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H.W. Wilson Launches Major Upgrade of WilsonWeb
Posted On November 4, 2002
Serving libraries since 1898, the venerable H.W. Wilson Co. continues its march into the 21st century with the launch of a new version of WilsonWeb. Completely redesigned, the new WilsonWeb offers full linking to full-text sources, multiple search and display options, database-specific subject thesauri, extensive customization options, and a simpler interface. Most of the search functionalities added to the WilsonWeb upgrade have existed on commercial online services for well over a decade. Other features have only become commonplace since the rise of the Web.

WilsonWeb hosts more than 50 reference databases—bibliographic with abstracts and full-text, as well as directory files—that serve public, academic, school, and special libraries. Though many of the files are available through other outlets—such as SilverPlatter, Dialog, OCLC, and others—only WilsonWeb offers complete access to all the content of all the files. Licensing WilsonWeb databases requires subscription commitments. At this time, the company does not support pay-per-view options.

The new WilsonLink component uses SFX software to link to the extensive full text offered in Wilson files, as well as to any other open-URL-compliant databases to which the library may subscribe, regardless of the vendor. Wilson says that the Open URL movement continues to grow and currently numbers over 200 publishers and aggregators, including such firms as ExLibris and Elsevier. Subscribing libraries do not have to spend any additional funds or buy any additional hardware to link from WilsonWeb entries to non-WilsonWeb full text. Clicking on an icon will initiate a search of non-Wilson files for specific citations; another icon offers document delivery support. The system supports Z39.50-standard client/server protocols for cross-file searching. Users can also choose to have a search strategy transferred to a Web search engine such as Google.

The newly added Verity search engine supports a variety of search techniques: natural language, proximity, Boolean, and free-text/full text. Relevancy ranking of search results operates off algorithms that take advantage ofWilson indexing as metatags. For example, according to Ron Miller, H.W. Wilson's director of product management, an occurrence of a term in a subject field ranks as 100-percent relevancy. In a UF (Used For) cross-reference to a term, that relevancy is 90 percent, while appearance in the full text of an article counts least. Searchers can override relevancy ranking by choosing chronological order, for example.

Individual database-specific subject thesauri are available for browsing, including broader, narrower, and related terms. Searchers can conduct single searches over all the WilsonWeb files to which they subscribe, though effective use of this technique could involve checking and accommodating different subject terms in different thesauri. Results can appear with search terms highlighted and scanning of text for the appearance of search terms. Full-text search results from Wilson sources include the option of Adobe PDF full-image retrieval with photographs, illustrations, charts, and graphics.

Administrators can customize WilsonWeb to accommodate different groups using the service, such as by renaming buttons and tool bar text, adding library logos, linking to other library Web pages, setting the number of records displayed per screen, sorting and displaying records according to specific criteria, etc. The service also provides extensive statistics and usage information, which administrators can track for specific IP address ranges or user passwords. Customization includes the option to limit search results displayed to items held in the library's collection. WilsonWeb supports access and functionality for disabled individuals in compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The databases on WilsonWeb cover a broad array of subjects and sources, including popular magazines, trade press, books, scholarly journals, and extensive biographical reference information. In general, index/citation-only coverage extends to the early 1980s, abstracts to the early 1990s, and full text to the late 1990s. Some selected files, such as Art Index Retrospective, may extend coverage back many decades. The Readers' Guide Retrospective goes all the way back to 1890. Although abstracting is complete in each file as of the date when it began, full-text coverage is only partial. For example, out of more than 300 sources indexed and abstracted in Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, only 172 have full-text coverage. Out of more than 3,000 titles covered in the Omnifile, some 1,650 have full-text coverage.

Database options and pricing for periodical databases cover multiple versions: indexing and bibliographic citations alone, indexing and citations plus abstracts, and indexing and citations plus selected full text. Traditionally, Wilson has priced its print products on a "service basis," tying the price of the index to the number of journals covered in a library's collection or to a library's annual book budget. Obviously, online full-text access negates that approach. Pricing for WilsonWeb depends on the sources selected and the number of simultaneous users, plus other negotiated factors. (Wilson staff told me that they hope to eventually abandon the "service basis" pricing.)

Pricing for a basic installation for a source such as Business Periodicals Index could start at $1,800 a year; Biography Index might start at $1,200, and Biography Reference Bank at $2,300. According to Miller, the company has pay-per-view options under consideration for future upgrades.

Wilson began its online service in the early 1980s with Wilsonline, which was based on the National Library of Medicine's version of ORBIT software. It later added front-end search software (Wilsearch), then a CD-ROM version (Wilsondisc), then magnetic tape format (Wilsontape), and finally WilsonWeb.

"Round-the-clock research, remote access, and constant updates are significant advancements in library research, thanks to the Internet revolution," observed Miller. "It's the challenge of information providers such as H.W. Wilson to build on this foundation with new services and new capabilities—and the new WilsonWeb is a significant step in that direction."

Miller told me that the last vestige of the initial electronic foray, a version ofWilsonline still used for in-house editing, will soon disappear with the introduction of a complete, new editing platform.

Existing WilsonWeb subscribers will receive automatic upgrades. Wilson still plans to make its databases available through other outlets. Current partners—EBSCO, SilverPlatter, Dialog, OCLC, Ovid, ProQuest, SIRSI, LexisNexis, and Westlaw—get a selection of products. Some only receive index/citation records, while others receive abstracts and some full text. OCLC and SilverPlatter have the fullest collection outside of WilsonWeb, according to a Wilson representative. But relationships may change in the future.

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

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