As we reported here on September 14 last year, three reference companies within The Thomson Corporation—Gale Research, Information Access Company, and Primary Source Media—merged that month to form The Gale Group (http://www.galegroup.com). Since then, Gale Group has worked hard to integrate locations, employees, functions, and products from the three. Several new reference products have already been announced that take advantage of the company integration, including the Biography Resource Center announced in late April, which I'll discuss below. But, the big news just announced by Gale Group concerns integrated Web access to content.
In early April, Gale Group announced that it planned to consolidate its three online services, InfoTrac, SearchBank, and GaleNet, into a single enhanced InfoTrac Web. SearchBank and GaleNet are being "retired," and customers will be transitioned over to the InfoTrac Web platform at their convenience over the next 6 months. The new service will consolidate and simplify access to the periodicals, reference sources, and primary documents now available through the several services, and will be the only Web interface and search engine brand in the library and education markets. Clearly, Gale Group has embraced a strategy of building on brand recognition, first in the choice of Gale for its company name, and now recognizing the strong identification in the market of the InfoTrac brand. The consolidation into InfoTrac Web should also simplify and streamline their ongoing product development, marketing and sales efforts, and product support.
The enhancements promised for the new service include the capability for libraries, schools, and colleges to customize the opening interface screen, a feature called "InfoMarks" that will allow users to bookmark their searches, and improvements to the remote patron authentication process. In addition, more and clearer images will be added to the content.
"Our recent merger has given us the opportunity to take three great services and consolidate them into the best online research and reference service for libraries, schools, and universities," said Dedria Bryfonski, president of the Gale Group's library/education division. "By combining Gale Research's extensive and authoritative reference materials with IAC's database of periodical and newspaper articles, we're creating a one-stop, easy-to-use online research tool that helps libraries deliver more robust results for their patrons and students." Bryfonski added that selected original research materials and scholarly documents gathered and published by Primary Source Media would be included in InfoTrac Web in 2000.
InfoTrac was first launched as a CD-ROM product in 1985, and then added an Internet service with the same search engine. It provided access to IAC databases of periodical and newspaper articles. GaleNet's reference materials include Associations Unlimited, Contemporary Literary Criticism, Contemporary Authors, Dictionary of Literary Biography, and many others. For InfoTrac Web, libraries, schools, and universities will again be offered appropriate slices of content, with varying breadth and depth, based on the type and size of library, and needs of the patron base.
Allen Paschal, CEO of the Gale Group, commented that InfoTrac is "the most used and installed platform in the library market" and they are excited about the consolidated access and enhancements in InfoTrac Web. Because Thomson is a private company, he would not comment on revenue growth in the online area or on specific market share.
The corporate division within Gale operates independently of the library/education division. The Web product for corporate end users and information professionals is InSite 2, their branded Web-based full-text collection focused on major business issues. While the InSite and InfoTrac products draw from some of the same database content and technologies, the products are quite different, offering different search capabilities and interfaces for their respective markets.
InfoTrac Total Access
This month, Gale Group is announcing the development of a new technology that integrates multiple Web databases under a single search interface. This framework is important for not only providing the key technology behind the seamless access to diverse content that Gale Group provides with InfoTrac Web, but also as a product available to libraries, providing a tool for libraries to integrate other Web information. The new service, called InfoTrac Total Access, will allow libraries to customize a front-end interface for library patrons that provides access to the library's OPAC, reference content, periodical databases, primary documents, relevant Web sites, community information, and proprietary databases in one search.
Allen Paschal noted: "This service goes beyond Gale Group and takes an enormous step forward in providing librarians with the capability to create their own virtual library. This is a technology that breaks down the barriers between all Internet-delivered databases and brings together search results in a way that's far more meaningful to the user."
Each subscribing library customizes the service to meet the needs of its community, and chooses what to make available. There are already numerous high-quality Web sites that have been reviewed by Gale for inclusion, and they will work with libraries to choose and target additional sites. For example, a library choosing to provide health information might provide a search of the PubMed site and other health-related Web sites, in addition to the Gale product, Health Reference Center, plus the library OPAC and other resources. Libraries will have the flexibility to configure search parameters for each site searched by InfoTrac Total Access. For example, a biography database may be configured to search by "name" while the library OPAC may be a keyword search. Because users have access to the full functionality of each targeted site, they can further refine searches once initial results are displayed.
Libraries may also request to search other information providers' databases through the InfoTrac Total Access interface. Paschal said that Gale would work with other providers, such as UMI, EBSCO, or LEXIS-NEXIS, to profile the service to work under Total Access. The goal is to serve users with a variety of research skills, through the creation of a simple, intuitive interface.
The Carroll County Public Library in Westminster, Maryland, has been working with Gale for the last year as the product developed, providing feedback on the user interface. Scott Reinhart, assistant director, called it a "cool product," and especially appreciates the local customizing capability. He sees it as not just an interface but a whole search engine providing one-stop shopping for their patrons. Library director Linda Mielke said: "Total Access product developer Rivkah Sass has done for libraries and the people who use libraries the modern-day version of what Andrew Carnegie did when he built buildings. Rivkah and the Gale Group have given the gift of easy-to-use universal access to information. And, aren't ease of use and access to information what libraries are all about?"
InfoTrac Total Access started as a pilot at the end of April with over 50 libraries. It will be shown in New York at the National Online Meeting, and then be available generally to libraries in late June. Pricing had not been established at press time, but company officials are looking at bundling it with collections of InfoTrac products.
Biography Resource Center
Also in late April, Gale announced the new Biography Resource Center (BRC), which offers a one-stop information resource for biographical material from a number of different kinds of sources. BRC is being made available on GaleNet, and will be migrated to InfoTrac Web later this year. At launch, the product provides more than 200,000 biographical entries covering 125,000 people, but will include considerably more when the content of the complete Marquis Who's Who is added to the BRC shortly thereafter. The Marquis content will add nearly 800,000 entries, and corresponds to the Marquis CD-ROM product and the online file that is available on several online services.
According to Chris Nasso, director of new product development, the key to the product is the integration it provides, which she said would have been much harder to achieve without the merger of the companies. BRC offers short thumbnail biographies taken from both Gale reference content and from Who's Who entries, long narrative biographies—some 5,000 words long—taken from proprietary Gale reference sources, and full-text magazine and newspaper biographical content from the former IAC databases that is updated daily. Documents from Primary Source Media are not included in the first release of the product, but will be added. They are also in the process of identifying content to license from other providers. A subscription to Biography Resource Center starts at $3,000 for a single user.