March 10, 2006

Remote Engineering Research Assistance - A Day In The Life

.: Yesterday I worked in ETLC 2-006. ETLC E2-006 is a computer lab in the Engineering Teaching and Learning Complex at the University of Alberta, where we (two engineering librarians) provide an engineering research assistance service four hours a week to engineering students. I had planned to be there from 1:13-3:00, but ended up staying until about 4:14. I had two questions, b2b, both lengthy and detailed.

The first student I helped was in Materials Engineering 365 (a design course), and was looking for kinetic data on GeO2, germanium dioxide. His design group is working on reduction of GeO2 to solid germanium, using H2, hydrogen. We did extensive searching through a number of databases, including Knovel, which had some related information. Eventually we searched SciFinder Scholar. We tried various combinations of search terms, including the using the CAS RNs. We then started screening the citations, and it became evident that the research in this area had been published decades ago, and primarily in Russia and Japan. Naturally, the few citations we found that seemed bang on were either in Russian or Japanese.

I had a feeling we might hold some of the older Russian journal titles, so we began to check them in the NEOS catalogue. Not only did we have all but one title, we had some of the translation journals as well. After I finished the second question, and went back to Cameron with the second student, who needed information from the Chemical Economics Handbook (CEH), the Mat E 365 student saw me, and told me that he found exactly what he needed in the translated versions of the Russian articles we found in SciFinder Scholar. Lesson learned: the old stuff in our collection is still very, very valuable - the translation journals to which we once subscribed provided the solution to this student's search question.

The second student was in Chem Eng 465 (another design course), and her group was working on a number of issues, including a solvent called selexol, the cost considerations when designing an ammonia plant, and gasification. She told me that her group's off-campus industry contact told her that there was information in an SRI report on ammonia, but that he couldn't tell her what it was. As we began to search the SRI web site, my brain kicked in and I realized that he was probably referring to the CEH, which I told her was in the Cameron SciTech Library.

We searched Knovel, and found the CAS RN and selexol, along with a list of its synonyms, in Sax's. In the Knovel search results was a book called Gasification. However, when we clicked on the book, we were asked for an ID and PW. It appeared that this title, and the next one, Surface Production Operations (2nd Edition) Volume 2 - Design of Gas-Handling Systems and Facilities, were new titles that were considered "Premium Content." I had my cell phone, so I decided to call our Knovel rep, who was available. He explained that Knovel just created a new subject area, Oil and Gas Engineering, and that some of the titles were in the Premium category. It was so new that Knovel had not yet turned on access for libraries whose subscriptions include access to Premium Content, which includes the U of A. Our Knovel rep initialized our access to these titles, and the student and I were able to view these titles, which contained valuable information for her group. (BTW, this is typical of our Knovel rep, who tends to respond quickly and thoroughly to any questions or concerns about the Knovel db; excellent service all around.)

As we continued to search for additional information using Compendex, she made a telling comment, and I paraphrase: "You know, it's not that we don't know how to search, it's just that we don't know where to look." She explained that she uses Compendex after I had demonstrated it in class, but beyond that is not sure what resources to use next. This is the dilemma we face - we deal with an incredible, large set of resources, and at best, can only skim the surface when we teach our 50-minute sessions on library and research skills instruction. This is why I always stress, repeatedly, that if the only thing the students take away from our classes is an awareness that there are important, relevant resources out there to help them with their research, then that's half the battle. They know they can approach us for help and guidance, which is why we are here.

I walked back to Cameron with her, and showed her CEH. The section on ammonia had a lot of information she could use, and she was very happy to have access to it.

A good day indeed.

February 23, 2006

Easy Citations on Knovel

.: I missed this one, from the 18 January 2006 v6 n1 issue of Knovel K-News. Knovel has introduced a citation link feature "that allows users to create a properly formatted citation for any reference book or database in the Knovel Library." When using an individual Knovel title, the user clicks on the "Citation" link next to "Title Details", inputs the page numbers, and a bibliographic citation formatted in MLA-style will appear. This is a nifty feature, and will work for any book in the Knovel db, in which page numbers are listed. This option will save the user time to format an individual citation. What I'd like to see added would be extra input space to allow for citing individually authored or co-authored papers within a Knovel publication. Regardless, it is another useful tool in the expanding Knovel arsenal.

