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Survey Sheds Light on Information Resources in HEP

(Photo)High energy physics is demonstrating the power of community. The results of a survey taken among high energy physicists show that community-based information systems—online databases or collections of databases that organize and give access to scientific literature—are used almost exclusively compared to commercial ones. The survey also asked users what system features they value most and what they would like to see added. SPIRES Database Manager Travis Brooks, who helped construct and analyze the survey, says the answers give a clear mandate about what improvements need to be made to existing systems.

"The HEP community is somewhat unique in that it has community-based information systems which specifically collect and organize HEP literature, making it making it readily accessible to researchers," said Brooks. "In the field of HEP, this survey tells us what services are useful to the community."

More than 2,000 high energy physicists participated in the survey and over 90 percent said they used the community-based information systems arXiv (an open website where authors can post their own work) and SPIRES (Stanford Public Information Retrieval System) as their primary sources of scientific literature. Eight percent say they use Google, and less than one percent chose to write in the name of a commercial system.

Participants also ranked the importance of current system features as well as the features they would like to see added. Among the features rated most important were: having access to full text, finding articles that cite a given article, finding conference proceedings, retrieving and exporting article references, and having the option of submitting article revisions. Multimedia content and personalization were rated less important than most other features. Most responders said five years from now they would like to be able to find all articles cited together and find out how often an article or preprint is downloaded—two options not currently offered by arXiv and SPIRES.

Brooks said that perhaps the most surprising result of the survey was that over 60 percent of participants said they would be willing to take anywhere from five minutes a day to an hour a week to tag articles through a web interface. Tagging by experts in the field would help organize information more specifically, and make it easier to find. Brooks says if the HEP community is serious about making this commitment, it's something that information systems should take advantage of.

Brooks also hopes the survey will demonstrate to scientific disciplines outside of high energy physics that community-based information systems have more support than commercial systems. Those surveyed about the HEP systems said they would like to see HEP information systems begin to extend into other, related disciplines.

The survey was taken between April 30 and June 11, 2007 and collected 2,115 responses, which the authors approximate to be between 5 and 10 percent of active HEP physicists. The survey was emailed to members of major experimental collaborations, users of major laboratories and authors in major journals, and it was posted on the Physical Review D website. The survey was a joint effort of SLAC, Fermilab, CERN and DESY.

The paper can be found on arXiv.

Calla Cofield, SLAC Today, May 15, 2008

Above image: SPIRES Database Manager Travis Brooks wants to know what the HEP community would like to see in information systems.