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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Winter 2008
DOI:10.5062/F4WH2MXN

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[Refereed]

Does Chemistry Content in a State Electronic Library Meet the Needs of Smaller Academic Institutions and Companies?

Meghan Lafferty
Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Librarian
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
mlaffert@umn.edu

Copyright 2008, Meghan Lafferty. Used with permission.

Abstract

Smaller academic institutions and companies are not always able to afford access to Chemical Abstracts, the major source for the chemical literature, via SciFinder, SciFinder Scholar, or STN. In Minnesota, as in many other states, citizens do have access to a suite of interdisciplinary databases that offer some coverage of the chemical literature. I examined the coverage dates, document types, full-text availability, impact factor, publishers, and searchability and indexing of the chemistry-related content of Academic Search Premier and Business Source Premier which index academic and trade publications. A number of key journals in the field are indexed in the databases, but coverage does not go back very far. For this reason, I would not recommend it for undergraduates. The length of coverage may not be as important in industry as their needs are different.

Introduction

As the chemistry librarian at the University of Minnesota, the only comprehensive research university in Minnesota, I have become interested in what options are available to those who need access to the chemical literature but are not affiliated with well-funded academic institutions or large chemical companies. Other academic institutions in the state have much more limited resources. While most of the University's library resources are accessible to walk-in users, Minnesota is not a small state, and it is not always feasible for people to travel to the Twin Cities. Even for those unaffiliated users who visit our libraries, the major chemistry database, SciFinder Scholar, is restricted to our students, faculty, and staff. Our library has Chemical Abstracts in print through 2001 and CA on CD through 2003. Both are available to unaffiliated users, but access to more recent literature is not.

While Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) does offer special packages for primarily undergraduate institutions, it is still out of reach for some smaller schools. Smaller schools may have STN, but its use is often mediated by a librarian. For students accustomed to so many information resources being directly available to them when they want them online, it is not ideal.

The Electronic Library of Minnesota (ELM) is a suite of databases made available to the citizens of Minnesota by the MINITEX Library Information Network. MINITEX was initially established in 1968 to provide interlibrary loan services to libraries throughout Minnesota. It now serves North and South Dakota as well as Minnesota and provides a wide array of services including access to ELM ("Bringing the University Libraries to Every Citizen" 2006; Cook 2000).

At least thirty states in the US make similar suites of databases available to their citizens through public libraries (Lester and Wallace 2004; Tenopir 2000). Academic and school library users may or may not be included; private academic institutions might be excluded (Tenopir 2000; Wright 2005). There is no consistent name for these types of collections; they might be called electronic libraries, statewide digital libraries, statewide virtual libraries, or statewide databases (Fuller 2006; Lester and Wallace 2004; Pappas 2003). Although some states provide access to a broader array of resources like electronic journals or reference works, the primary focus of most statewide digital libraries is general multidisciplinary databases since they have wide appeal (Broome 2004; Potter 1997; Tenopir 2000; Williams 2000). Four major database vendors are the dominant content providers for statewide digital libraries: EBSCO, Gale, ProQuest, and OCLC (Tenopir 2000). ELM is no exception as it is largely comprised of aggregator databases from EBSCO and Gale along with a couple of ProQuest and OCLC databases (MINITEX 2007).

A key goal for statewide digital libraries is to make quality information available to all citizens of a state and provide a "level playing field" through more equitable access to resources (Potter 1997). As is typical for statewide digital libraries, any Minnesota citizen with a public library card or any K-12 student can access ELM. Many academic libraries also participate (MINITEX 2007). The benefits of statewide digital libraries are more readily apparent at smaller academic institutions than large ones, which is not surprising given that their collections budgets are usually more limited than those at larger institutions (Broome 2004; Davidson and Bustos 2001).

Could ELM serve the chemical information needs of Minnesotans who do not otherwise have access to the literature? The chief potential audiences for chemistry-related content of ELM are smaller schools and companies, as mentioned earlier.

There are minimum standards for access to the chemical literature established by the American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Professional Training (CPT) as part of their guidelines for undergraduate chemistry programs. The most current guidelines were approved in 2003, and new ones are currently under review (ACS CPT 2003; ACS CPT 2007). Certain chemical information resources, including access to Chemical Abstracts and at least 14 titles from an approved list of general and topical (e.g., analytical, organic, and physical) chemistry journals must be available to undergraduates in order for students to graduate with an ACS accredited chemistry degree(ACS CPT 2003; ACS CPT 2005; ACS CPT 2007). Many of the journals on the list are published by ACS (ACS CPT 2005).