October 24, 2005

Knovel Adds RSS Feeds and Mouse-Over Functionality

.: I continue to catch up with developments that occurred in the past two weeks. Last week, Knovel announced new enhancements to its web interface. Of interest are RSS feeds and Mouse-over Title Descriptions. The RSS feeds are long overdue and a very welcome development:

Knovel has RSS-enabled many pages in the Knovel Library Web site, which means users can add a "feed" for a given page to their Newsreader and keep track of changes made to that page. For example, the RSS feed for the "All Titles" Web page will update when a new title has been added. Or the RSS feed for a particular Subject Area page will automatically update when new titles have been added to that area. Subscribers can conveniently add a feed to monitor "My Subscription" to know when new titles are added to their subscription.
The Mouse-over feature is quite good. A small window opens up with a brief description of the title, book cover, and a link to the table of contents, which when clicked, opens up the full record for the title within the db itself. This feature also saves an enormous amount of space on the Knovel site. Rather than feature the description and mini-book cover next to the link itself, this information is tucked away in a popup box, visible when called upon by the user. The flip side is that the boxes could become annoying after a while, but I think it's a small price to pay for this feature:
Knovel has just made it easier to quickly access title descriptions. Wherever a list of titles appears, such as the "All Titles" page or "New Titles" page, or even on a search results page, if you now pass your cursor over the name of a title, a small pop-up box will appear with an image of the front cover of the title along with a brief description of the content in the title, the author name, and links to the Table of Contents and Ordering Info. This "mouse-over" saves the user time in discovering what kind of content can be found in a given title.
Knovel is maintaining the little "plus sign" icon to the left of each title, which when clicked, provides publishing, copyright date, and a full description of the title.

September 29, 2005

Knovel Content Now Indexed on GlobalSpec

.: From a press release emailed on 29 Sept 2004 from Knovel:

New York, NY - September 29, 2005 - Knovel Corporation (, a leading provider of revolutionary Web-based information services that increase productivity for millions of engineers, scientists and librarians worldwide, announced today its partnership with GlobalSpec, the specialized search engine and online community for engineers. Knovel's collection of interactive reference books from over 30 publishers is now indexed within The Engineering WebSM, GlobalSpec's vertical search engine.

This collaboration will bring Knovel to the desktops of the millions of engineers and technical professionals who visit GlobalSpec each month. People who have relied on GlobalSpec for technical content including products, services, standards, patents, application notes and proprietary content now have access to Knovel's comprehensive library that culminates the world's best published references into one platform. "It's a logical partnership," says Christopher M. Forbes, CEO of Knovel Corporation. "We're both dedicated to bringing reliable resources to the engineering and technical community."

GlobalSpec's search engine, The Engineering WebSM, will peer deep into Knovel's database to yield relevant, detailed results to technical queries. When a search is performed, Knovel subscribers will be taken directly to the page of the book yielding their results. Other GlobalSpec users will receive bibliographic data from Knovel to direct them towards a solution. This new partnership will greatly improve research in the engineering community.

This is another example of a proprietary database allowing its content to be indexed by a search engine available freely to the public. For example, IEEE has allowed Google to index its IEEE Xplore database. As mentioned, access to Knovel content will be available when searching GlobalSpec on a computer at a location that also subscribes to Knovel; users at companies and institutions without a subscription will be more than a little frustrated when they discover they can't view the results.

