Previous Contents Next
Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Winter 2009

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

Synthesis Digital Library of Engineering and Computer Science

Brian Quigley
Head Librarian
Mathematics Statistics Library
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, California

Copyright 2009, Brian Quigley. Used with permission.

Synthesis Digital Library of Engineering and Computer Science

Morgan & Claypool Publishers was founded in 2002 with a mission "to create 'next generation' digital information products that combine authoritative content with state-of-the-art technology and a customer-oriented business model." As its first endeavor, the company launched the Synthesis Digital Library of Engineering and Computer Science in October 2005. The product consists of over 30 subject series in many areas of engineering, primarily related to electrical engineering, computer science, and bioengineering. Each series consists of 50-250 page introductory reviews (called "lectures") on advanced topics in their fields. Since its launch, Synthesis has published over 150 lectures. The company spent over a year consulting with librarians on multiple issues before launching Synthesis, and the effort shows. Last year, the Synthesis Digital Library was awarded the 2008 Best Reference Work Award by the American Society of Engineering Education's Engineering Library Division.


The lectures are relatively brief introductions to complex topics written at an advanced undergraduate level. Each lecture provides students and researchers with an excellent opportunity to learn about a new topic or get up to speed quickly in a new research area. Advertised as 50-100 page overviews, in reality, the lectures range from 50 to 275 pages; the average length is around 130 pages. Because of their length and audience level, these lectures can easily be used as required or supplemental course readings. The editors and authors have been well selected, consisting of highly-cited or well-known experts in their fields. They represent major engineering schools such as Georgia Tech, Carnegie Mellon, and Michigan, as well as respected technology companies. According to the web site, each editor "guides lecture topic and author selection as well as peer review" for his or her series.

The series vary in subject scope, maturity, and frequency. Some of the series are more fully developed, with many lectures covering a wide range of topics, including robust series such as the Synthesis Lectures on Biomedical Engineering, Synthesis Lectures on Computational Electromagnetics, and Synthesis Lectures on Digital Circuits & Systems; others are newer and have yet to publish any lectures. Currently, the web site lists over 100 lectures under development, but with no indication of expected publication dates. The existing series cover the following subjects:

  • Algorithms and Software in Engineering
  • Antennas
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Communication Networks
  • Communications
  • Computational Electromagnetics
  • Computer Architecture
  • Computer Graphics and Animation
  • Computer Science
  • Control and Mechatronics
  • Data Mining and Knowledge Discovery
  • Digital Circuits & Systems
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Energy & the Environment: Technology, Science & Society
  • Engineering
  • Engineers, Technology & Society
  • Human-Centered Informatics
  • Human Language Technologies
  • Image, Video and Multimedia Processing
  • Information Concepts, Retrieval and Services
  • Information Security, Privacy & Trust
  • Mathematics & Statistics
  • Mobile & Pervasive Computing
  • Power Electronics
  • Quantum Computing
  • RF/Microwaves
  • Signal Processing
  • Solid State Materials and Devices
  • Speech and Audio Processing
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Technology, Management & Entrepreneurship
  • Tissue Engineering
  • Visualization
  • Web Engineering

Each lecture is available as a PDF and {PDF Plus} file in an attractive and easy-to-read format. Most authors have included extensive bibliographies with their lectures, and, where possible, these references link to their online versions via digital object identifier (DOI). As a CrossRef publisher, Morgan & Claypool also assigns a DOI to each of its own publications, providing easy and standard linking to their lectures through reference lists, databases, and link resolvers. In addition, most of the Synthesis series are indexed by Compendex, INSPEC, and Google Scholar for ease of discovery; the Guide to Computing Literature seems to index these titles selectively as well.

Functionality & Support

The Synthesis Digital Library offers three search options: Quick Search, Simple Search, and Advanced Search. The Quick Search appears at the top of all pages, providing easy access to a keyword search of all series -- or of a particular issue or series after you have clicked into one. Similarly, the Simple Search allows users to perform a keyword search across all series or selected series, and includes a search history. By default, the search engine looks for all the search terms within the full text of the lectures. From the Advanced Search, users can combine terms within three separate fields and apply limits. Oddly, the Time Frame limit goes back to 1930 even though there is no content before 2005.

Simple Search: Note the Quick Search at the top and the ability to search within specific Series at the bottom.


Advanced Search: Note the three search boxes near the top and the odd Time Frame limit near the bottom.

Each series offers an RSS feed to alert users when new lectures are published; with a personal account, users can choose to sign up for e-mail alerts instead. A personal account also enables users to set up citation alerts and to save specific series and lectures to their favorites. From each lecture's Abstract page, users can access these features as well as find related articles on the Synthesis Digital Library, view the most downloaded articles in the series, and download bibliographic information to a citation manager, such as EndNote, RefWorks, BibTeX, and Zotero. Some of these features, including the search options, will have limited utility until greater content is available.

Abstract: Note the useful features on the right, especially the RSS feed and the ability to Download to citation manager.

Morgan & Claypool offers complete MARC records, with abstracts and tables of contents, for download from their web site. New records are added each month for timely loading into library catalogs. OCLC records are also available for purchase through the {WorldCat Collection Sets} service.

Pricing & Licensing

Pricing for academic institutions is available at The lectures are sold to academic institutions as Collections, each containing 100-125 lectures across all the series. Collection One has been completed, Collection Two is underway, and Collection Three will begin publication in 2009. Pricing is based on engineering school enrollment at the small, medium, and large level, and averages from $44 to $60 per lecture for Collection Three. There are usually discounts for purchasing a collection before it begins publication. For institutions that want to limit their purchases, rather than buy the full collections, Synthesis offers subject collections in Biomedical Engineering, Computer & Information Science, Digital Circuits & Systems, Electromagnetics & Antennas, General Engineering, Technology & Mathematics, and Signal Processing & Communications. The license is based on the CLIR/DLF Model License and includes much of the standard language desired by librarians: perpetual access; remote access for affiliated users; walk-in patrons; archival copies; electronic reserves; and interlibrary loan through printed material from Synthesis. Note in particular that the license specifies that "Nothing in this Agreement is intended to limit in any way whatsoever Licensee's or any Authorized User's rights under the Fair Use provisions of United States or international law to use the Licensed materials."

Previous Contents Next

W3C 4.0