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Inspec Extends Its Archive and Introduces New Coverage
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Posted On December 1, 2003
The London-based Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE; http://www.iee.org), producer of Inspec, one of the first major sci-tech abstracting services to go online, has completed its retrospective coverage from 1968 back to 1898. The file will be available to vendor outlets in 2004 as an XML archival backfile. At the same time, IEE has announced new coverage with this month's launch of "Section E: Manufacturing and Production Engineering." This expansion of Inspec's scope comes as IEE moves to merge with two other U.K.-based professional engineer associations. IEE has also scheduled the addition of a million DOI links to full-text journal articles.

The print version of Inspec, known as Science Abstracts, began publication in January 1898 with 110 abstracts from just over 100 journals divided into 10 sections. In May 1903, it split into Part A: "Physics Abstracts" and Part B: "Electrical and Electronic Engineering." In June 1966, it added Section C: "Control Abstracts," which changed to "Computer and Control Abstracts" in 1969. In 1983, it added Section D: "Focus on Information Technology."

The electronic version of the file, entitled Inspec, began coverage in January 1967. The first online version of the file went up on Dialog in 1973, holding the venerable position of File 2, just behind ERIC's File 1. By the end of 1977, IEE had added five more online vendors: BRS, ESA-IRS, SDC (Orbit), CISTI (Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information), and FIZ Karlsruhe. Today it has many more outlets, including the Institute of Physics Publishing, ProQuest, STN International, Ovid, EINS, et al.

Inspec now covers some 4,000 journals and serials, 2,000 conference proceedings, as well as books, reports, and dissertations. Since 1969, the file has grown to 10 gigabytes of data covering nearly 8 million records. Abstracts have grown much smaller, however. At the dawn of the publication, coverage of a single article could run from a half-page to several pages and include extensive graphs and drawings. The XML archive will include all that early information, including images.

IEE plans to make the 800,000-record archive available to vendors and direct customers in the spring of 2004. According to Diane Richards, IEE regional director for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, and global sales administration, vendors carrying Inspec are "very keen" on reloading their files to accommodate the retrospective coverage. She expects most vendors will conduct the reload sometime in 2004. She indicated that many customers look forward to saving space by discarding early print versions of Science Abstracts.

According to Richards, the archive project turned up some fascinating anomalies. For example, Madame Marie Sklodowska Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, posed a difficult bibliographic challenge. The dictates of the day (not to mention the dictators) required her to list herself as the wife of Pierre Curie. Usually author listings do not incorporate honorifics. So, distinguishing the work of Mrs. P. Curie from Mr.'s or Monsieur's required some effort. (Actually, Madame Curie won two Nobel prizes—the first in physics in 1903 and the second in chemistry in 1911. In 1935, her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie became the second woman to receive a Nobel in chemistry, but you'll probably have to search for her under "J" for "Joliot," not "C" for Curie.)

At the same time as IEE completes past coverage, Inspec's designers are expanding future coverage. The new Section E: Manufacturing and Production Engineering will begin formally in December 2003. Indexing and coding has been expanded with the addition of over 100 new classification codes for specific industrial sectors and over 650 new index terms. As part of the process, Inspec will reprocess all the 1969-2003 backfile to add "E-codes" where appropriate. Currently, the number of abstracts eligible for Section E runs around 40,000 items per year. With the addition of over 200 journals to its coverage, Inspec's designers expect the file to grow by around 60,000 items per year.

The new section should have substantial appeal to two professional organizations with which IEE has merger negotiations underway. If the mergers go through, the IEE will join with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and the Institution of Incorporated Engineers (IIE) to create one professional organization with a quarter of a million members. Richards indicated that this was not the prime motive behind the development of Section E, but it was a consideration. The other groups do not have abstracting services. Though membership in IEE does not open access to Inspec for free, IEE does offer current awareness services as part of membership privileges.

To facilitate the usability of Inspec information for document delivery and library usage, IEE will add 1 million full-text links in 2004. The Digital Object Identifier (DOI) links will cover the backfile and be offered to all vendors. At present, over half of new records added to Inspec carry DOIs. Recently, CrossRef, the publisher-sponsored organization facilitating DOI links, announced that it would eliminate many fees associated with distributing DOIs. The DOI links connect to full text in many forms and are a stable underpinning for document delivery operations.


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.

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