A review of the Scopus iPhone App

A little while ago I downloaded the new iPhone app from Scopus, called Scopus Alert Lite.  I have finally had a chance to explore it.

A screen shot of the search screen from the Scopus Alerts Lite iPhone App

The app is free, although your institution will need a subscription to Scopus in order for you to use it.  Theoretically, you should be able to register using your Scopus user id and password, plus the email address from the institution that provides your subscription.  This may encourage some users to sign up for an account.  Most of the users I know (faculty and students) don’t realize the benefits of creating a user account with the databases they use.  This simple authentication didn’t work for me, and it took several emails to Scopus support to resolve the issue.  The app does provide a button to contact support if you fail to authenticate, which was how I got in contact with the folks that resolved the problem.

Despite the challenges of registering, I believe that when it works, this is one of the better ways of authenticating subscription content for the iPhone.  You can use it anywhere, you don’t have to be on your campus WiFi network or use VPN (like the ACS app) or go through a proxy server (like some database mobile websites).

The app is rather slow to load, and several times I received an error message asking me to log in again.  Restarting the app seemed to solve the problem.

Because the app is focused on setting up citation and search alerts, not general searching, there are some limitations.

The biggest limitation is that, for any search, you can’t see more than 50 results, although it will tell you how many total results are available.  I think this is a badly needed feature.  I kept feeling like I was being short-changed.  You can change the sorting order of the results list.  The default is by date, but you can also sort by relevancy and citation count.

The second limitation seems to be with author searches.  Scopus.com has a very nice author ID feature, which helps you identify all works by the same individual no matter what permutation of their name each article uses.  The Scopus Alerts iPhone app doesn’t seem to take advantage of this feature.

Affiliation searches are very easy, allowing you to find publications from a particular institution.

For each of the articles found, you can get their citations and references (number of each and item information).  However, the app doesn’t provide links to publisher websites or institutional link resolvers to help you locate the full text (some publishers are providing their own apps for that.)

Unfortunately, alerts don’t transfer between web and iPhone – there is no way to access alerts you have already set up at Scopus.com, and it doesn’t appear that you can get your iPhone alerts on your computer at this time.

I am happy to see this first attempt at an app from Scopus.  Despite some challenges, I think their method of authentication is actually one of the easiest I’ve seen (once you set it up once, you are all set, and you don’t need to re-authenticate each time).  I hope to see some increased functionality in the future, especially access to additional search results.

You can read the complete official description of the iPhone app from Scopus (including an FAQ) on the Scopus website.

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My problem with the Chemical Abstracts Service

I don’t have a problem with their product, just their support.

Chemical Abstracts Service is the force behind SciFinder, the best database for chemical information available. It is an outstanding resource for chemists, with some of the best indexing available.

CAS recently conducted a survey, asking the “key contacts” from each library to rate the quality of the training materials they provide and their support for training chemists on SciFinder.  While they have some high quality training materials, their support for teaching undergraduates how to use SciFinder is awful.

Because they limit user access to their product (we pay for 3 simultaneous users), we have to request special “training” logins for our information literacy sessions in the chemistry department.  While this is a pain, this isn’t a big problem.  The problem is that they limit the number of training seats they will grant us, and communication poorly about how many training seats might be accessible.

We have a well developed information literacy program at my library, and the limitations on training seats mean that we have to ration the instruction we give on this incredible database.  If students aren’t exposed to this database in a hands-on session, they will turn to more easily available resources (such as Google) to find their information.

I think it would make good business sense for CAS to be more open with the number of training seats they grant.  Here’s why:  if chemistry students are thoroughly convinced at the undergraduate level that SciFinder is their best source for information, they will want access to it in graduate school and in the workplace, putting pressure on more institutions and corporations to purchase access.

My recommendation:  don’t limit the number of training log-ins available to an institution and your product will see more use outside of the classroom.

Working with faculty to manage resources

Librarians and classroom faculty spend their time thinking about different things. Classroom faculty concentrate on teaching their students the subject matter, while librarians tend to focus on the resources students need to learn those subjects.

I just started two important dialogs with faculty about our library resources:

  • The Chemistry department and I need to make a decision about whether to move the web version of SciFinder, or stick with the client version for now.
  • Subject guides for Astronomy and Physics have been neglected for years and were missing several vital resources. As I update these guides, I am asking for assistance from the Physics and Astronomy department to make sure that the resources included in the guides are the resources their students are using.

I’m waiting to find out how engaged the faculty will be in these discussions. My initial overture was an email explaining what was going on. I will probably follow this up with in-person discussions. I have found that a quick trip over the an academic department can save a lot of time typing up emails, and leads to a better overall relationship. As the semester draws to a close, classroom faculty get very busy with final exams and projects and it is often easier for them to express their opinions in a quick face-to-face conversation.

Looking for Astronomy Resources

In my quest to update the science subject guides at my library, I have started in alphabetical order with Astronomy. The astronomy subject guide is one of the least used guides at my institution, and it does not have many resources listed.

In my quest to update this resource, I am employing several strategies.

  1. Adding appropriate resources from our list of paid databases
  2. Adding resources I am already familiar with that may be useful in astronomy
  3. Examining other subject guides created by specialty librarians at larger universities on the subject
  4. Working with the astronomy faculty to add resources that they point their students to

Since I am not an astronomer, part of this process involves learning about the literature research methods of astronomers, and the needs of these particular undergraduates at my institution.

A few of the resources I will be adding to the guide include: