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CSA Lights Up a New Platform: CSA Illumina
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Posted On December 27, 2004
Despite the intense media focus on Web search engines and their forays into providing scholarly content, the proprietary online services have been busy rolling out platform and interface improvements. During 2004, most of these services (Thomson Gale, ProQuest, Dialog, Ovid, Ingenta, etc.) have launched major new service platforms that incorporate the latest technologies and user interface enhancements. After 18 months of planning and working with customers, CSA has just officially introduced CSA Illumina, its new platform for online bibliographic and full-text searching. It also searches more than 285,000 indexed, editorially hand-picked Web resources. The interface will be offered in parallel with the existing CSA Internet Database Service (IDS) interface through January 2005. The company says that CSA Illumina is designed to provide a simple, more user-friendly approach to searching for novice users while maintaining powerful options for users who require them.

The company is clear about the impetus for the redesign. “Our customers and users have told us what they want, and CSA Illumina delivers it,” said Matt Dunie, president of CSA. CSA’s customers are universities, research organizations, and corporations that make the service available to their constituencies.

The new interface provides access to more than 100 databases published by CSA and its publishing partners. Notable examples include CSA Sociological Abstracts, the SAGE Full-Text Collections, CSA Materials Research Database with METADEX, BioOne, PsycINFO, CSA Technology Research Database, and ARTbibliographies Modern. Just last week, the company announced that it had acquired OCLC Public Affairs Information Service (PAIS), publishers of the PAIS International and PAIS Archive databases, from OCLC.

CSA Illumina not only delivers abstracts of literature, but also provides extensive linking to more than 10,000 electronic full-text journals, to Web-based library OPAC holdings, and to ILL and document delivery services (including CISTI, Linda Hall Library, CERAM Library, EDRS, Infotrieve, and The British Library). It also offers search alerts and search histories.

CSA Illumina is a generation beyond the old IDS service in terms of look and feel. Overall it offers greatly improved ease of use and improved navigation. Charles Priore, associate science librarian at Carleton College and St. Olaf College (both in Northfield, Minn.), was very enthusiastic about the new interface. “We love it. It’s very user-friendly, the tabs are so clear, it’s easy to navigate, there’s good use of color, and it’s so easy to customize.”

Carleton has been using CSA since 1996—St. Olaf since 1997. “We’re very heavy users because of our extensive bibliographic instruction program. We ran over 100,000 searches at St. Olaf’s in 2004.” He particularly likes the hyperlinked descriptor terms that allow for quick execution of new search queries and combining of descriptors.

The new QuikBib tool allows users to easily generate a bibliography from their search results in a choice of styles and output formats. This is an important feature for Priore, since both schools have site licenses for EndNote.

Power users will enjoy the access to browsable indexes and to an interactive Thesaurus Search feature that aids them in expanding or restricting search criteria available from both the Quick Search or Advanced Search options.

Additional features include:

  • An interdisciplinary presentation of resources (optional)
  • Quick Search to facilitate quick starts; requires few pre-search decisions
  • Advanced Search guidance toward expanded queries
  • Search Tools including Combined Search
  • Dynamic de-duplication of records with show/hide duplicates option
  • Hyperlinked descriptor terms for quick execution of new search queries
  • QuikBib bibliography creator
  • Improved integration of help files
  • New library administration module
  • ADA and SENDA compliance
Not yet implemented:
  • Local link preferences
  • Multilanguage options (six will be available soon: English, French, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Japanese)

Priore also commented on the quality of the CSA files. “CSA is very consistent in tagging [its] fields, so the data work more easily with EndNote.” He said this is not true of some of the other vendors: “Some don’t even have tags, and we have to move citations manually.” In fact, he said that whenever CSA adds another database, the two libraries drop their alternative access and add the database through CSA.

In my limited testing of the new service, the Web site search seemed to give fairly weak and incomplete results. Priore concurred, saying he also had experienced mixed results on Web results, with frequent dead links. While questioning the benefit of having the Web search, he raved about the tabbed presentation of search results, with the breakdown into all results, journals, peer-reviewed journals, books, conferences, Web sites, etc. He had a few minor suggestions, but he said that CSA was usually so responsive that he was confident in getting his requests through.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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