The needs for industry are different from those in colleges and universities. I spoke with an information specialist with expertise in working with smaller technology-related companies in Minnesota (personal communication, October 18, 2006) and consulted Hoovers, a database of company profiles, to learn what types of work those businesses are doing. Some chemistry-related areas in which Minnesota companies are involved include biocomposites; elastomers, molding, and resins for medical devices; food chemistry; paints and coatings; pharmaceuticals; photonics, optics, and lasers; and tapes, sealants, and caulks for construction and HVAC. Many companies also make products for other companies to use in their manufacturing processes. The information professional I consulted said that corporate researchers need access to trade literature that helps them answer questions about industrial applications and problems in their processes. Unlike in academia, scientists and engineers in the for-profit sector have questions of an applied nature.

Conversations with information professionals at four different Minnesota companies (personal communication, March 9, 2006; January 12, 2007; January 20, 2007; and February 2, 2007) that do chemistry-related work indicated that the information available to their scientists and engineers varies widely. Larger and more profitable companies are able to provide more information resources for their employees than smaller ones. The librarian at one small company told me that she used STN, but the scientists at her company only had access to journal and patent resources freely available online. She did not indicate how the scientists located journal articles. The larger companies had access to many of the same databases and online reference sources that we have at the University of Minnesota. I was interested to learn that the information professionals I consulted at one larger company have on occasion made use of the resources in ELM.

Analyses of the content and features of aggregator databases have largely focused on comparisons between different aggregators for the purposes of selecting databases for inclusion in statewide digital libraries like ELM (Blessinger and Olle 2003; Blosser et al. 2001; Conger and Reidenbaugh 2002; Hill 2001; Black 1999/0). Hill examined the science and technology content of three aggregator databases in his analysis; a focus on science in aggregator databases has been rare in the literature (Hill and Madarash-Hill 2005). The content of aggregator databases like those included in ELM is notoriously unstable, particularly the full-text content, and can change without warning (Brooks and Dorst 2002; Conger and Reidenbaugh 2002; Hill 2001).

This article investigates another potential avenue for students and faculty at smaller schools with limited library budgets and scientists and engineers at small businesses that do chemistry-related work to locate the literature that they need for their research, teaching, study, and other work. It is part of a project compiling a package of chemical information resources freely available to Minnesotans. My conclusions may also be applicable to the chemical information needs in other states that offer similar databases to their residents.

Methods

In examining ELM, I focused on article databases that included chemistry content aimed at a post-secondary level. ELM includes 15 databases. Academic Search Premier and Business Source Premier were the only article databases with significant chemistry-related content. I used the category "Chemistry and Chemicals" as assigned by EBSCO.

Title lists for Academic Search Premier and Business Source Premier were obtained from the EBSCO web site (EBSCO 2007). The content of aggregator databases fluctuates, and the title lists may have changed somewhat since downloading (Brooks and Dorst 2002; Conger and Reidenbaugh 2002; Hill 2001). In examining years of coverage for titles in each database, I included only those titles for which new content is still being added to the databases. This takes into account title changes so that titles are not duplicated. Impact factors for 2005 were obtained from Journal Citation Reports (JCR).

Table 1.


Criteria for evaluation

Document types

Full-text availability

Impact factor and peer review

Searchability and indexing

Publishers

Years of coverage

Results and Discussion

Document Types

The "Chemistry and Chemicals" category for both Academic Search Premier and Business Source Premier included titles not strictly related to chemistry. For example, general science titles both scholarly (e.g., Nature) and popular (e.g., Discover) are included. EBSCO's definition of chemistry is broad and includes food science, pharmaceuticals, and other disciplines related to chemistry.

Academic Search Premier classifies 589 titles as "Chemistry and Chemicals." Out of the 589 chemistry titles in Academic Search Premier, the overwhelming majority (about 98%) are what EBSCO calls academic journals. Most academic journals in Academic Search Premier are peer reviewed. All of the titles in the chemistry category are. The rest are evenly split between magazines and trade journals. The chemistry titles are a little more skewed to academic journals than the database as a whole with academic titles comprising 87% of 8,218.

