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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2013

Electronic Resources Reviews

The ASTM Standards and Engineering Digital Library - SEDL

Randy Reichardt
Research Services Librarian (Engineering)
Cameron Science & Technology Library
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta

Copyright 2013, Randy Reichardt. Used with permission.


ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, is a world leader in the development of over 12,000 "voluntary consensus standards". The ASTM Standards and Engineering Digital Library (SEDL) is a database of various ASTM standards and publications, dating as far back as 1932. Subject coverage is very inter- and cross-disciplinary, and includes the following engineering disciplines: "aerospace, biomedical, chemical, civil, environmental, geological, health and safety, industrial, materials science, mechanical, nuclear, petroleum, soil science, and solar engineering." However, usage of SEDL extends beyond engineering to other fields, such as nanotechnology and textile technology.

Content and Scope

Subscribing to the full version of SEDL provides access to the following subsets of publications:

  1. ASTM Standards - over 12,000 standards in more than 130 subject areas.
    A subscription to the ASTM Standards collection includes access to ISO-related ASTM standards, and UOP standards. A list of withdrawn standards includes links to standards which may have replaced those that were withdrawn. Additionally, a list of "work items" is provided: "A Work Item (WK) may be a new standard or a revision to an existing standard that is under development by a committee. New standard Work Item descriptions include title, scope and keywords. Revision Work Items descriptions include designation, title and rationale." Revision Work Items include a link to the current version of the standard being revised.

  2. ASTM journals including:
    1. Advances in Civil Engineering Materials (online only)
    2. Materials Performance and Characterization (online only)
    3. Geotechnical Testing Journal
    4. Journal of Testing and Evaluation
    5. Journal of ASTM International (2004-2012 Back file)
    6. Journal of Forensic Sciences (1972-2005 Back file)
    7. Cement, Concrete and Aggregates (1979-2004 Back file)
    8. Journal of Composites, Technology & Research (1978-2003 Back file)

  3. Symposia Papers and STPs (Special Technical Publications)
    Access to the vast majority of published, peer-reviewed ASTM symposia papers, dating back to 1931. Over 29,000 papers are available.

  4. Manuals, Monographs and Data Series.
    Access to three different ASTM series. The Manuals are described as offering "practical, hands-on application information" for the practicing engineering, while the Monographs, numbering only eight titles, include highly advanced and technical information. The Data Series covers a wide variety of topics. Examples include: gas chromatographic data compilation, x-ray emission wavelengths and Kev tables for nondiffractive analysis, stress-relaxation data for alloys, viscosity index tables, and many more.

  5. Terminology Dictionary
    Designed to help the engineer define terms used in terminology standards that were developed by the ASTM Technical Committees. Almost 89,000 definitions are included.

Searching and Functionality

The first screen the user sees allows for searching by keyword in either the Standards or Engineering Publications subsets of SEDL, or both simultaneously. Four browse options are also offered: Topic, Sub-Topic, ASTM Committee, or Past Symposium. An advanced search option is also available. A set of tabs at the top of the screen allows the user to switch to a specific subset of publications if so desired. An alphanumeric list of standards can be browsed as well.

If the user chooses to browse an ASTM Committee, the results will include any and all documents created under that Committee's auspice in Standards, STPs, Manuals, and Journals.

A search of SEDL by keyword(s) will return results clustered by Standards or Engineering Publications. For example, the seach, "steel fiber-reinforced concrete" and strain returns 90 citations: 5 standards and 85 engineering publications. Note that the use of the Boolean operator, "and", has been left out of the search strategy. This is because the ASTM SEDL search algorithm apparently also searches "and" rather than treat it as just an operator, and as such, the word "and" is highlighted in the search results, which makes no sense and is quite distracting when reviewing the returned citations. However, if you capitalize "and" as "AND", it will not be highlighted in the search results. No explanation for these anomalies can be found in the "SEDL User Resources" section of the SEDL site. Having to capitalize "AND" is not intuitive to the user.

