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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2006
DOI:10.5062/F4JW8BTZ

URLs in this document have been updated. Links enclosed in {curly brackets} have been changed. If a replacement link was located, the new URL was added and the link is active; if a new site could not be identified, the broken link was removed.

Electronic Resources Reviews

Referex Engineering
{http://www.ei.org/referex}

Patricia E. Kirkwood
Engineering and Mathematics Librarian
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, Arkansas
pkirkwo@uark.edu

The Elsevier-generated collection Referex Engineering is available through the Engineering Village 2 platform. It provides quality content and user friendly access to over 300 books in chemical, petrochemical, processing, mechanical, and electrical engineering. In spite of a few flaws in presentation and utility, this collection should be reviewed for inclusion in most libraries with an engineering clientele.

According to Engineering Information (2006), "Referex Engineering is a specialized electronic reference product that draws upon hundreds of premium engineering titles to provide engineering students and professionals with the answers and information they require at school, work, and in practice." All of the titles included in the collection are from Elsevier-related publishers. Although "hundreds" makes it sound like an extremely large electronic collection, this unique resource that includes both reference resources and textbooks has a distinct niche in the engineering library. It is an excellent tool for engineering firms that need basic information available for their practitioners in remote locations. Those in smaller academic settings may find it useful as a collection that provides good resources that takes little shelf space but covers a broad spectrum of engineering fields. Of course, with fewer than 350 titles, no single field is covered completely, and sub-categories are selectively handled. Larger academic libraries will want to consider this collection as a method to move toward an electronic bookshelf. At the University of Arkansas, engineering graduate students are finding it a useful resource for their courses for supplemental reading and to avoid carrying textbooks. Undergraduates are finding it a useful resource for class projects needing good quality references. As Referex is delivered via the Engineering Village 2 platform (EV2), it can be added easily to any collection where bibliographic databases are available on this platform.

Search features through EV2 include the basics -- searching by keyword and subject categories. Control terminology, with the exception of the subject category (i.e., "Circuit Design"), and author name are not available at this time. However, MARC records, although not offered as part of the purchase price, are available through OCLC. Full LC subject heading searching with linking to individual titles can be handled through the library catalog. Linking to Referex titles is a matter of placing the correct web address in the MARC record.

Cross-file searching with the subject databases on EV2 is not currently available. However, this is on the enhancement list and will be a great addition. Of course the "keyword search" searches the full text of each book in the collection. Unfortunately, the "search performed" is a basic string match, and there is no method to refine the search by adjacency. This problem is somewhat moderated by a sorting algorithm that ranks results based on the following information provided by Engineering Village (2006):

Multiple keywords are searched with a default "AND." Quotation marks are required to force a phrase search. There is a Referex-specific help section in the general Engineering Village 2 help screens that clearly outlines the searching options and how they differ from the general platform. One concern that deserves attention is the inclusion of the indexes in the general search outputs. Although it is important to have these pages searchable, there are no internal links to the specified pages, and returning them as part of the general keyword search is awkward, unnecessarily skewing the "highest" ranking results. In addition, this may skew the download statistics. Statistics are not clearly COUNTER compliant, but it is possible to get an estimate of searches and document downloads.

Viewing content once the chapter has been selected is seamless. One simply clicks on the links "read this book" or "read this section." The complete book downloads as a PDF file, with the first page of the requested section (or the title page for "read this book") displayed. Printing is a bit more cumbersome. Manual input of the page range for the section of interest is required to avoid printing the complete book. This is not obvious and will cause problems at public print stations. Three to six hundred pages being printed "by mistake" will lead to unhappy library customers.

Elsevier does not at this time take advantage of the electronic platform to enhance usability of the titles in this collection. As mentioned, there is no internal linking either within an individual title or to other titles in the collection. In addition, references are stagnant, with no effort made to allow electronic access to the wealth of information they provide. Furthermore, in order to get to the specific page where a keyword appears, a second search using the Adobe finding aids must be done. New features to address some of these issues may become available with the next collection upgrade before the end of the year.

One of the biggest concerns with products like this is the level of maintenance and access available years from now. Although some of the materials included in the database are textbooks that will become outdated, some of the titles will be useful for many years, and indeed some titles might be appropriate for the historical archives. Elsevier has dealt with this concern by using a subscription model for this database so that with an annual payment, libraries will have access to the new editions as they are added to the collection. If using subscription dollars for book collections seems inappropriate, Elsevier has provided the option of a one-time purchase. With a one-time cost the electronic collection is accessible with a perpetual license. The contract is an addendum to the Science Direct contract. New books, which are added irregularly, can then be purchased to keep the collection current. New content will be added to the collection shortly (in fact, may be available by the time this review goes to press). Pricing, either subscription or one-time purchase, for the collections is based on FTE and type of organization.

Referex has been available for about two years and has an interface that is improving with each year. For example, the recent addition of search and retrieval by chapters/sections has made the product more user friendly. The collection of titles appears to be well selected to provide both general background on broader areas and specific titles that delve into research areas. The database is a good choice for delivering high-quality information to users remotely in specific engineering disciplines. Our experience at the University of Arkansas is that students enjoy the product and will use these titles at a much higher rate then the print collection. Referex Engineering is a product that should be reviewed as further enhancements and additions occur. If it does not satisfy current collection development needs for your organization today, it may in the future.

References

Engineering Information. 2006. Referex Engineering. [Online] Available: {http://www.ei.org/referex} [July 12, 2006].

Engineering Village. 2006. Help Topics. [Online] Available: www.engineeringvillage2.org [July 12, 2006].

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