented free digital version of the OECD Factbook 2009. However, WDI has free information about many more countries and economies than most of the alternatives. There are annoying geographic classifications, content and software oddities and stunning data errors obvious even to the naked eye (also in the subscription-based version), but by applying common sense and appropriate care it is a usable resource for ready-reference service, especially for data about countries/economies that are not covered by alternative sources.
ticTOCS is a splendid, state of the art version of the traditional current awareness services from RSS feeds of the Table of Contents pages of more than 14,400 scholarly journals. It takes the pain out of learning about the content of the most recent and even upcoming issues of journals. It has some lacuna in journal coverage in spite of its wide scope, and a few software shortcomings. Even in its infancy, this service helps greatly in centralizing, personalizing and filtering the flood of information. It saves a lot of time, and offers a lot of gratification to researchers free.
Very current, and rich content about every topical –if not regional- aspect of the pop culture universe ranging from pop arts and entertainment to pop couture and cuisine through the digital aggregation of 360 print ready-reference sources on the subject. The use of the advanced search mode requires caution because distinct data elements offered for filtering the search (country, time period) are absent in many records.
In spite of some content limitations, this exceptionally well-designed open-access component of the SCImago Journal & Country Rank database is an outstanding source for bibliometric, scientiometric and informetric research about scientific publishing productivity and impact of nations.
Among all the mainstream almanacs this is by far the most comprehensive and the most current since it is continuously updated. The impressively smart software brings the best out of the rich content. It sweetens the deal that it is free, although you pay a price by enduring appalling Web ads – familiar from commercial television.