Of interest is that Engineering Village subscribers can search GlobalSpec within the EV platform. I connected to GlobalSpec through Engineering Village, and searched "obsolete SAE steels", restricting the search to "The Engineering Web" within GlobalSpec. Sure enough, the first result listed was to the Knovel title from which I'd extracted the search phrase, Electromechanical Design Handbook, 3rd ed. Clicking on that result opened a page that includes the Knovel logo, a hotlnked thumbnail of the book cover, a description of the content, and a link at the bottom to the search results within the book. The disclaimer underneath the links reads: "Note: By clicking the above link, you will be leaving the GlobalSpec website to go to our content partner, Knovel. If you have a subscription to this title on Knovel, you will be able to see its content without logging in. If you do not have a subscription, you will be able to subscribe online." Clicking on the link (or the thumbnail) takes you to a list of the sections or chapters within the book that include the search phrase, a nice feature that also works within a Knovel search itself..

Indexing of Knovel content within GlobalSpec may be inconsistent with regards to the results that appear in a GlobalSpec search. In other words, one can search for a word or phrase that in Knovel would return many hits, but in GlobalSpec, the user may have considerably difficult determining where the Knovel hits are within the GlobalSpec search results, if at all. For example, I search "pressure vessel" in Knovel, with no restrictions; the search returns 217 titles. The same search run in GlobalSpec, restricted to "the engineering web", returns 119,096 hits. Where amongst these results might the Knovel content be found? Perhaps the solution would be to move the Knovel content to the front of the results, or to allow the user to restrict the search to Knovel content.

GlobalSpec allows the user to "Refine Your Results" when searching, but only by related subject terms and phrases. The search, "pressure vessel" and knovel, returns 133 hits in GlobalSpec, with 10 sites listed per page. Oddly enough, when I clicked through to the third page, it reads, "Engineering Web Sites: 31 - 40 of 133 "; when I click through to the fourth page, it changes to "Engineering Web Sites: 41 - 42 of 42 ", and the results stop there. So it appears that there remain some glitches that need to be addressed. One change worth consideration would be to include the option to restrict a GlobalSpec search to Knovel content. This would benefit both parties: GlobalSpec would increase its use, Knovel would increase its profile and potentially its customer base as well.

Related to this is a nano-bone I need to pick with Knovel. The press releases sent by e-mail are very much appreciated, but check the Knovel News: Press Releases, and the most current press release is nowhere to be found. It would be useful for a press release to be uploaded to the Knovel website at the same time it is e-mailed the Knovel's customers.

September 21, 2005

Knovel and Machinery's Handbook, 27th Edition: The Pitfall of the Plug-In

.: In an e-mail sent last week, Knovel informed its subscribers of the following:

We are writing to share with you the exciting news that on Monday, Sept. 19th, Knovel will release the 27th Edition of Machinery’s Handbook. This fully updated and expanded edition of this important title will add greatly to the value of our service for your patrons.

In order to fulfill our contractual obligations with the publisher of Machinery’s Handbook, we are obliged to protect the files from unauthorized copying, downloading, and printing. Knovel makes every effort to maintain as few barriers to the content on our service as possible. However, in the event your patrons seek to view secured content in this title, they will be asked to download a security plug-in called FileOpen for Adobe Reader. This is a one-time download and once installed, the user will not be asked to download it again.

Unfortunately for those trying to get access to this title from a computer lab terminal, OPAC terminal on a public floor in a library, or a computer on a locked-down company LAN, the plug-in won't load, rendering the 27th edition of Machinery's Handbook unusable and non-functional. The e-mail goes on to say:
Knovel has made every effort in the on-screen instructions for how to download this plug-in to cover every eventuality your patrons might face, and to lead them through the process simply and effectively. We are letting you know in advance so if you receive questions you will know how to answer them, and so you are aware of why your patrons are contacting you. We have prepared a special link for you to preview how the process works.
followed by:
We will seek to maintain the simplest possible access to our content in the future. If we are obliged to secure further content, we will let you know in advance. Please be reassured that once your patrons have downloaded this plug-in, it will secure access to any other content which may require FileOpen in the future.
The bone to pick here isn't necessarily with Knovel, but primarily with the publisher, Industrial Press. The problem is, this new restriction is transparent to any user. Someone trying to use the 27th edition will hit a brick wall, and be forced to turn back, so to speak. Knovel is leaving the 26th edition in the db, but for those who need the most current and accurate information from this title, the only option is to use it from a personal, IP-authenticated computer, and deal with a series of click-throughs to use this title. Users today want the shortest path to their resources of choice.

