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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2002

Book Reviews

Information Retrieval: SciFinder and SciFinder Scholar

Mary Ann Mahoney
Head, Chemistry Library
University of California, Berkeley

Information Retrieval: SciFinder and SciFinder Scholar / Damon D. Ridley. Chichester : Wiley, c2002. 235pp. $41.75 ISBN 0470843519 (paperback)

This text is a guide to understanding two software products from Chemical Abstracts Service, SciFinder and SciFinder Scholar. SciFinder is a desktop software program designed to enable scientists to search the scientific literature, in particular to search several databases from CAS including Chemical Abstracts, Registry and CASREACT. SciFinder Scholar evolved from SciFinder and was designed for the academic community. Since their original release, additional features have been added to both products including access to the MEDLINE database from the National Library of Medicine. SciFinder and SciFinder Scholar differ in their capabilities, but they are generally similar, and this book is applicable to both.

Damon D. Ridley is a professor in the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney who since 1983 has been involved with research in information retrieval in the sciences. He has an earlier book, Online Searching: A Scientist's Perspective: A Guide for the Chemical and Life Sciences, Wiley (1996). This current book, Information Retrieval: SciFinder and SciFinder Scholar is ostensibly written for the scientist, but could have just as easily been directed to the information professional. Ridley wants the reader to understand how SciFinder processes search questions, so his discussions on search algorithms, comprehensiveness, precision and indexing policies are all relevant topics for the information professional. He emphasizes the importance of understanding the indexing policies of the Chemical Abstracts Service and the National Library of Medicine and the implications these policies have for information retrieval. That Ridley can integrate the information retrieval concepts with the chemical principles also needed for effective searching is a big plus for readers whose last chemistry class may have been years ago.

The SciFinder software is innovative in its design, with a user-friendly graphical interface and a reliance on natural language searching. With SciFinder one does not need to know truncation symbols, proximity operators, field names or Boolean searching. In fact, advertising copy from CAS usually includes a comment that the software is so easy to use that no training is necessary. While it is easy to find information with SciFinder, many users would like to know more about how their searches are processed, "behind the scenes" so to speak. They question why certain articles were found, and equally important, why others were not.

This book addresses these concerns by providing the reader with an understanding of the content and functionality of SciFinder and SciFinder Scholar. This is not a manual on the mechanics of searching; rather it is a guide on how the software system works. The emphasis is on the creative use of SciFinder as a research tool and the application of the scientific method to information retrieval.

The book covers database content and explains the basic principles used by SciFinder to answer queries. The two principal ways to search, by research topic and by chemical substance are covered in depth. Advanced search strategies are discussed as well as structure and reaction searching. The appendices contain extensive material on specialized topics such as CAS indexing roles, registration of substances and structure searching. Appendix 8, Overview of SciFinder Scholar Screens, is available at a web site established for the text. There are exercises at the end of each chapter with the answers available at the same web site.

Particularly instructive are Ridley's explanations of why the same query asked in various ways will yield different results. For example, a query about the compound, cyclosporin can be explored by research topic or explored by chemical substance. Retrieval is different depending on which approach is taken. After reading the book it is clear why the results differ. The choice of which way to search will always vary, but with this guide the user will be able to make knowledgeable decisions.

With a text like this there is always the question of currency since CAS continues to upgrade the SciFinder and SciFinder Scholar software. However, readers should find this text relevant and informative for some time since the text concentrates on the basic principles that guide the processing of the search queries.

This is an excellent text, highly recommended for any scientist, student, librarian or information professional that wants to gain a better understanding of SciFinder and SciFinder Scholar.

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