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H.W. Wilson Continues Its March Back to the Future
Posted On March 8, 2004
From the beginning of the 20th century, H.W. Wilson ( has indexed the periodicals that record the events, issues, scholarship, and reality of the times. One of the last major library vendors to come online, the company had difficulty taking advantage of that historical edge in its digital offerings.

However, with the launch of its Humanities and Social Sciences Index Retrospective 1907-1984 and the promised summer launch of Index to Legal Periodicals 1918-1981, Wilson has crossed the midpoint in linking the past with today's and tomorrow's Web-based resources. The task has involved extensive authority issues, such as verifying the contemporaneous titles of journals and re-indexing subject headings for modern terminology. The retrospective products reside on WilsonWeb for subscription licensing by libraries.

Wilson's first online productóReaders' Guide to Periodical Literature on WILSEARCHólaunched in 1985, more than a decade after the debut of its online wannabe competitor, Information Access Co.'s (now Thomson Gale) Magazine Index. Wilson was unable to go online earlier because of the production process that was in place at the company.

Historically, the technological development that preceded and enabled online delivery for most large A&I operations was computerized phototypesetting, a process in which a single complete "mother" record was created and alternative displays spun off. But Wilson continued to use a linotype input system that created a different record for every appearance of a record. So the company had no "mother" record, nor even any record with a single type font. For example, a citation with two authors would have two author entries, each leading off with the full name of an author and a last name with initials for the alternate author, while a subject heading version of the same citation would use initials for both authors.

To build its retrospective indexes, Wilson scans (OCR) its print pages, then outsources the scanned material to India, according to Susan McCarthy, editor of retrospective files. The outsourcing firm then adapts or retypes information into an electronic record and does the initial mergingófor example, adding all the subject headings appearing on a single record. However, once the material goes back to Wilson, its staff members have to "manually merge thousands of records."

McCarthy described the Reader's Guide retrospective project as enormous. "It took about 3 years to handle about 3 million records. The Humanities and Social Sciences Index Retrospective covered about 1.3 million records and took 1 year. Currently, we're working on the Index to Legal Periodicals retrospective, which is about half a million records and will take 6 months."

Available through WilsonWeb, the Humanities and Social Sciences Index Retrospective 1907-1984 covers some 1,200 periodicals from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. It replaces 46 print volumes that would otherwise require some 12 feet of shelf space. The retrospective required substantial re-indexing. While all records retain their original historical subject headings, some 85,000 headings were updated to conform to a consistent modern thesaurus. For example, "Ministers of the Gospel" records now also carry the subject heading "clergy"; "child placing" records carry "foster care"; and "defectives" and "laggards" records carry the heading "mentally handicapped." Authority work also required reconciling some 500,000 personal and institutional names and working to match periodical titles with the appropriate years.

Work continues on improving authority. McCarthy said: "Our goal is to update as many subject headings as possible while retaining historical subject headings in the record. People can see both. They can go back and forth with a hotlink from the old to the new. The goal is an ongoing process. We have converted tens of thousands of headings, especially in major areas such as wars, major events, language, and literature. We have converted as many as possible, but there are still people working on it. In fact, two people in the department do only authority work. We have handled as many as 100,000 subject headings. Work on Readers' Guide is still going on."

The Humanities and Social Sciences Index Retrospective also carries some 240,000 book review citations. A holdings indicator links to library OPAC records for periodical holdings, and WilsonWeb's SFX software links to full text for articles in any OpenURL-compliant databases the library may use. Searching involves a set of fields, some available for searching full text and some for limiting search results (for example, document type, language, etc.).

Libraries can subscribe to the humanities and social sciences sections as separate components. Both carry records for around 1 million articles. Only the last 10 years of the retrospective would be affected by the split, since the Social Sciences and Humanities Index combined coverage of both fields until it was divided into two indexes in 1974. The source also includes coverage of many scientific journals that were published prior to 1950. Other retrospective collections from Wilson are the Art Index Retrospective: 1929-1984 and Readers' Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982.

This July, Wilson expects to premiere the new Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective: 1918-1981 at the American Association of Law Libraries conference. It will cover more than 500 legal periodicals published in North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand and include annual surveys and reviews. However, due to contractual difficulties, it will not include the first 10 years of the Index to Legal Periodicals, which covers 1908 to 1917.

Wilson offers two types of pricing for the retrospective series, both built around a tier structure of simultaneous users. Minimally, an annual subscription for either the Humanities or Social Science retrospective alone costs $2,750; the combination costs $3,750. According to Debbie Loeding, Wilson's vice president of sales and marketing, the much more popular alternative is a one-time purchase, which can run between $11,000 to $13,000 for a single series or $13,000 to $15,000 for the combination. This option also involves an annual 5-percent maintenance fee.

Loeding expects the Index to Legal Periodicals Retrospective to cost around the same as the single Humanities or Social Sciences files. Consortia and other large purchasers can negotiate. Loeding acknowledged that the popularity of the one-time purchase could stem in part from the fact that the annual subscription offers no "rent-to-buy" arrangement. Once a library cancels a subscription, no matter how long it has been paid into, access ends.

Loeding said that early sales of the Humanities and Social Sciences Index retrospectives were good. Academic libraries and consortia as well as public libraries were looking at the products. She also said that Wilson had a special discount program for orders placed before the end of March, which is the end of the company's fiscal year. Wilson also offers 30-day free trials for its retrospective products.

Licensing agreements currently on file at Wilson for some of the retrospective products would seem to block, or at least inhibit, remote usage. Loeding said that the company is in the process of reworking all its basic license agreements. In the meantime, she said that Wilson usually doesn't allow remote access for authenticated users and will modify or strike clauses in license agreements that would prevent such access.

After the legal retrospective, the next project on Wilson's agenda is the Education Index. The company has not decided what comes after that, but Loeding hoped that users would offer suggestions. Probable candidates include Business Periodicals Index and Book Review Digest. Loeding said Wilson also has plans to do a comprehensive digitizationówith retrospective coverage includedófor the Play Index. Some publishers have contacted Wilson for licenses to index for their own publications. Although Wilson is not pursuing such arrangements, Loeding did say that the company is open to discussion.

Barbara Quint is senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

Email Barbara Quint
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