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Major Upgrade to EBSCOhost Includes Visual Search
Posted On March 20, 2006
For the first time since 2002, EBSCO ( has done a full-scale revision of the interface to the EBSCOhost service, which the company introduced in 1996. The revision adds many advanced features: clustering of search results, RSS feeds for alerts, expedited access to full text, grouping of databases by subject for federated (cross-file) searching, alternative citation format outputs, improved personal account maintenance, context-sensitive help, and—most importantly—a new Visual Search option from its partner Groxis ( Some of the advanced features have already appeared in subject-focused subsets of EBSCO's content base. The process of introducing new features through subject-oriented subsets continues. EBSCO has also introduced citation searching for clients licensing its business, communications and mass media, nursing and allied health (CINAHL), and sociology files. Formal introduction of all the improvements will take place at this week's Public Library Association (PLA; meeting in Boston.

Michael Gorrell, senior vice president and chief information officer for EBSCO Publishing, described the new changes as "designed for both end users and well-trained library patrons. This is the 10th anniversary of EBSCOhost, which handles some 90 percent of the traffic for our services. Over the last 2 to 3 years we have pumped out four or five interfaces for specific sets of data or specific markets. There has been a lot of activity in new interfaces. We have been learning through testing and focus groups. The cycle was right for looking at our main interfaces. That was the impetus."

EBSCO Publishing, supplier of EBSCOhost, carries more than 300,000 titles in its collection derived from arrangements with more than 78,000 publishers worldwide and accessed in more than 150 databases. The EBSCOhost system provides the overall platform for accessing its content. Gorrell described EBSCO's market as more than half academic libraries. Public libraries are the next largest component, followed by school, corporate, and medical libraries.

Specifics on the new features include the following (for an overall view, go to or

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  • Clustering . Users can select up to 10 options in a Result List on the left side of the screen to sort or cluster results. Options include subject, author, or journals and the display order. Gorrell said that the clustering can show relationships that are not obvious and what journals are good to follow. See a sample view at
    . (top right)
  • RSS . Users can convert Alerts created within EBSCOhost into RSS feeds viewable within an RSS Aggregator or fed directly into intranets or onto Web sites, using EBSCOhost's persistent links. Libraries supply the authentication modes for Web access.
  • SmartLinks . Users can reach full-text records quicker through new SmartLinks. The records appear as HTML or PDF documents in EBSCOhost, but the SmartLinks can also reach any licensed subscription full-text records linked through CrossRef identifiers.
  • Grouping of Databases . The Find fields on the Basic and Advanced Search screens now show a drop-down list of databases (a feature once found on EBSCO's CD-ROM services and occasionally requested for the Web). Librarians administering EBSCOhost can also make their own subject groupings with their own assigned names. Administrators can even assign more than one name to a single database. Soon options will include the ability to sort the order in which databases are presented. The "Choose Databases" tab still allows users to name the file(s) they want. See a sample view at
    ReleaseInfo/GroupingDatabasesBy Subject.htm
  • Citation Format Options . Searchers can have results automatically reformatted to specific popular citation styles: AMA, APA, Chicago/Turabian: Humanities, Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date, Modern Language Association, or Vancouver/ICMJE. The service works for printing, e-mailing, and saving cites.
  • Personal Accounts . The "Personalization Activity Report" subtab under the Reports and Statistics main tab in EBSCOadmin lets administrators track My EBSCOhost activity, e.g., total numbers of search alerts, journal alerts, or personalized accounts institutionwide.
  • Context-Sensitive Help . Question mark icons appear to supply users with relevant help in context. See a sample view at
  • Tutorials . The online help manual carries links to popular tutorials on EBSCOhost, EBSCOadmin, and other interfaces. The 2- to 4-minute tutorials use Macromedia Flash with audio narration and matching screen test.
  • Visual Search . The Grokker service from Groxis, adapted for EBSCOhost, provides visual maps that use color, shape, and size to enhance the display of categories and subcategories of topics. The top 10 concepts are extracted from the top 250 relevance-ranked search results. Users can click through concentric circled topics and subtopics that carry concept labels. Larger circles indicate larger data content. Links to subtopics/subcircles extend all the way down to square displays tied to specific citations. Users can also filter results by keyword, publication date, and full text. Navigating the maps should take a little learning, but there is a lot of enthusiasm for this kind of visual search aid. See the sample view at
    . (bottom right)

The Visual Search feature seems to be getting the biggest reaction. Grokker is the brand name Groxis uses for the Web-based content access and visual search application based on its patented Graphical Information Interface (GII). EBSCO is the first major aggregator to use the approach, according to a Groxis representative. Jody Fagan, digital services librarian at James Madison University, hopes that visual search would be "an answer to the challenge of getting students to go beyond the ‘top ten' habit that is instilled by Internet searches, and really expose the depth and quality that is present in EBSCO's offerings."

Chris LeBeau, clinical instructor at the University of Missouri's School of Information Science and Learning Technologies and business reference librarian at the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Miller Nichols Library, is a long-time user of EBSCO. She has been active with its focus groups and has served on a couple of EBSCO advisory committees; last year she was involved with the software committee. LeBeau particularly found the Visual Search "very exciting. It's wonderful for people who prefer a graphic alternative to textual search options. When we tested it, we thought it would be a youth-oriented benefit, but it turned up a lot of smiles on people over 50. It's fun! It makes searching more like a game. It's engaging, colorful, and has appealing round shapes. I like the chronological slide bar for narrowing chronological results, makes you feel like you're in the driver's seat." She also found that the clustering was "going over very big. It's desperately needed. EBSCO is not the first company to do it, but it's a nice addition." LeBeau mentioned that ProQuest has already offered an RSS feature and that Gale offers clustering. Overall, LeBeau thinks that EBSCO offers a "good competitive product. They've worked hard to try to keep up with new technologies and to stay leading edge. They've re-designed their product over and over and are more receptive to input."

The new citation indexing feature is not a general EBSCOhost feature, but one could surmise it might be someday soon. At present it is available on Business Source Complete and Business Source Premier with searchable cited references for more than 1,200 journals; Communication & Mass Media Complete (CMMC) for 307 journals along with major citation indexing backfiles created specially; CINAHL Plus for 1,174 journals; and SocINDEX for almost 2,000 titles. The addition of the citation searching feature involves no additional charges to users.

As for future plans, Gorrell indicated that the functionality in the service lets people link out to open access sources already. He also said that EBSCOhost reaches a lot of open source publications. Customized links let people search OpenURL links. Gorrell explained that EBSCO knows that people want access to wider content, the kind often supplied by Google Scholar. The company has plans underway, including some that librarians should find "very pleasant." Stay tuned.

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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