Availability and Cost of Web-Based Bibliographic Search Services

Library Technology Reports, January 1999 | Go to article overview

Availability and Cost of Web-Based Bibliographic Search Services


As their name indicates, web-based bibliographic search services provide online access to computer-based bibliographic information (citations, abstracts, and the full text of documents) through the World Wide Web component of the Internet. Users access such services through desktop computers or other workstations equipped with web browser software--typically, Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. An Internet connection is also required. The World Wide Web interconnects tens of thousands of servers that provide bibliographic information and retrieval capabilities of interest to libraries and library users. A comprehensive survey of such resources is both beyond the scope of this report and probably impossible to create. Published guides to the World Wide Web, such as Luckman's World Wide Web Yellow Pages, 3d ed., (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1999), cover a small fraction of available web sites and are outdated quickly. Online guides, accessible through certain web sites, may be more up-to-date, but they are none the less incomplete; even the most ambitious web search engines cover only a subset of web sites.

To obtain a manageable, focused treatment, this survey is limited to web-based bibliographic search services with the following characteristics:

1. The service must be suitable for library reference applications. Certain bibliographic utilities, such as ITS.MARC from The Library Corporation and Impact/MARCit from A-G Canada, provide web-based access to large databases, but they are intended mainly for cataloging support or resource sharing rather than reference work. Such services are consequently outside the scope of this discussion.

2. The service must be publicly accessible through the World Wide Web, for a fee or without charge, to libraries or other customers. Services that impose a specific subscriber qualification--such as membership in a specific profession, employment in a specific industry, or participation in a specific educational consortium or other group--are excluded. Products and services intended for private intranet implementations rather than the public Internet are likewise excluded.

3. The service must offer two or more bibliographic databases. Therefore this report does not include the many daily newspapers that are available in electronic editions at their publishers' web sites nor the hundreds of library OPACs that are accessible through the World Wide Web.

4. The service's principal databases must consist of bibliographic citations, with or without abstracts, or the full text of journal articles, news stories, press releases, technical reports, or other documents. Services that provide non-bibliographic information--such as business directories, financial data on companies or investments, or statistical databases--are excluded unless they also offer bibliographic databases.

5. The service must offer English-language databases and an English-language user interface. A given service may offer some non-English-language databases, but significant English-language information resources must be provided as well. Services, such as the German FIZ Technik service, that offer non-English-language bibliographic databases and non-English-language information resources principally or exclusively, are excluded.

6. The service must be operated by the web site that bears its name. Web sites that merely link users to other sites, but offer no bibliographic databases themselves, are excluded.

Web-based bibliographic search services that meet the foregoing requirements are divided, for purposes of this discussion, into three broad categories, based on their information content and intended audiences:

1. Multtdisciplinary services, those that offer bibliographic databases on a variety of subjects for a diverse clientele, including scientists, engineers, managers, professional practitioners, and scholars, as well as the general public. …

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