Searchers who logged on to Dialog Classic last week were greeted by a surprise announcement: The abstract databases from Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA) will no longer be available through the Dialog and Dialog DataStar services. According to Dialog: "Dialog and CSA have jointly decided to change the nature of our relationship in order that we may each pursue different strategic interests. With the change in the relationship, CSA databases will no longer be available through Dialog and Dialog DataStar services after September 30, 2002."
That same week, seemingly illustrating its "strategic interest" in developing and promoting its own electronic products, CSA made the Internet Database Service (IDS) version 6.0 available to subscribers. Version 6.0 features a new interface and increased functionality, but according to the announcement, most of the search steps and methodology from version 5.2 remain unchanged. The new version will actually be running parallel with 5.2 through the end of the year. Users will be able to adjust their login profiles so that they are taken directly to 6.0.
System updates featured in the new version include the following:
- An updated interface
- Availability of electronic full text that's now indicated on the citation
- A limit on the number of records viewed; print/save/e-mail has been removed
- A new Advanced Search with limits
- Enhanced thesaurus capabilities
- Local logo/institution name can be displayed on screens
- Additional Usage Reports
- The ability to view Marked Records from Results display
- The ability to mark records from View Full Record display
CSA's Internet Database Service provides access to more than 50 databases that are published by CSA and its partners. It covers major areas of research, including materials science, environmental sciences and pollution management, biological sciences, aquatic sciences and fisheries, biotechnology, engineering, computer science, sociology, and linguistics.
CSA had been providing 19 of its files to Dialog. According to the site, "These Dialog Files will no longer be available: 14, 28, 32, 33, 36, 37, 41, 44, 56, 61, 76, 77, 108, 117, 232, 238, 269, 293, 335." Some of these are fairly specialized files that fill important information niches, such as Aerospace Database, Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts, ARTbibliographies Modern, Oceanic Abstracts, Ceramics Abstracts, Engineered Materials Abstracts, METADEX, Pollution Abstracts, Water Resources Abstracts, World Aluminum Abstracts, and Linguistics & Language Behavior Abstracts. CSA will also discontinue Sociological Abstracts, a file with broader general interest.
In addition, some of the directory files that Cambridge Information Group, Inc. bought from Bowker had already been removed from Dialog as of February 28, 2002. These include Books in Print (File 470), the Associated Publishers, Distributors and Wholesalers (File 450), and the Microcomputer Software Guide Online (File 278). Could Ulrich's Periodicals Directory be next?
In the Dialog GEP News, a monthly newsletter that Dialog sends out to library school educators who participate in its Dialog Graduate Education Program, the company says it is working to "make additional complementary sources of information available. We will keep you informed of new databases as they come online." Then, it suggests some alternatives. "As information professionals, we realize that you may often use the CSA Library and Information Science Abstracts database (LISA, File 61). As an alternative, we recommend Information Science Abstracts (File 202) and ERIC (File 1) on Dialog."
The log-on message for Dialog Classic advises users to "Please enter HELP CSA plus the file number to identify alternative sources of information. Example: HELP CSA 14." When I checked, the same two files were recommended for File 61.
ONLINE magazine editor Marydee Ojala, who first noticed the Dialog announcement, wondered about this. She said, "Why wouldn't they cite Wilson's Library Literature (File 438) as an alternative to LISA?" Was this just a simple oversight or could it be that H.W. Wilson will be the next database producer to exit Dialog? Searcher editor Barbara Quint commented that perhaps Dan Wagner's prediction (from "The Shooting of Dan Wagner" on p. 1 of the September issue of Information Today and http://www.infotoday.com/it/sep02/Poynder.htm) that Dialog will become just a platform for Thomson content is coming true.
When I contacted Dialog for an explanation of the withdrawal, further information, or comments on the company's "strategic interests," a company spokesperson simply replied, "We have no comment at this time."
CSA president Matt Dunie also said that he did not want to comment on the news while the files are still available on Dialog. He did say that CSA's rollout of IDS 6.0 was unrelated to the Dialog announcement. He also said that active subscribers to Dialog's CD-ROM versions of CSA databases (Dialog OnDisc) would continue to receive updates until the end of their current subscriptions.
A number of other online vendors carry CSA's databases, including OCLC's FirstSearch, Ovid, and STN, but Dunie said that CSA's files would be removed from EBSCOhost. Dunie referred to a letter published by CSA (as a paid advertisement) on p. 24 of the September issue of Information Today, titled "An open memo to information industry professionals," with the subject "Supporting Customer's Rights to Electronic Linking." In it, he and James McGinty, president of Cambridge Information Group, stated that "CSA is terminating relationships with aggregators and content providers who refuse to allow mutual customers to link to data which they own or license." Dunie said this is why CSA's files were being taken off the EBSCO system, but it is not the reason for their removal from Dialog. He promised to discuss these issues further in an interview that will be published in the November issue of Information Today.
Péter Jacsó, in his May 2001 Internet Insights column (Information Today, p. 34), praised CSA for its suite of database offerings, its growth strategy, and its appealing software. At that time, he noted that the company could be an ideal mega-database host. When asked about this Dialog news, Jacsó said the withdrawal of the CSA files would likely be greeted with sighs of regret by Dialog searchers.
However, while IDS still has room for improvements, Jacsó said: "CSA offers a very well-implemented thesaurus, lateral searching by descriptors or authors from within the records displayed, hotlinking to the full HTML version (if available) of the abstracted articles on the Web, and an excellent collection of hotlinked Web sites selected by CSA editors which relate to the topic you just searched. CSA sees the future, lives the future, and with its smart incorporation and integration of well-chosen and well-indexed Web sites with the database results, it even makes the future…. Smart users will not weep, just switch over to CSA, and discover its many other databases which also offer the above features that Dialog does not."
Of course, the number and scope of CSA's files do not begin to approach the depth and breadth of what is available from Dialog. However, if the withdrawal of the CSA files is the beginning of a trend that would diminish the content on traditional supermarket services, then we should all pay attention. And services like Dialog should pay attention to the features and functions offered by its smaller competitors.