Business Source Premier has 231 titles categorized as "Chemistry and Chemicals." It includes a wider variety of types of sources than Academic Search Premier. Business Source Premier is clearly aimed at a different audience from Academic Search Premier, and there is little overlap in content. Most of the titles in the chemistry category are reports on various chemistry-related industries such as pharmaceuticals or fertilizers. Only about 20% of the sources indexed in Business Source Premier are serials. Most of the serials included are trade journals; only 17% are scholarly.

Impact Factor and Peer Review

Although impact factor is an imperfect measure of quality, I did find it useful as one criterion in my evaluation. A lot has been written in the literature about its problems. A few of the criticisms include errors in the data, the small number of journals chosen for indexing, potential problems with citations such as self-citations, and issues in how impact factor is calculated (Nisonger 2004). Also, the importance of a journal for a group of users may have little to do with how highly the journal is ranked in terms of impact factor (Nisonger 2004).

The journals included in EBSCO's Chemistry and Chemicals category fit into a number of different subject categories in JCR. In Academic Search Premier, of the ten titles with the highest impact factors, only two titles, Chemical Reviews from ACS and Chemical Society Reviews from RSC, were in the same category in JCR, multidisciplinary chemistry. Others included genetics, immunology, toxicology, and polymer science. Another criticism of impact factor relevant to this is that disciplines have different citation patterns (Garfield 1979b; Nisonger 2004). For example, mathematicians tend to cite far fewer references than life scientists (Garfield 1999). Consequently, average impact factors for journals in different subjects can vary from less than 1 in engineering to more than 2 in biology; chemistry falls somewhere in the middle (Dang 2006). Such differences make comparisons between impact factors in different disciplines difficult, particularly when journals fall into a wide range of disciplines. When I sorted the journals by impact factor to see what journals fell into the top third, I noticed that biochemistry-related journals were over-represented which is consistent with information on what disciplines have higher average rates of citation. Because of this, I have not focused as much on the numbers in examining impact factor.

Despite its flaws, there is still merit in looking at impact factor. The selection of journals for inclusion in the ISI Science Citation Index, the source of data for JCR, is in itself significant. Those that are chosen are considered to be important in terms the quantity and quality of research published as well as relevance to their disciplines (Garfield 1979a; Testa 2004). There are currently 6,670 journals indexed by Science Citation Index Expanded and 8,700 journals when the Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences Indexes are included; out of the over 137,000 periodicals indexed by Ulrich's, the number chosen by ISI is quite small ("Science Citation Index Expanded Journal List"; Nisonger 2004).

In Academic Search Premier, 483 of the 589 chemistry publications have impact factors, and 575 of all chemistry titles included are peer reviewed. Of titles which have an impact factor, only five are not peer reviewed. As expected, many of the publications with the highest impact factors are review journals; some of those are quite high with four above a factor of 20 and 12 additional titles greater than 10.

In Business Source Premier, 15 (6%) publications have impact factors, and 9 (4%) are peer reviewed. This is unsurprising as so few sources included are scholarly journals. Though the number of journals with impact factors is much smaller, the trend is similar in that a small number have much higher impact factors than the rest.

Publishers

There are publications from 72 different publishers in Academic Search Premier; of these, 50 (69%) are commercial publishers. The rest are society or university publishers. Commercial publishers, particularly Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Springer, and Blackwell, represent a significant proportion of the titles included at 89% (see Table 2). Wiley has only four chemistry titles in Academic Search Premier. Three of those are pharmacology-related, and the fourth is European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry. I found that interesting given that Wiley publishes quite a few titles in chemistry including Angewandte Chemie, long a well-regarded chemistry journal.

Table 2. Publishers in Academic Search Premier


Publisher

# Titles

Percentage

Full-Text Available?

Elsevier and subsidiaries

234

40%

Mix

Taylor & Francis Ltd

80

14%

Mix

Springer and subsidiaries

53

9%

Mix

Blackwell Publishing Limited

34

6%

Mix

Bentham Science Publishers Ltd.

28

5%

Y

American Chemical Society

27

5%

N

Royal Society of Chemistry

10

2%

N

Sage Publications

9

2%

N

VSP International Science Publishers

8

1%

Y

World Scientific Publishing Company

8

1%

Mix

Annual Reviews Inc.