There is another problem. Despite having downloaded and installed the plug-in yesterday on my laptop, when I tried to look at text within the 27th edition this morning using Firefox, a window popped up with "The FileOpen plug-in is not installed." Three clicks later, I reach a screen that verifies I have the plug-in installed, allowing access to the .pdf files in the book. Using Internet Explorer, the plug-in was recognized as having been loaded, and I was taken directly to the book. So a problem exists with the plug-in and Firefox. For any library system using Firefox on their terminals, this would be another headache with which to deal.

But most library systems either power down at closing time, and/or reboot their servers overnight. The effect of this would be that the next day, the plug-in would need to be loaded on any station where a user was trying to access the 27th Edition, again. Er, but, the plug-in most likely couldn't be loaded in the first place, because library and computer lab terminals are locked-down to prevent the downloading and installation of potentially malicious software, therefore...we go round in circles.

I hope Knovel, purveyors of a major and important product for science and engineering libraries, can solve this for us. Locally, this is critical, as I am teaching three classes in mechanical engineering next week, and in each one, I will now need to mention that this major mechanical engineering reference work cannot be used on any station in any library or computer lab on campus. Plus, those of us subscribing to Knovel need to advise our information staff that the title will not work on OPAC stations, unless we work in a library which allows for the downloading and installation of plug-ins on public stations.

The longer view is that this plug-in, of course, is another example of Digital Rights Management. In an academic or learned setting, where students are working towards degress and advancing their education, this kind of restriction does way more harm than good. I would guess that most students are not interested in downloading the entire book, which numbers above 2,750 pages. Knovel advises us that the plug-in will prevent "unauthorized copying, downloading, and printing", but in an education setting, what does that mean? Our library signs a licence to use the db, including this title, meaning our users are authorized to use the product. If one or more of them decides to print or download a section for further study, isn't that the raison d’être of the product anyway?

September 20, 2005

Knovel Enhances Semiconductor & Electronics Subject Area with Valuable New Content

.: Knovel issued the following press release today, via an e-mail:

IEE's EMIS Datareviews Series and Springer-Verlag's Landolt-Bornstein Added

NEW YORK, NY (September 20, 2005) - Knovel Corporation, a leading provider of revolutionary Web-based information services, today announced major additions to its Semiconductors & Electronics Subject Area. The Electronic Materials Information Service (EMIS) Datareviews and the Electronic Materials and Semiconductors systems from Springer-Verlag's Landolt-Bornstein on Knovel will help researchers in the Semiconductor industry meet increasing demands to deliver smaller boards and chips and faster process times.

These content additions come at an important time, as materials-intensive technologies like high-speed, high-density storage and displays are converging with microelectronics and nanotechnology. Design challenges are forcing the development of new materials that represent an increasing proportion of the cost of new semiconductors. Easy access to trusted information about these new materials is critical to industry professionals.

The EMIS Datareviews series, published by The Institute of Electronic Engineers (IEE), offers guidance on the most appropriate materials to use for particular applications, based entirely on input from experts in the field. According to the Engineering Science and Education Journal, "there is a great deal of factual information in this [series] that cannot be obtained easily from other sources. The authors are all renowned scientists from the world's most important research facilities in both the public and industrial sectors."

Landolt-Bornstein, Group IV, Volume 5, presents phase equilibria and thermodynamic data of binary alloy systems. "I had a chance to test our product extensively," said Dr. Rainer Poerschke, Head of the Landolt-Bornstein Department, Springer-Verlag. "It is fantastic what you have done with our PDFs!"

