Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1999

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Journal Reviews and Reports

The IEEE/IEE Electronic Library Online

Anneliese Taylor
Engineering Librarian
Fenwick Library
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

The IEEE/IEE Electronic Library (IEL) Online provides Internet access to the full text of the non-monographic publications of U.S.' Insitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (http://www.ieee.org/) and U.K.'s Institution of Electrical Engineers ({http://www.theiet.org/}).  IEEE and Information Handling Services (IHS) ({https://www.ihs.com/index.html}) developed the online version of IEL and released it on November 2,1998.  IHS is the exclusive distributor for IEL.

IEL was first released in 1996 as a standalone, CD-ROM system requiring a significant amount of space for CD cartridge storage and monthly updates to the index and CD-ROM  cartridges.  All that is needed for the online version is a computer with Internet connection, a web browser for searching the database, and Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print full-page images.  Access to both bibliographic searching and full-text in IEL Online requires a signed license agreement.


IEL Online is a subset of IEE's Inspec bibliographic database and consists of over 500,000 articles.  Each article is in Adobe PDF format so that users see the original page images complete with any charts, graphs, diagrams, photographs, and illustrative material. Advertisements, letters to the editor, and other non-articles are also included and can be seen by browsing a journal title.  The articles come from three collections of materials: over 120 IEEE and IEE journal, transaction, and magazine titles; more than 600 IEEE and IEE conference proceeding titles; and over 875 IEEE technical standards.

All journal and conference proceeding titles copyrighted by IEEE and IEE are covered in IEL Online.  Technical standards include superseded standards but not draft standards.  Coverage begins in January 1988 for all three document types. Proceedings for pre-1988 conferences are included in the database if they were published after 1988.

A full listing of titles in IEL Online is at { http://www.ieee.org/products/onlinepubs/.}

Scope and Audience

IEEE and IEE's publications cover a wide area of engineering including but not limited to electrical and computer engineering, software engineering, biomedical technology, telecommunications, electric power, and consumer electronics.  The content in IEL Online is geared toward researchers with fairly sophisticated technical knowledge, however there are several publications suitable for non-technical researchers.

Search Features

Searches are performed against bibliographic records and abstracts in IEL Online.  The three methods of searching are by Search, Advanced Search, and browsing tables of contents of specific title issues. Users can enter keywords directly into the three search boxes on the Search page or do a quick search for a name, subject, or title in several tabbed indexes appearing on the screen.  The unfortunate aspect of these indexes is that the user has to scroll right to see the full title of some journals and conferences and scroll down to see more than five items on the screen.  It is not possible to adjust the size of the box where the lists are displayed, resulting in a cramped screen.

Choosing Advanced Search allows users to enter their own search query, limit search terms to fields, and customize features such as collections to search, sorting order, and publication year.  There are no on-screen instructions for entering a search string.  Instead, searchers must select View Operators or View Field Names which each bring up a browser window with a list of options.  It would be helpful if these lists offered some examples of how to combine operators and field names or links to explanations of operators and field names. Help screens are available for advanced searching, search operators, and field names, but they are a bit labyrinthine for the novice searcher.

Searching in IEL Online takes a bit of practice to get used to but is overall user-friendly.  Response time is quick. Subject terms are amply assigned to articles. Locating journal or conference titles by keyword in the Search mode is an effective way of finding pertinent publications and subject terms and correct entries for conference titles.  The Help screens in IEL Online are for the most part very easy to follow, with the exception of those mentioned above. The index of help topics is very thorough, although difficult to read because of the small and somewhat broken font.  The Help browser window should be maximized to see the full contents.

Pricing & Licensing

When it comes to pricing, IEEE is getting heat from many libraries. The base price with no discount is $74,500 for a one-year license. The minimum number of simultaneous users at this time is fifteen, regardless of the size of the institution.  IEEE offers substantial discounts to institutions that also subscribe to the print All-Society Periodicals Package (ASPP) and/or the conference proceedings Prepaid Order Plans (POP).

In addition, academic institutions get a discount.  In the March 1999 issue of Access IEL ({ http://www.ieee.org/products/onlinepubs/}) this discount is printed as 10% for subscriptions received before August 31, 1999. IEEE might not offer any academic discount after this date. Institutions should contact an {IHS sales representative} for specific pricing. Only institutions, not individuals, may purchase IEL Online.  Like so many other full-text electronic databases, interlibrary loan of IEL Online articles is not permitted.

Currently IEEE does not allow institutions to purchase the collections individually.  IEEE representative Johnathan Dahl announced at the ASEE Annual Conferece (http://www.asee.org/) in June that, beginning in January 2000, IEEE will make available separate periodicals, proceedings, and standards packages.  Customers will be able to buy 1998-2000 only.  A potential pricing model would be 30% over the print price for the packages and a 5% discount for subscription orders received by December 15, 1999.

Could consortial agreements possibly bring down the cost on?  Several agreements are currently being considered, but none has closed yet.


IEL Online offers desktop access to an unparalleled amount of electrical engineering literature from two highly reputable sources, the IEEE and the IEE.  The product is user-friendly and utilizes common software.  The biggest drawback is the price.  Although the base price is close to the cost of all three collection packages in print, many institutions have difficulty giving up that much money for such a specialized resource.  IEEE's requirement of a minimum of fifteen simultaneous users for each organization is simply unreasonable.  One cannot help but wonder if IEEE is imposing the number fifteen to justify the high price of IEL Online.

Libraries are caught between patrons wanting to have full-text, online access to research publications and publishers giving vague or even no statements about how they will provide archival access to electronic products.  Do we cancel the print in favor of online to save money and avoid duplication?  Making this decision is risky business, especially when publishers couple price quotes with statements to the effect of  "for this year only."  What may seem like a reasonable price and agreement this year could change drastically by next year.  Publishers are proceeding very carefully with the online business, not wanting to lose any of their profit margin.  It is important for libraries, however, not to get taken for a ride.

There are several steps IEEE could take to improve the value of IEL Online.  They shoud collaborate with database vendors to allow linking to IEEE/IEE full text from bibliographic databases such as Inspec or Science Citation Index.  There are currently no such projects in the works.  Interlibrary loan is vital to research and library budgets. IEEE should be an industry leader and allow institutions to share documents from IEL Online as it does with its print publications.  In addition, there are many search and save features missing from IEL Online that are standard in most other article databases.  Adding marking, search history saving, and marked lists e-mailing features would enhance the functionality of IEL Online.


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