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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2007

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Electronic Resources Reviews

ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Digital Library

Larry Schmidt
Science Reference Librarian

Bryan Tronstad
Science Reference Librarian

University of Wyoming
Laramie, Wyoming

Copyright 2007, Larry Schmidt and Bryan Tronstad. Used with permission.


The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is a not-for-profit organization that was established in 1947 and is the oldest and largest computing society (Mandelbaum 2005; About ACM 2007). In July of 1997 the ACM's Digital Library (DL) first became available allowing users to access ACM publications, with full-text accessibility back to 1991 (Denning 1997). Today the ACM DL and The Guide (The Guide to Computing Literature) have over one million records within their holdings (Ascribe Inc. 2007). Alone, the ACM DL has almost 200,000 records covering computer and information technology for individuals, researchers, businesses and academic institutions. The DL includes full-text access to conference proceedings, magazines, newsletters, and journals, covering topics in: computer technology, online education, software engineering, programming, networking, human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, and information systems, to name a few. The ACM DL is made up of all past and current ACM publications in full-text, going all the way back to volume 1, issue 1. Through the ACM Portal subscribers can access the ACM DL and The Guide. Browsing the list of publications can provide a better overview of what the ACM DL has to offer. The Guide provides users with a bibliographic database of over 3,000 publications across the entire computing field. Works indexed include books, journal articles, conference proceedings, dissertations, masters' theses and technical reports. The Digital Library and The Guide can be found at ACM Portal.

Search Interface

The University of Wyoming Libraries' subscription to the ACM DL is through a consortia package with the Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA). Figure 1 is the web page for the ACM DL that we link to from our database page. Other options are linking to the ACM Portal or The Guide. The content of the DL can be obtained using a basic search, advanced search, or browse option. The basic search feature offers a single search box and allows users to enter key terms or word phrases and is the default searching interface from the ACM DL homepage as seen in Figure 1. All words in the search box will be searched and any exact phrases need to have quotation marks placed around them. The advanced search feature provides many other options but it requires users to login if they do not have a subscription. The advanced search is straightforward and guides users through the process (see Figure 2).

Search boxes are available for users to enter their key terms and each box provides a different search feature. The first box will search for all words or phrases entered, again with quotation marks surrounding any exact phrases. The second box will search for any of the words or phrases entered and the third box will search for none of the words if entered in that box. In the advanced search there are also features to search by author, affiliation, ISSN, ISBN, DOI, publisher, date of publication, conference proceeding, ACM's computing classification system, and the ability to limit to articles that have full-text, abstracts or reviews. By searching for all words or phrases and an author the search is automatically combined to give you an author keyword search (see Figure 2).

There is also a browse the DL feature that allows users to search through individual titles based on category or type of publication. A list of categories can be found on the ACM DL homepage under the heading "Browse the Digital Library" (see Figure 1). This feature is useful for those individuals who are interested in browsing a particular title or have the citation in hand for the article they are trying to find. The interface is both simple and intuitive, so users should have little trouble finding what they need using this feature.

Results Display and Interface

The ACM DL's results display is easy to follow and there are some helpful features offered with this interface. At the top of the result screen the database displays the terms that were used in the search and the number of records that resulted. Results are default to display in order of relevance and in expanded form. Those results that are displayed as being most relevant to the search are those that have the search terms in the title of the record. When searching, this was a good indicator of relevance most of the time, but as with any computer generated analyses, it was not always an indicator of relevance with the search. Besides relevance, results can also be sorted by: title, publication, publication date, and publisher. No matter how many results are obtained the database limits the display to 200. Furthermore, the results displayed vary depending on how the results are sorted. Results being displayed in expanded form will allow users to view more detail about the document on the results page without having to go into the record (see Figure 3). For example, in expanded form, document abstracts are shown when available. On the results page there is also the option that allows users to choose if they would like a new window to open when selecting a record. There is also a help button for search tips and the ability to save results to your own personal space on the ACM server. From the results page users can also click on register to set up their personal ACM account and there are links to report problems and submit feedback to ACM. Because this is a full-text database, links to the ACM publications are available, some are in PDF and some are in HTML and with some documents you have the option between either PDF or HTML format.

Search Tips

The "Search Tips" link from the results page or the advanced search page offers users help while searching the ACM DL. Help sheets are available that discuss the basics of searching, what searching is and the tools used. These help sheets also go over different types of searches such as searching with words or searching with phrases, expanded searches using topics or wildcards, limiting searches and searching for terms within different areas of a document. The search help sheets are thorough in describing how to search yet easy to follow.

Creating ACM User Account

The link to register for an ACM account is also located on the results page. All it takes to register is your name, physical address and an email address and your account can be created. By creating an account users can access Table of Contents (TOC) Service and My Binder which allows users to save search results and queries. These features are limited depending on the type of subscription. Users accessing the ACM DL through an institutional subscription have only access to the TOC Service while individual member subscribers will have access to both the TOC Service and My Binder feature.

Digital Library Record

At the top of the record is where the user will find a link to the full-text of the document along with bibliographic information and abstract when available. The record also provides some cross referencing features that can help users to locate related documents. These features consist of:


An institutional subscription to the core ACM DL package (consisting of the ACM journals, magazines and transactions) in print and online format has an annual fee of $6,190 for non-profit organizations. There are also various pricing options for corporations and consortia. To get a specific price on this or other ACM products, contact them at the address listed below. For further ACM package deals and pricing you may also refer to the ACM's Subscription Options page.


The ACM DL offers users a wealth of information in the form of conference proceedings, magazines, newsletters, and technical journals in the fields of computing. These resources are available in full text and range from the first to the most current ACM publications. Overall the ACM DL is a good database that is easy to use and has diverse functionality. Searching procedures are straight forward with a minimal learning curve. There are several options for refining a search to locate other relevant articles. Features such as the "find similar articles," "peer to peer," and "collaborative colleagues" are a couple of the options available to help users locate other relevant ACM publications on a topic. Even with all of its benefits, the ACM DL does have a few drawbacks. For example, users who access the DL through an institutional subscription do not have the ability to save search results where members with individual subscriptions do have the ability to use this service. Also the results of a search are limited to displaying only the top 200 results. Because most users are not going to wade through more than 200 citations this is probably a mute point. The ACM DL is a resource that all academic libraries with active computer science and electrical engineering departments should subscribe to. ACM's pricing structure and licensing policy are both fair and easy to work with. They are continuing to improve both the interface, search features, saving features and exporting abilities such as downloading to EndNote, which they are working on as referenced on their help page. Continued feedback by users will make this an even more valuable tool than it is now as ACM continues to work on their user interface. Hopefully in the near future they will allow institutional subscribers access to the My Binder feature.

For more information contact:
ACM Member Services Department


About ACM. 2007. [Online]. Available: {} [Accessed March 29, 2007].

Ascribe Inc. 2007. ACM Digital Library now exceeds one million entries; online computing and IT publications provide rich resources for computing professionals. Ascribe Newswire, February 14, 2007. [Online]. [Accessed: from LexisNexis Academic March 28, 2007].

Denning, P. J. 1997. The ACM Digital Library goes live. Communications of the ACM 40(7): 28-29.

Frequently Asked Questions. [Online]. Available: [Accessed April 12, 2007].

Mandelbaum, M. 2005. ACM's Experiences with licensing its Digital Library. The Serials Librarian 48(1/2): 185-187.

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