The options to refine your search include by topic, result type, date range, and by author. If you wish to modify your search, you do so by adding or removing keywords or phrases to the original search string. However, the number of citations returned by Topic, Result, Date Range, etc., changes if you do not use quotation marks in your search. Many fewer refinements are available if the search is in quotes; this makes no sense whatsoever:

Results per page can be changed from 10 up to 100. It is not clear how the order of returned results is determined. Year of publication is not in descending order in the list of results, and there are no options for sorting available to the searcher.

However, beyond that, options are limited. Most glaringly, you cannot export results to bibliographic management software such as RefWorks, Mendeley, or Zotero.

For each engineering paper citation, the user can download a full PDF, view the abstract, or visit the home page for the ASTM Committee responsible for or assigned to that publication.

When viewing a full citation, if any ASTM standards are related to the paper's topic, they will be listed alongside the abstract:

For each standard citation, the user is offered additional viewing options, plus links to Historical Versions and Work Items if available:

A redlined standard is the current version of the standard that also includes the additions, deletions and any other changes between it and earlier versions.

There is also an Advanced Library Search (AVL) option:

Search results from the keyword search, with phrase in quotes and keywords separated by a "space".

Suggestions For Improvement

The content of the ASTM Digital Library is exceptional -- most of the ASTM Special Technical Publications are here, as well as all current, active standards. However, the search engine (SE) leaves much to be desired. There are a number of unexplained anomalies.

  1. As noted above, when searching with the "and" operator, the SE returns results with the word "and" highlighted, along with other search terms used. However, if you use the "AND" operator in capital letters, the same results are return, but the operator AND is not highlighted in the results.
  2. If you run a search with a phrase in quotation marks, the returned results are the same. However, the number of citations listed under the "Refine your search" option drops dramatically when a phrase is searched for in quotation marks.
  3. There is no option to export selected or all citations to a bibliographic citation management program; this would frustrate all users wishing to use such a program in their research.
  4. While the option to select individual citations exist, it's not clear what you can do with the selected set. You cannot view or print your selected citations separately. For example, I selected 4 of 93 citations, and issued a print command. The result was that every citation on the page was printed, rather than just the selected citations.
  5. Using keywords in the Advanced Search option returns results inconsistent with the Basic Search.

Despite these concerns, if you are on a campus at which considerable research is done in subject areas covered by the ASTM publications and standards, this database is recommended. Having the full text of ASTM STPs, Manuals, Standards, E-Books and Journals is very convenient. Additionally, the "redline" feature of standards is a bonus to researchers who need to reference changes made to the current versions of ASTM standards. Note that to view the Redline versions, your subscription needs to be upgraded from Basic to Plus.

It is strongly recommended that ASTM review the functionality of its search engine and consider upgrading it soon to deal with the aforementioned issues. At the very least, the option to export to bibliographic citation management programs must be included; such functionality is virtually ubiquitous in STEM journals and databases at this time.

Technical Information

Full-text searchability of all documents is included. Authentication is IP based, so no user names or passwords are required. MARC records are available via OCLC, and online usage statistics are COUNTER compliant. The SEDL is MetaLib and SFX Compliant, as well as Open URL Compliant. There are no concurrent user restrictions for institutional multi-user, multi-campuses only.

Pricing Options

A full subscription to the SEDL includes access to >1,500 books, >50,000 papers, >12,000 standards. ASTM offers two ways to access the SEDL: an institutional multi-user, multiple campuses subscription and an institutional multi-user, single campus subscription. A pricing grid explains the various subscription options available.

The functionality of the Advanced Search is non-intuitive and somewhat puzzling. Our previous search -"steel fiber-reinforced concrete" strain - returned 284 citations here using the "Keyword" search field. In Basic Search, the result (depending upon the time of search) was between 90-93 citations. Other search options in Advanced Search work fine, such as the DOI, Title and Author searches.

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