Expert commentators have remarked for years (all right, ME) how difficult, nigh impossible, it can be for “real people” to access the major database collections from leading library vendors. Marketing strategies focused on licensing content to libraries can leave people not served by large academic or public libraries without any way of reaching major database aggregations. The strategic myopia can even affect library sales for vendors as tightly budgeted academic librarians begin to doubt the curricular value of educating students in the use of data resources which they will probably never see after graduation. Now one of the largest database aggregators, ProQuest has officially launched an end-user service that is open to all web users. Udini (pronounced You-dee-nee) currently carries about 150 million full-text articles and dissertations representing 12,000 publications supplied by 3,800 publishers. It also offers free tools for maintaining a personal library that will expand significantly before the end of the year. Pricing options include pay-as-you-go for items as well as low-cost subscription plans.
Content in Udini extends through peer-reviewed and trade journal articles, dissertations, international newswires, newspapers, magazines, and some open access sources. Publishers contributing to the program include Springer, Nature Publishing Group, the Economist, the World Health Organization, Cambridge University Press, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. ProQuest initiated a beta test of the service in January 2012. It is working vigorously to expand Udini’s publisher contributors and its share of ProQuest’s total content array. According to Rich LaFauci, senior vice president and general manager for ProQuest Research Solutions, publishers receive a share of the Udini revenue. The system also allows for some free open access content. For example, LaFauci said that some dissertation authors had stipulated free open access to their works and that PubMed Central content was also open access.
The goal of the service is to reach the individual researcher and other knowledge workers not served by major research libraries, such as freelancers and employees of institutions without their own libraries, with easy to use searching (aka “Google-like”). LaFauci pointed out that, when looking for premium content, all too often Google Scholar drops the searcher off at a publisher paywall, while Udini will both find and fetch the full text. The system offers cloud-based project organization and management tools for handling the content retrieved from Udini and also content uploaded by users. However, at this point, PDF is the only format accepted by Udini. LaFauci assured us that before the end of the year, Udini would accept uploads in MS Office formats, which would include MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
All pricing options offer access to the personal library tools. Since one of those options—the pay-as-you-go one—does not require any up-front expenditure, I asked LaFauci if that meant the personal library tools were free and he confirmed that they were. With the acceptance of MS Office formats in place, that would mean users could capture their projects’ whole research file into one always-accessible space. The tools offer easy-to-read displays that eliminate ads and clutter, allow note taking and highlighting, and support web page harvesting. Users can sort content into folders and search through their own libraries.
The Udini search interface offers the standard single-box search query as well as some advance searching options, such as author name and journal title. It lets users narrow searches by designating the “Kind” of sources they want searched—Any Kind, Magazines, Newspapers, Scholarly Journals, Trade Journals, and Wire Feeds—as well as specifying from a list of 50 “Research Areas.” Udini uses drag-and-drop to move documents into a personal library, as well as a “Save to Udini” button added to browsers for harvesting web pages. Instructions for adding Udini are available for Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome,
When it comes to pricing, Udini divides items available from the Udini Store into standard articles, priced from $0.99 to $3.99, and specialty articles, priced at $4.99 to whatever. LaFauci explained that specialty articles were usually the premium content from scholarly science-technology-medicine publishers, the usual suspects, as well as the long-format dissertations. For a dissertation, ProQuest’s longstanding unique forte, he said the price was $37. However, he pointed out that they also offered a trial access service that would apply especially to dissertations. Users who find a dissertation of potential interest can spend $4.99 to access a version for reading only (no downloading, no printing) over a 72-hour period. If they then decide to buy the dissertation, the $4.99 will be discounted from the $37.
If users choose a subscription option, they get all the standard-priced articles included and a 20% discount off all the specialty articles. Subscription options include a project pass ($30 for 14 days) or a monthly ($30). Users get five free standard articles when they sign up.
Of course, I asked LaFauci the obligatory question for all information industry vendors these days, namely how they were handling mobile devices. He responded, “We have designed Udini with an HTML5 presentation layer which is tablet friendly. Access on iPad works pretty well now, but we have some enhancements planned to make it a bit more fluid on the iPad. We focused on HTML5 as opposed to apps.”
Though Udini’s content is massive, it does not contain all the content ProQuest handles. For example, according to LaFauci, the several hundred newspapers in its Historical News Archive with content back to the 1980s are “virtually all” in Udini, but as for the complete Historical Newspaper Archive with content back to the first issue of the paper—1857 for The New York Times— “not yet, but it’s definitely in our product plans.”
One element of ProQuest’s plans for Udini is very glitch-free, namely promoting it to alumni from the academic institutions where libraries are already ProQuest licensors. LaFauci stated, “This avenue is one near and dear to my heart—creating Udini alumni access programs. We have begun contacting alumni offices and librarians to create institutional subscriptions for alumni. People have had access as students and faculty and the value resonates with what institutions are about.” LaFauci also points out that Udini should have much appeal internationally outside the relatively rich U.S. user base.
So does this mean that the problem of reaching library-licensed databases when outside a library’s service area is solved? Not if only ProQuest answers the call, I’m afraid. The other major large-scale database aggregator is Cengage Learning and its Gale Group. In 2008, Cengage acquired HighBeam Research, an end-user service begun in 2002. Currently, HighBeam taps into content roughly half the size of Udini’s. HighBeam accesses some 80 million articles from around 6,500 publications, including newspapers, magazines, journals, transcripts, and reference titles Like Udini, it lets users store, manage, and organize their research. However, it also offers email alerts for updating searchers. LaFauci stated that their current experience did not indicate their users were very interested in monitoring capabilities. Unlike Udini, HighBeam does not offer a pay-as-you-go option, subscriptions only. A normal annual subscription costs $299.95 ($199.95 for the first year) or $29.95 a month. The subscription includes full-text access to all articles in the system, no “specialty articles.” Though Cengage now owns HighBeam, it does not supply all its content through this outlet.
The goals for Udini are admittedly grand. ProQuest has more major collections of data to tap—its recent acquisition of ebrary comes to mind. It is using the Summon discovery engine at its core. Overall, LaFauci dreams big when it comes to Udini. “We know we’ll never beat Google as the Number One place to search, but we expect to be the second place people search after Google.”