The venerable ERIC database has been undergoing an extensive restructuring and modernization program. The ERIC database had been compiled by 16 subject-specific clearinghouses, but the clearinghouse contracts expired in December 2003 and a complete re-engineering began. (See our NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16718.)
In March 2004, the U.S. Department of Education awarded a contract for the new ERIC system to Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) of Rockville, Md. CSC launched a new database interface on Sept. 1, 2004. On Oct. 1, 2004, more than 107,000 full-text non-journal documents (issued 1993-2004), previously available through fee-based services only, were made available for free. In the future, the collection may include other electronic resources such as audio and video materials.
The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education, is responsible for the database of journal and non-journal education literature. The ERIC online system now provides the public with a centralized Web site for searching the ERIC bibliographic database of more than 1.1 million citations going back to 1966, the year ERIC began. The site is available at http://www.eric.ed.gov .
The ERIC content is also available through third-party vendors, including EBSCO, Ovid/SilverPlatter, CSA, and OCLC FirstSearch. The new ERIC site lets users refine search results using keywords, publication date, publication type, or the ERIC thesaurus. In addition, the Web site lets users save and rerun searches using the My ERIC personalization feature.
Recently, ERIC introduced improved features in the Basic and Advanced Search interfaces and expanded search result viewing options. Searchers can now construct nested Boolean searches using the AND, OR, and NOT operators in both Basic and Advanced Search. ERIC is also providing new metadata for materials published 2004 and forward, including educational level, peer-reviewed status of journals, and reference count.
On Sept. 13, 2005, ERIC announced the release of citation management functionality. Searchers can now mark records for placement in a temporary work space called "My Clipboard." This new feature permits users to print, e-mail, or export records, as well as save them to a folder in their My ERIC account. The export feature is compatible with citation management software that supports multiple output styles.
Many librarians and researchers have been intensely interested in the modernization of the resource and specifically concerned with questions of coverage, indexing, linking, and content additions. They watched anxiously during the hiatus when no new materials were being added while the new system was being readied. Two expert advisory panels now provide research, technical, and content expertise—the ERIC Steering Committee and a panel of Content Experts.
SLA has posted a special ERIC Update page (http://www.sla.org/content/SLA/advocacy/ERICUpdate/ERICUpdate.cfm) to inform its members. Much of the information there comes from Kate Corby, education and psychology reference librarian, Michigan State University Libraries. Corby, who is working with the ERIC Users Group, is archiving the information about recent changes and providing news details at http://www.lib.msu.edu/corby/education/doe.htm.
Corby is generally upbeat on the modernized product. In an e-mail to me recently she wrote: "After a period of concern which included lots of missed deadlines, I have been quite pleased with the pace of ERIC activity since they began adding new content in late June. Those inclined to pick bones (and I'm one of them to a certain extent) can find things to criticize, but generally speaking they've been moving forward rapidly without many missteps."
And what about the quality of the indexing and the abstracts? Corby provided this revealing assessment: "The indexing being done currently looks like good quality to me. The database is using abstracts provided by the journals, so some of them may not be as informative as the older ERIC-written abstracts, but they do appear to be assigning subject headings effectively. This was not done consistently in the closing days of the former ERIC Clearinghouses, so there are some problematic records in the database from that period. I have heard from some users who are less enthused about the indexing; the ‘notes' field is one that has been specifically mentioned as missing and missed."
Corby feels that one of the biggest problems at this point relates to linking decisions. She wrote: "The links to ERIC documents, which are now freely available full text on the Web, cannot be cut and pasted from the ed.gov search site. That site uses a java script to call the .PDF files. Just this week they added a feature to put citations on a clipboard and mail them to yourself (or others), but even this feature does not generate a useable link to the item. Some of the vendor interfaces do display a useable link to the document, but the ed.gov site java script is a bad decision that needs to be revisited in my opinion."
If you are interested in the latest scoop about ERIC, there's now a blog to share tips, techniques, and current information. It was launched this summer by Corby and others. The ERIC Users Information Exchange is a service of the ERIC Users Group, sponsored by the Education and Behavioral Sciences section of the Association of College and Research Libraries. (Comments and corrections to Kate Corby, firstname.lastname@example.org.)