"We are developing Knovel Library into a resource that is used by every scientist and engineer in their daily work," said Delores Meglio, Editorial Director of Knovel Corporation. "The EMIS Datareviews series and Landolt-Bornstein enhance our coverage of the Semiconductors & Electronics Subject Area with trustworthy data from industry experts."

If you subscribe to Knovel, you also must subscribe to the Landolt-Bornstein product to have access to the Electronic Materials and Semiconductors systems. Currently we have access to all of Knovel except for Landolt-Bornstein.

The EMIS Datareviews series is from IEE, and comprises twenty titles.

July 14, 2005

Knovel's "MindMap"

:: Knovel has created a simple one-page description of the Knovel Library. From the latest Knovel News:

Knovel has developed a new 1-page description of the Knovel Library service specifically for potential users of the service. Laid out in "mindmap" format, it answers questions like, 'What is Knovel Library,' 'Who Uses It,' 'Top 10 Reasons YOU Should Use It' and more. Download the file now (PDF format) and share it with others in your organization. Help spread the good news about Knovel!
Links within the .pdf file are active. This could be of use as an additional handout when lecturing to upper undergrads and graduate students.

May 25, 2005

Knovel Web Site Enhancements

:: I'm late posting this, but it's still important news. From Knovel K-News:

New enhancements to Knovel's Web site design and user interface will be released on June 1st. These enhancements will make finding and analyzing information on Knovel faster and easier. In addition to a streamlined interface with new graphics, the main enhancement will be a change in search. Below is an overview of Knovel's new look and powerful new search features. The features that have been substantially updated or are new have been labeled with a NEW icon knew.gif.
More information on the forthcoming changes to the Knovel site is in the K-News May 18 2005 edition.

April 25, 2005

Knovel Announces K-Essentials

:: From a 25 April 2005 press release from the Knovel site:

Innovative Knovel Program Helps Businesses,
Academic Institutions, and Government Agencies
Make the Transition to a Virtual Library

K-Essentials offers free and unlimited access to interactive engineering and science references

NEW YORK, NY (April 25, 2005) - Knovel Corporation (, a leading provider of revolutionary Web-based information services that increase productivity for millions of engineers, scientists, students, and librarians worldwide announced today the availability of an innovative new program to helps businesses, academic institutions, and government agencies make the transition to a virtual library. The new program, called K-Essentials, offers unlimited access to nine highly acclaimed science and technical references free of charge through Knovels Web-based platform which transforms information into actionable intelligence by integrating software tools with content.

Continue reading "Knovel Announces K-Essentials" »

March 17, 2005

Reviews of Full-Text Handbook-Type Collections

:: On ELDNET-L (I can't link to the post), Kate Thomes asks:

Hi everyone. I know this topic has been discussed on ELDnet before, but my library system was not dealing much with the issues at the time and I do not find a record of the discussion in my files.

I would like to know if folks have assessed the relative merits of various ebook services including Referex, EngNetBase, Kluwer Online Reference Works, knovel, etc.

Does anyone have an ELDnet discussion summary of this topic, or have specific experiences and opinions they'd like to share with me?

If you have comments, Kate can be reached at Bevier Engineering Library, U Pittsburgh, at 412-624-9620 or kthomes+ AT pitt DOT edu.

I thought it would be interesting to see what reviews of some of these products are "out there", so did a quick web search, and found a few:

I searched archives of Free Pint, Charleston Advisor, E-STREAMS, Pter's Digital Reference Shelf, but couldn't find much else, which means I've probably missed a few.

November 30, 2004

Knovel Updates Yaws' Handbook of Thermodynamic and Physical Properties of Chemical Compounds

:: Knovel has updated Yaws' Handbook of Thermodynamic and Physical Properties of Chemical Compounds. Sixteen new interactive tables (57,000 records) on thermodynamic, physical, and transport properties of organic chemical compounds have been added. Nine of these have Equation Plotter and almost all have name synonyms for chemical compounds.

The data was provided by Prof. Carl Yaws of Lamar University, Texas.