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Consultation helps database development

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With over 500 customers signing up in its first six months Scopus has plenty of reason to be pleased with its abstracting and indexing database. Now, a year after launch, we ask the company's marketing manager Ginny Hendricks why she thinks the project has been successful

Q. How did Scopus come about?

When Scopus was launched in November 2004 it was the culmination of years of development and consultation with librarians and researchers all over the world. The Scopus team had set out to develop a comprehensive database that was also easy to use. This was no mean feat when you consider the tens of thousands of articles that would need to be indexed and searchable.

The result, at its launch, was the largest abstract and indexing database of scientific, technological, social science and medical research information in the world. Since then, the coverage has improved and now Scopus gives easy access to over 14,200 titles from over 4,000 publishers.

The database has also experienced unprecedented customer growth and acceptance - over 500 customers had signed up in the first six months.

Q. How was Scopus developed?

Scopus was created with the researcher (the user) in mind. During development, librarians and researchers were unanimous in their requests for a comprehensive resource to eliminate duplication of content, and provide seamless access to full-text resources. In addition, librarians noted their difficulties in contacting and training numerous different users, many of whom worked remotely. They also wanted a resource that was intuitive and required minimal user support. To guarantee good usability, the Scopus team chose an approach known as user-centred design to build the interface. This is a task-oriented process and focuses on user needs, limitations and preferences rather than system capabilities.

Q. How were the users involved?

The profile of the users working on the development of Scopus ranged from chemistry postgraduate research students to experienced information professionals, many of whom provide the front line support to researchers. Their feedback showed us what they liked and disliked about the database. The features that these users particularly welcomed during the development process included the search interface and the presentation of results. This initial presentation layer was seen as clean and uncluttered with an intuitive feel, even for first time users, for how to proceed with their search. The context-sensitive help features were also reviewed positively. The breadth of content in the sciences was also favourably commented on, particularly in non-English language material. The inclusion of patents and web content from Scirus was also welcomed. One of the most popular features that was reviewed during this process was the speed with which the full-text is exposed to the user, all achieved within one environment and a simple 'one click' away from the first results screen display.

Q. How was the content chosen?

The selection of titles was driven by user-demand and market research undertaken by the Scopus team of content managers. Priorities were peer-reviewed literature published in a timely manner, open access and electronic-only titles. Like everything else with Scopus, future content coverage decisions will be driven by the people who use it. To this end Scopus has set up a Content Selection Committee of top scientists and subject librarians. This group's task is to review titles nominated by the user base and gather feedback on their relevance and importance from the research community. It also sets the policy for future content direction and contributes general feedback about the database's ease-of-use and functionality.

Q. What are the benefits to librarians?

Links to full-text articles from such a huge body of abstract and indexing content is proving to be a major advantage for libraries that have Scopus installed at their sites. As Jeff Wisniewski, web services librarian with Pittsburgh University in the US told the Scopus Colloquium in Strasbourg in October 2004, 'the full-text linking capability available in Scopus has vastly expanded full-text availability for our end-users, so much so that several of our largest resources have seen increases in full-text retrievals of over 500 per cent. It's satisfying for us to see our investment in full text paying big dividends, and has enabled us to fulfil, to a greater extent than ever before, researchers' desires for an innovative and intuitive discovery tool backed by a near seamless universe of full-text content.'

Q. How have things changed since the start?

As take up has increased, Scopus has had to adapt and continue to innovate. While the Scopus of day one was certainly the largest abstracting and indexing database of its kind, user feedback since then showed us that we needed to continue to find ways to make the entire research workflow streamlined for corporate and university researchers. As a result, Scopus has been busy tinkering and tweaking, building on the successful foundation of its launch, so that, one year on, there are additional enhancements that further accelerate and simplify the overall research experience.

The Scopus team set out after launch to continue to reflect user feedback into its ongoing development. Customers who purchased Scopus for its ease of use and breadth of coverage leapt at the opportunity to influence the next round of development.

At the heart of some of the newer developments since the launch is Scopus' commitment to support the research workflow by seamlessly integrating third-party research tools and sources of content. By offering live, real-time and transparent interaction with additional systems, Scopus is freeing researchers to focus on their studies, rather than on mastering the complexities of database management.

Q. What partnerships have been set up?

In late June 2005 Scopus announced a partnership with RefWorks, the most advanced web-based bibliographic management tool on the market.

This integration enables researchers to go straight from results on Scopus to storing them in RefWorks or, while in RefWorks, initiate a search in Scopus. All this is done live, with real-time interaction between the two systems. Both systems are continuously updated so the user can find out instantly how often selected articles in RefWorks have been cited, in which publication, by whom and even if new citations have been made since they last looked. Similarly, while in Scopus it is easy to automatically save selected references to RefWorks and see which ones are already saved - a process which otherwise takes several more steps.

'This is an extremely exciting breakthrough. This integration is proof that researchers can achieve real time savings when vendors cooperate,' said Marshall Clinton, director of information technology services at University of Toronto Library. 'Scopus and RefWorks are setting the right example for the industry.'

In July 2005, Scopus also announced integration with Elsevier MDL's CrossFire Commander and Discovery Gate. With this integration, users of both Scopus and the CrossFire Commander and Discovery Gate tools can now save time and effort by using a fully integrated system that bridges the gap between text and chemical structure searching. From Scopus, researchers can access up-to-date summaries of chemical compounds and reactions from the Beilstein database.

Q. What other developments have been made?

Continued feedback from customers led Scopus in the direction of developing further customisation features. As a result, in July 2005, Scopus announced that it now offers the ability to configure full-text links within Scopus. Scopus supports links to any source that the customer defines. From the record page, libraries can add an unlimited number of links, known as a 'Library of Links'. In addition it is now possible to customise which links are seen by which departments.

Q. How does it link with the web?

One of the original appeals of Scopus was the way in which it incorporated web search into its functionality. Since its launch, Scopus has endeavoured to make this even more useful. New 'View on Web' links provide access to the full text of cited documents that have been published online. These links extend Scopus' ability to provide a fully integrated research workflow by enabling researchers to collect all relevant items quickly and easily. In addition, full web text links will be available for a wide range of document types including theses, manuals, fact sheets, reports, standards, technical notes and so on. Hundreds of thousands of 'View on Web' links will be available by the end of 2005.

Furthermore, Scopus has released an XML gateway for federated searching. Now all federated search engines have to do is develop their 'configurations' to communicate with Scopus. Encompass for Resource Access has already released its 'configuration' and Metalib is also able to search Scopus.

Q. What are the latest developments?

Scopus has recently announced several significant developments, including a decision by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the UK government body responsible for information provisioning in higher education, to make Scopus easily available to all of the UK's universities. As Scopus' first year comes to an end, the company is planning further enhancements that will speed the research experience and further simplify the overall research workflow.