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A knovel Approach to Scientific Information
Posted On February 1, 2003
I first ran across knovel at Internet Librarian's exhibit hall last November. A colleague had urged me to get a firsthand demo of the technology. "Go see the interactive tables and graphs," I was told. "Very cool stuff."

I wondered what graphs could have to do with "novels," but quickly was set straight about the product and its name. There are no works of fiction here, just an original, innovative, and unique approach to scientific information.

In a nutshell, the knovel database is a single searchable collection of engineering and applied science reference works and databases from top publishers. It features a proprietary, common Web interface that supports cross-searching of the aggregated content and multiple formats. It claims to be the only sci-tech database that contains fully interactive tables, graphs, and equations.

I had to learn some new vocabulary to understand this product. (New to me, that is. The database officially launched in April 2001.) The reference works are "knovelized," a process through which the knovel technology is applied. In addition, these works have a high level of interactivity called IDS, or Interactive Deep Searchability. These are big terms, but what I saw sure seemed both powerful and user-friendly.

According to the company, knovelization involves the following elements:

  • knovel takes ordinary data and makes it interactive. This allows users to manipulate and customize information-such as tables and graphing applications-and apply it to what they are working on.
  • The content is deeply searchable. Data values have been put into a database and ranges of values can be searched. This goes beyond keyword searching and helps users efficiently locate desired information.
  • knovel is aggregated, and only the most respected content is selected from major publishers.
  • knovel works as one. All the content-reference books, databases, and conference proceedings-can be selected harmoniously. The interface across all content is consistent.

The knovel database offers 450 premium science and engineering reference books and databases from publishers such as McGraw-Hill, CRC Press, John Wiley, and Reed Elsevier, to name a few. By the end of 2003, the company says it will have nearly 20 million data records from more than 600 sources.

The content in knovel is full-text, searchable, and enhanced with interactive productivity tools such as "live" spreadsheet-like tables, graphing applets, and calculation packages. New content is continually added in a variety of engineering and scientific subject areas (there are currently 14).

I'm no scientist, but even I was impressed by the capabilities. With knovel, you can turn a table into a spreadsheet by sorting columns, create custom tables, and export data to other software applications. In addition, you can measure and capture data points on a graph. The service also allows you to solve equations and display the results graphically.

To test the service, individual users can register for a free 7-day trial for access to three subject areas. Free trials of the entire collection are available to organizations and libraries. Separate subscription pricing is available for academic institutions and commercial organizations, with options for portions of the collection through subject bundles.

I wondered whether some of the technology behind knovel could be used in other subject areas, such as financial applications. Chris Forbes, president and CEO of knovel Corp., said that the universal data structure allows knovel's software to be scalable to other reference information segments, including medicine and business information, using the same technology.

Forbes said that knovel has already started to add data-intensive medical information, such as toxicology resources, and that more would be added throughout the year. The company plans to offer 18 subject areas by the end of 2003.

knovel will remain focused on its main customer base of chemical companies as well as on its second largest group of users, the major pharmaceutical firms. Corporate customers represent about 70 percent of the service's 250 institutional subscribers. At some time in the future, the company plans to add related market and business data that's appropriate to its customers' needs. Forbes said that several corporate customers found the technology so useful that they have asked knovel to manage their internal information as well.

The California State University system's librarians have given knovel one of their highest-ever product ratings. The review appears on California State University's Website (

A very positive review of knovel in the October 2002 issue of The Charleston Advisor (four and one-quarter stars out of a possible five) noted that it's a costly product. But the cost "seems reasonable when one considers the benefits and added value that the product brings to subscribers."

knovel's successful growth stands out during this time of economic stress for so many sectors. The company said it created 19 new jobs between 2001 and 2002. Forbes hopes to add 150 new employees to knovel's payroll within the next 2 years. knovel claims to be creating a new category in the publishing industry. "We intend to make knovel the 'Kleenex' of this new product category," said Forbes.

knovel was founded in 1999 by William Andrew Publishing. The company recently added nine new reference titles from sources like the Royal Society of Chemistry and the U.S. Department of Defense. In announcing the news, Forbes said: "knovel is about saving time and money in the research process. Engineers and scientists will not find this information available in this form anywhere else."

Guess that about sums it up. knovel hopes to revolutionize how scientists use reference information by offering, indeed, a novel approach.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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1/10/2013Elsevier Acquires Knovel Corp.
12/3/2009Moving Engineers to a Knovel Approach

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