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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Spring 1997

Book Reviews

Norma Kobzina, Editor

Charles F. Huber
Davidson Library
University of California, Santa Barbara


Online Searching: A Scientist's Perspective. Damon D. Ridley. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1996. 344p. clothbound $79.95. (ISBN 0-471-96520-0). paperbound $39.95 (ISBN 0-471-96521-9)
The title of Damon Ridley's book might be considered deceptively broad by some. Online Searching: A Scientist's Perspective, subtitled "A Guide for the Chemical and Life Sciences", does not attempt to provide an overview of all of online sear ching. Rather, it is primarily a how-to guide for scientists who wish to do their own searching on STN International, focusing on the chemistry and life science related files there. With this objective in mind, the book is a well-written and up-to-date source which lives up to its promises.

The author is a professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney who first taught himself online searching in support of his own research. He then became interested in the topic for its own sake and has written and taught extensively about scientific i nformation retrieval. As one might expect, Ridley displays an excellent combination of the end-user's perspective and the information professional's expertise. It is that end-user's perspective which leads him to concentrate on the very practical aspect s of searching, and on the techniques available on one online vendor in particular. Ridley selected STN in part because it is the system which he has 'grown up with" and in part because the STN selection of databases and their implementation of them make s it a leader in scientific information, especially for chemists.

The coverage is reasonably timely -- up-to-date on system features and databases through the end of 1995 - and well structured. Ridley uses an outline format with key points highlighted at the beginning and end of chapters, and in the middle as well wher e necessary. Some of the text layout could have been improved by more generous use of white space in the figures and screen displays, but overall it works well. He has excellent chapters on searching for subjects and substances (by nomenclature, formula s or structures) as well as patent and citation searching. He does a good job of stressing the techniques for devising a search strategy, an area sometimes neglected in support materials provided by database producers and vendors.

I would recommend this book for the collections of science libraries, especially chemistry libraries, where faculty and other researchers have shown any interest in doing their own online searching. A more interesting question is the value of the book fo r librarians doing bibliographic instruction in chemical literature. Online Searching has too little in the way of examples or sample problems to be a really good student textbook. However, that sort of material is available from STN and ot her database vendors, who are all eager to supply material which would help train scientists to become online searchers, i. e. customers. Given the price, I probably wouldn't recommend the book as a required text for an online searching course, but I wou ld certainly make it available as supplementary reading.

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