7

1%

Y

MAIK Nauka Interperiodica

7

1%

N

American Institute of Physics

6

1%

Y

Nature Publishing Group

6

1%

Mix

Maney Publishing

5

1%

Y

Marcel Dekker

5

1%

Y

Others (<5 titles each)

62

11%

Mix

Most American Chemical Society (ACS) and Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) publications, with the exception of some newer titles and a few others, are indexed in Academic Search Premier. Their publications are among the most prestigious and most highly cited in chemistry. The most widely known are those that cover general chemistry, Journal of the American Chemical Society from ACS and ChemComm from RSC. They also publish key journals in the subdisciplines of chemistry (biochemistry and analytical, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry). Neither society makes full-text of their journals available through Academic Search Premier.

In Table 2, it is noted that the availability of full text from Elsevier and subsidiaries is mixed. This is somewhat misleading as only one publication from an Elsevier subsidiary actually offers full text.

The publishers whose titles are included in Business Source Premier are very different from those in Academic Search Premier. Titles from 30 different publishers are included in Business Source Premier of which two are not commercial publishers. As Table 3 shows, Datamonitor Plc, publisher of industry reports, is largely responsible for the chemistry-related content of Business Source Premier. For the 48 serials included, no single publisher dominates with 26 publishers.

Table 3. Publishers in Business Source Premier


Publisher

# Titles

Percentage

Full-Text Available?

Datamonitor Plc

165

71%

Y

DMG World Media (UK) Limited

8

3%

Y

Elsevier and subsidiaries

7

3%

Mix

Gartner, Inc.

7

3%

Y

EIU: Economist Intelligence Unit

6

3%

Y

Global Insight, Inc.

5

2%

Y

Advanstar Communications Inc.

4

2%

Y

BNP Media

4

2%

Y

Chemical Week Associates

3

1%

Mix

American Chemical Society

2

1%

N

Media Scores Ltd.

2

1%

Y

Taylor & Francis Ltd

2

1%

Y

Others (<2 titles each)

16

7%

Mix

Years of Coverage

Academic Search Premier is aimed at a broad audience and thus includes a wide range of subjects. Coverage of older materials is clearly not its strength. This became apparent when I examined the start dates for the titles currently indexed. A surprisingly large number of titles have indexing start dates only within the last five years. Only 42 titles for which new content is still being added have pre-1997 indexing start dates, and, of those, only 10 have pre-1990 start dates.

The publishers of those titles for which coverage goes back farther are a mix of commercial and non-commercial publishers. Although 89% of the titles in the database are from commercial publishers, only 50% of publications with 1996 or earlier indexing start dates are from commercial publishers. This admittedly does not take into account when any of the publications were first published. Also of interest was the fact that ACS publications comprised 21% of these "older" publications. However, for journals like the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the flagship journal for ACS, which began in 1879, indexing beginning in 1993 is not that significant a portion of its history.

There is even less emphasis on coverage of older materials in Business Source Premier than Academic Search Premier with start dates beginning in the early 80s. Indexing for most starts in the last five years; the majority of those titles are industry reports. Scientific American is the only title with coverage that begins pre-1990 and continues to the present. The three titles not from commercial publishers, Chemical and Engineering News (ACS), Environmental Science and Technology (ACS), and Interface (Electrochemical Society), are among the 14 with start dates between 1992 and 1996. There are no real patterns otherwise in that group with nearly as many publishers as titles. The same is true for the titles with 1997-2001 indexing coverage start dates. Most of the industry reports fall into the 2002-2006 range.

While chemists may not rely on older literature to the same degree as mathematicians do, it has been our experience at Minnesota that it is still important for their work, particularly for synthesis (Brown 1999). This is borne out in at least anecdotal examples elsewhere ("Preservation Needs in Science" 1991; Heindel, et al. 2005; Huber 2006).

Full-text Availability

In Academic Search Premier, full text through the present is available for 225 (38%) of 589 titles. Commercial publishers are somewhat disproportionately represented among titles which make full text available as their titles comprise 89% of all titles in the database but 92% of full-text titles. 88% of the titles with full text have some sort of embargo period, most commonly for a year meaning that the full text of an article will be unavailable until a year after it is published. Pre-1990 to present full-text coverage is only available for seven titles. 21 titles have full text that goes back more than 10 years. Of those 21, 62% are from commercial publishers.

