With the success of the National Institute of Health's effort to provide free access to medical research through PubMed, it was expected that other governmental agencies would follow suit. To this end, the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Scientific and Technical Information unveiled PubSCIENCE to make the research literature of the physical sciences, especially energy-related information, more accessible to the public.
As with PubMed, searching is free, but the content of the database is less defined. Where PubMed has a well-established scope, controlled vocabulary for indexing, and an authoritative publications list, the contents of PubSCIENCE have been largely driven by the direct needs of the researchers of the DOE and the agreements reached with publishers. This makes for quite an eclectic collection, with over 30 publishers currently participating and 11 others "coming soon." Although PubSCIENCE claims to include over 1300 peer-reviewed journal titles (including forthcoming titles), only approximately 800 were positively identified for this review. Each journal is fully indexed, regardless of the subject matter.
The PubSCIENCE interface was obviously designed for the end user. The Basic Search, which is the default search, and the Advanced Search screens both include outlines of the user's immediate options and direct links to Help and the Collections, or journal title lists. One feature of particular interest is the pop-up boxes with basic instructions for the users for that aspect of the search. This provides the necessary information without cluttering the screen. Although both screens are orderly and easy to navigate, future consideration should be given to the design of the search screens with the intentions of fine-tuning some of the arrangement.
On the Basic Search screen, it is not obvious to the user what part of the database is being searched (title, author and bibliographic record), or that Boolean operators are usable. But both of these features as well as phrase searching (called "literal search" in PubSCIENCE), date ranges searching, and wild card searching are covered in the HELP. A feature that is negligibly useful is the ability to search PubSCIENCE by publisher. Archives (more than 10 years) and current (past ten years) collections are also searched separately. Because the content is created by cooperation between the DOE and commercial publishers, PubSCIENCE is also able to allow the user to limit searches to only items that are accessible in full text.
The advanced search allows a user to "build" a search strategy and limit each set of terms to title, author, keyword, or the entire citation, which does include journal title. At this screen, the user can also limit by date, publisher and full text availability.
Once a search has been conducted, the user can then either narrow the search using the "Search Within These Results" option, or browse the search results, which are organized by journal. The full record includes the bibliographic citation, ISSN, abstract and keywords and a link to the publisher where the user can access full text if available or can pay-per-view.
The diverse collection of journals included in PubSCIENCE suggests a broader use for this database than merely limiting to energy-related research. Looking at individual titles, approximately 48% of the journals covered can be classified as physical science (including chemistry, physics, engineering and earth sciences) journals; another 48% are life science journals (biology, medicine, agriculture and environmental sciences) that have some coverage of issues related to physical science. The remaining 4% are non-science titles from fringe disciples.
Since there is little unique coverage in PubSCIENCE (approximately 90% of the journals are indexed in at least one other major research database), librarians and clientele of research libraries with access to databases such as Web of Science, Compendex, Inspec, Embase, or Chemical Abstracts may only find this resource useful if the research topic is energy-related.
On the other hand, university and college librarians, and possibly even public librarians, with restricted budgets will find that PubSCIENCE will supplement their collections quite well by providing access to peer-reviewed research and technical literature that may not be readily accessible. A title by title comparison with the Applied Science & Technology Abstracts, Biological and Agricultural Abstracts and General Science Index revealed that only 10% of the PubSCIENCE journals were also indexed in the Wilson databases. If the journal title lists from Chemical Abstracts Student Edition and BasicBIOSIS are included in this comparison, the percentage only increases to 16%. The strengths of PubSCIENCE lie in areas where the costs of databases are often prohibitive, e.g., chemistry and physics. This database is an excellent resource for smaller academic libraries where need does not often justify expenditure.
With database costs rising, it is encouraging to see this effort by the DOE. As the resource develops, adding more journal coverage and search enhancements, PubSCIENCE will be held with the same regard as PubMed.