Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Carla H. Lee
Librarian for Collections and Digital Services
Applied Sciences Librarian
Charles L. Brown Science & Engineering Library
University of Virginia
The IEEE/IEE Electronic Library (IEL) delivered via the Xplore interface provides full-text access to IEEE journals, transactions, magazines, letters, conference proceedings, and standards, and IEE journals and conferences. While the IEEE and IEE are recognized authorities in publishing technology-related materials with particular emphasis in electrical engineering and computer science, the interdisciplinary nature of the IEL provides value and interest to researchers in many areas.
Given the wide-ranging appeal of materials accessible through the IEL, industries, academic institutions, and government agencies will find the database useful. The IEL provides access to over 1.2 million documents published by over 800,000 authors. It contains a complete backfile back to 1988 with selected content back to 1950, is updated weekly, includes online articles accepted for print publication, and utilizes INSPEC bibliographic records. In 2006, the IEL offers access to 126 IEEE and 21 IEE journal titles, 1,300 IEEE active and selected archival standards, and over 600 IEEE and 27 IEE conference titles.
The BASIC SEARCH from the IEEE Xplore main screen is fast and easy to use. The resulting article list is in the familiar, standard format. From this screen it is possible to modify one's original search but the display of the initial search is somewhat intimidating in appearance due to the included parentheses and advanced search field tags. It may be better to shield the user from these extraneous symbols unless actually doing an advanced search. Modifying the initial search is easy, although it would be useful to display search tips, such as a truncation symbol reminder.
One's term may appear in the full text and not in the abstract -- which could lead to some confusion as to why a given record appears in a results list, unless one actually views the complete record. Even then, the search terms are highlighted in the brief view but not the full text view -- which may make it difficult to locate the "hidden" term without using the browser's FIND function.
The default sort for result return is by relevance, based on a fairly simple algorithm including frequency of appearance of the search terms and their proximity to each other. Text length of the abstract and/or citation record is also a factor. The link to "Rights and Permissions" takes one to a reasonably clear and simple explanation of how to obtain the rights to download or use any resulting record.
There is no intuitive way to return to the BASIC SEARCH box. Clicking on SEARCH from the results screen gives only the option to go to ADVANCED SEARCH and other kinds of searches that are not "basic." It would be nice to have the BASIC SEARCH box appear on all screens. Actually, the MODIFY SEARCH box on the results screen does function in the same way as the initial BASIC SEARCH box but it is not clear from the labeling that one can type an entirely new search as opposed to "modifying" a previous search. There is a link on the left side of the screen to NEW SEARCH -- but choosing it takes one to the ADVANCED SEARCH option rather than a new BASIC SEARCH.
The ADVANCED SEARCH screen offers two modes. The first is a series of boxes that guides one through entering keywords and connecting them with Boolean connectors selected from a pull-down menu listing. The second search option requires the user to understand how to construct a Boolean search and to have knowledge of IEEE field tags. While this option may be useful for "power searchers," it probably will confuse the average user. It does permit more complex searches than the three-box option above but requires extensive knowledge of what one is going to use.
The right side of the ADVANCED SEARCH screen offers a variety of options for limiting one's search: by IEEE or IEE publication or conference proceeding, or by IEEE standard; IEEE books; a date range; a citation display format; and how to organize results screens (number of hits, number per page, relevance or alphabetical, etc.)
Searching by author name is fairly straightforward. The first option allows you to enter a last name or last name and initial(s) to obtain a browsable list. Clicking on a name will display all articles by that author. You may also enter partial last names, if you are unsure of spelling. You should NOT use any commas in your search string, though this is unfortunately not stated except in the Author Help screen. It is not clearly stated but the strong implication is that all author names are reformatted to last name, initial(s) with no given names spelled out in full. You can also browse the author list by clicking on a letter of the alphabet. The resulting list of names is displayed 50 at a time, which is a bit problematic if the letter has many names.
IEEE Xplore is participating in the Google CrossRef pilot project, which indexes the full text of scholarly documents on a publisher's web site, including IEEE. You can search these using Google search technology. The results appear to be comparable to using the Xplore interface but you will only be able to view full text if your institution has a subscription. The results list is not as handily displayed either, appearing in the same format as a regular Google list. Xplore makes it clear that to get the "best results" you should use their search capability rather than Google's -- we would agree.
The SEARCH HISTORY screen appears to work pretty much as one would expect. You can modify, combine, and delete searches easily. It may be a bit of a flaw that the system doesn't ask for confirmation before deleting a search or clearing the search history -- it is easy to delete something without meaning to.
There is support for bibliographic management software, although it can be complicated. Only one format for download is listed as "EndNote, ProCite, RefMan." While this doesn't mean that you cannot use this format for other bibliographic management tools -- since they will import files of that format -- it can be more difficult for the casual user to work out the procedure. There are no direct links to web-based bibliographic management systems, such as RefWorks.
IEEE/IEE library provides Table of Contents via e-mail alerts. This function requires a simple e-mail registration. On the sign-up screen for this service, there are also links to the RSS feeds. These links also appear on the Journal page, accessible through the Browse function, and would not require registration via this route.
The help and support is very detailed and extensive. There are three different routes to assistance -- the IEEE Xplore Guide, Help, and Support. These links are persistent throughout the site and there is consistent information on many topics via all three paths. Choosing the "Help" link can be most beneficial, since it provides context-sensitive help. In addition, there is a PDF version of the guide if an instruction manual format is preferred. The help is also generally well written and organized. When the topic is procedural, screen shots and methodical step-by-step instructions are included. There is a glossary of terms in the Guide and Help. Contact Information for Customer Support is provided as well as a form to submit general feedback and suggestions on the site.
While logging on from a subscribing institution is seamless, it apparently can be a much more complex process. There is a 12-row table devoted to this process in the help guides. While this does an admirable job clarifying the log in process in a variety of situations, it is still worrying that it is such a complex issue.
The product is COUNTER compliant and there is a separate site for statistical reports, which also includes such useful information as definitions of the terms being used in the reports. Upon consultation with our Acquisitions Librarian, the license was a fairly standard boilerplate. We asked for some minor revisions, and IEEE readily allowed these changes
In conclusion, this resource is reasonably straightforward and includes many of the standard features expected in a full-text resource. While not on the cutting edge in search techniques, such as clustering or analyzing results, the IEEE has produced a solid product that is easy to use. The star of this resource, however, is the content. This collection of material is crucial in any establishment supporting engineering research, whether academic or corporate.
In between the submission of this review and its publication, the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE) announced its merger with the Institution of Incorporated Engineers (IIE) to form the Institution of Engineering and Technology. The IEEE/IEE Electronic Library will change its name to the IEEE/IET Electronic Library, although that change had not yet occurred as of April 26, 2006. In addition, the journal titles from IET will retain IEE in their name through the end of 2006. The exception to this statement is the IEE Review which has ceased publication with Vol. 52, Number 3, March 2006. It is replaced by Engineering Technology, which will be added to the IEEE/IET Electronic Library.
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