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Medical Reference Services Quarterly
Volume 30, 2011 - Issue 1
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ScienceDirect Through SciVerse: A New Way To Approach Elsevier
Jason Bengtson
Pages 42-49 | Published online: 24 Jan 2011
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SciVerse is the new combined portal from Elsevier that services their ScienceDirect collection, SciTopics, and their Scopus database. Using SciVerse to access ScienceDirect is the specific focus of this review. Along with advanced keyword searching and citation searching options, SciVerse also incorporates a very useful image search feature. The aim seems to be not only to create an interface that provides broad functionality on par with other database search tools that many searchers use regularly but also to create an open platform that could be changed to respond effectively to the needs of customers.
KEYWORDS: Citation searchingdatabase searchingElsevierproduct evaluation​ScienceDirect​SciVerse
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SciVerse is the new combined portal from Elsevier that services their ScienceDirect collection, SciTopics, and their Scopus database. Using SciVerse to access ScienceDirect is the specific focus of this review. With headquarters in Amsterdam, Elsevier is the world's largest publisher of scientific and medical literature, and its ScienceDirect collection represents an enormous amount of scholarly literature.
After eliciting feedback from researchers, Elsevier chose to revamp its product interface. Deciding that what was needed was a more open portal allowing for an easy transition from one product to the other, along with Application Programming Interfaces for developers that allowed them to design specialized applications to work with their products, Elsevier rolled out the SciVerse hub. Along with advanced keyword searching and citation searching options, SciVerse also incorporates a useful image search feature. The aim seems to be not only to create an interface that provides broad functionality on par with other database search tools that many searchers use regularly but also to create an open platform that could be changed to respond effectively to the needs of customers. Elsevier has recently released some information about SciVerse Applications (a feature that, like ScienceDirect and Scopus, will be accessible from the SciVerse Hub). Elsevier has created a developer portal with the specific intention of making available Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for the creation of new SciVerse applications to aid in research and collaboration. Elsevier also intends to use SciVerse Applications to make both free and fee-based applications available to users. 1
Figure 1 is a screen shot of the SciVerse main search page. SciVerse searching is divided between the basic/single citation search boxes at the top of every screen, an advanced search, and an expert search. At the very top are links allowing users to shift between ScienceDirect and Scopus. Below that is found a navigation bar containing the options Home, Browse, Search, My settings, and My alerts. Setting up alerts, or adjusting any of the other settings in the search tool, will require users to create an account in SciVerse. Browse will allow users to browse for specific publications by title or subject. Search will take users to the main search interface. The Home selection will open up a page that offers quick links to SciVerse news, highly used articles, and other features.
FIGURE 1 SciVerse search page.
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SciVerse offers article and image searches (the selection is made with a radio button to the left of the basic search boxes, or by using the “Images” tab in the search screen). Searchers can use the basic search fields just under the navigation bar, or they can click on the “Search” link in the green bar at the top of the page. The “advanced search” link to the right of the basic search boxes can be selected for a more advanced interface. Figure 2 shows the screen that appears when selecting “Search” from the navigation bar. From this page, users can choose between “advanced search” and “expert search” (both discussed in more detail later). Users can also select which sources they wish to search by using the tabs above the search boxes. The basic search boxes will continue to appear under the navigation bar as the product is used, so they can be employed at any time.
FIGURE 2 SciVerse Expert search page.
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The Search Process
SciVerse features many familiar operators. The author has created a table of those operators for quick reference (see Table 1). 2 If no Boolean operators are used, SciVerse will use the AND operator by default. The usual nesting of parentheses is allowed, as shown in the following query:
TABLE 1 SciVerse Search Operators2
Display Table
(Coal AND (dust OR ash)) AND NOT “fly ash”
which garnered 37,156 returns when searching all fields.
When using abbreviations for publications, a space should be placed between each letter. When searching for the singular form of a term, the plural and possessive will usually come up as well, avoiding the need to employ wildcard operators in those instances. 2 The question mark wildcard should not be used in the Journal title field as it seems to produce an error. Limiters can be found in the column on the left-hand side of the screen. Users can limit by year published and content type. Users can also choose to narrow their search by limiting to a particular title or by a particular topic. It is important to note that the topic limiter does not make use of a larger subject vocabulary. In ScienceDirect the topics are obtained for each article via a keyword extraction process. 2
By going to the advanced search screen and using the search history feature (this can be seen near the bottom of the screen in Figures 1 and 2), it is easy to combine searches but with two caveats. First, the search must have been conducted in the advanced search screen. Second, the Search History can be turned off, so users must make certain that they have it turned on. The Search History feature also does not seem to be session-based, meaning users will have to create an account and be logged in for it to save the searches from their session.