Of the 231 titles in Business Source Premier, 222 (96%) are available full text. A large portion of the full-text content in chemistry-related areas consists of industrial reports that were published in 2002. The information in those reports surely must be dated. New content is being added to the database for 100, or 45%, titles with full text. Only a handful of the current, full-text titles have an embargo period, and, of those, six are industrial reports, and one is a scholarly journal. As with indexing coverage, no one publisher dominates with pre-2002 full-text coverage. Neither society publisher offers full text.

Searchability and Indexing

I compared two searches in Academic Search Premier and Google Scholar; the searches were based on assignments from undergraduate lab courses at the University of Minnesota. The first was ""flameless atomic absorption" AND mercury." The second was "polymerization AND styrene." The AND is implied in Google Scholar. For the first search, I got five results in Academic Search Premier and 1,630 in Google Scholar. All five results from the Academic Search Premier search came up in a Google Scholar search by title. For the second search, I obtained 1,268 results in Academic Search Premier and 45,700 in Google Scholar.

Though the numbers of results in Google Scholar were quite high, the results on the first pages appeared to be more relevant than those in Academic Search Premier. Older literature was often highly ranked, presumably due in part to the numbers of citations, although it is unclear exactly how Google Scholar results are ranked. Of course, neither compares to the coverage of the literature and the options for refining results in SciFinder Scholar or STN.

Unlike chemistry-specific databases, there are no options in Academic Search Premier or Business Source Premier for structure or compound searching. Whereas CAS indexes every chemical found in a publication, sometimes chemicals included have corresponding index terms, particularly if they are what the article is about, and sometimes they do not. For example, with a search for "ethanol AND corn," ethanol was not always a subject term in records for highly relevant articles about production of ethanol from corn. There is certainly nothing like the level of cross-referencing between the many names you might encounter for a single compound in Chemical Abstracts.

Another downside of a multidisciplinary database is that terms used in one way in a particular field can be used quite differently in another. One example I found was ethanol. In articles related to ethanol in both databases, alcohol was the descriptor chosen. This is a term that can be applied to ethanol in many different contexts; additional well-chosen search terms would be necessary to avoid false hits.

Conclusions

Because access to Chemical Abstracts in some form and full-text access to ACS journals are required for ACS accreditation, the ELM databases obviously could not be the sole access point to the chemical literature for undergraduates. On the basis of publishers and impact factors, high quality publications are indexed in the ELM databases. However, the limited years of coverage are a major reason why I would not suggest that undergraduates use Academic Search Premier to locate chemical literature. The experiments that are part of undergraduate laboratories are not likely to be cutting edge, and undergraduates frequently need to find older literature for their lab reports. In my cursory searches, Google Scholar did a better job of locating older literature. When older literature (i.e., published more than 15 years ago) is necessary, I would send students at institutions without desktop access to Chemical Abstracts to Google Scholar for initial searches to be supplemented by after hours STN searches with the librarian. For assignments where older literature is less crucial, Academic Search Premier may be satisfactory in conjunction with STN.

The lack of coverage of older material is somewhat less problematic for industry as having current information is important. The lack of full text is more of an issue. Even small schools with limited resources are likely to have libraries with some ability to obtain articles from journals to which they do not subscribe. Small companies are much less likely to have libraries, which makes getting articles more difficult.

The number of trade publications included in Business Source Premier is not very large with only 33 categorized as such. Looking solely at the category of "Chemistry & Chemicals" makes it appear to be more limited than it is. Small companies doing chemistry-related work are likely to find relevant articles in Business Source Premier from titles in areas other than "Chemistry & Chemicals" such as "Industry & Manufacturing" or "Engineering" (e.g., Plastics News or Process Engineering).

Summary

I set out to examine the chemistry-related content of databases from ELM with academic and trade journal content in order to determine whether they could be a suitable substitute for or supplement to the premier source for chemical literature, Chemical Abstracts. Not all schools and companies can afford on-demand desktop access or access at all to this database. I was surprised to discover the number of core chemistry journals indexed although the full text is not available through ELM. On the other hand, I was dismayed by limitations on years covered in the databases. For this reason I cannot strongly recommend it as a source for undergraduate use unless access to older literature is not necessary for an assignment. Even then it should be supplemented with STN. It may suffice for use by small companies.

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