The advanced search is pretty standard, with a couple of search boxes, a drop-down box for Boolean operators, and some explicit limiters. Since Boolean operators, field tags (and most anything else) can be entered into the top search box of the advanced search in the same way that they can be entered into the larger search box in the expert search interface, the difference is cosmetic. There seems to be no difference in returns between the two options.
If the expert search is used, however, users will need to employ field tags to combine keywords in specific fields only. To search multiple fields at the same time, the expert search might be the better choice, despite the extra typing, since there does not seem to be an option to add additional search boxes in the advanced search screen beyond the two that are present by default.
The image search is a handy feature. It is a testament to the size of the ScienceDirect collection that a search for “coal dust” in the image search retrieved more than 1,500 returns for this unlikely topic. The images search allows users to find articles containing images, including tables, in which they are interested. This allows users to not only use those images but also to cite them properly by their article of origin. 2
The “browse” feature gives users access to lists of indexed publications organized alphabetically by title or subject. As publications of particular interest are found, they can be added to the “favorites” folder, which can then be browsed separately (and only if a ScienceDirect account has been created). RSS feeds of articles from some publications can be set up from the browsing list; users see who has articles in press, and they can set up volume/issue alerts. From the pages for each of the individual publications, there are also links for submitting articles and book proposals, a handy feature that highlights Elsevier's new integrated approach.
Returns can be sorted by relevance or date. Relevancy in SciVerse is determined by the frequency with which a search term appears in the publication. There are 100 entries per page of returns. Users should use the “Next page” and “Previous page” links to navigate through them. SciVerse has a very useful set of tools that appears on their list of returns. Figure 3 shows this page in more detail. Clicking on the “export citations” link opens up a screen with several options for exporting a citation to a bibliographic manager (including a direct to Refworks export option that more databases could use). Clicking on “e-mail articles” will give the option to e-mail selected articles. There is also an interesting option for downloading multiple PDFs, a potentially useful thing to do once users have hit upon a particularly effective search strategy. Users can control which of the returns to apply those options to by checking or unchecking the boxes in the list. There is a very PubMed-like feature called “open all previews,” which will open the abstracts on all of the returns in the list, making it a little easier to tell which ones are worth following up. There is also the ubiquitous “find related articles,” which can be a useful tool to employ on difficult searches where only one or two hits seem to be relevant. According to the SciVerse help sheets, related articles and images are selected by extracting the keywords from the entire document or caption, which are then weighted by frequency and placement. 2 As a further step, the user can choose to find “related reference work articles” by using the eponymous link, which will limit related articles to those from works designated by Elsevier as official references (such as encyclopedias).
FIGURE 3 SciVerse list of returns.
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When an article is opened up, related articles will appear in a box on the right with citing articles linking from a box below (see Figure 4). Moving the mouse over any of these links generates a pop-up box containing the article abstract and other links, which is a nice feature. By clicking on the “references” tab, the references that the paper cites can be seen. Users who have access to the article through Elsevier will see the appropriate links. The article title links in the list of references will link to the corresponding note in the html version of the article and vice-versa. This linking is a nice feature, and it provides a solid citation searching capability. The articles also have a separate tab for images and tables, which is convenient. Some users will like the JSTOR-like style that SciVerse uses to highlight search terms within an article.
FIGURE 4 The article screen.
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The single simplest way to break the database was through the proximity operators. If the proximity operators PRE/ and W/ are used together without parentheses, the search will produce an error (with the error message, “the search structure is not valid”). Searches will also produce an error if different field tags are mixed together in a proximity search, for example:
authors (smith) W/3 title (test)
Ironically, the search:
authors (smith) W/3 test
worked just fine, even though, in the list of returns it called up, “test” showed up in the title field of most of the articles. Another thing to watch out for when using the Expert Search is parentheses. Due to the way parentheses are used in applying field tags, it becomes painfully easy to end up assigning extra parentheses when building a complex search, and such a search will produce an error.
SciVerse has its shortcomings, but it is an excellent all-around search tool. It has features comparable to those of other major academic database providers, and there seems to be little doubt that continued incarnations will add new features and correct some of the defects that exist in the tool now. Hopefully, there will be a cohesive controlled vocabulary option in the near future. However, by offering advanced keyword searching, citation searching, a very solid image search, strong tools within the list of returns, and an integrated package, Elsevier has made an extremely useful product for the research community.
Comments and suggestions should be sent to the Column Editor: Emily J. Vardell (evardell@med.miami.edu).
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