The Value of Subject Indexes Developed by Experts

Kathy Wolcott, Acquisitions Librarian at Mathematical Reviews, a division of the American Mathematical Society, stresses that knowing your community is key to ensuring that your database is tailored to them.
MathSciNet"It's important to remind a community that using a subject specific database means your searches are going to be more productive and more precise, especially if researchers are doing in-depth research or trying to maintain current awareness," says Kathy Wolcott, Acquisitions Librarian at Mathematical Reviews, a division of the American Mathematical Society. The Mathematical Reviews office of the AMS is responsible for compiling and editing the content of MathSciNet®, a database covering scholarly literature of mathematics that contains information on over 3 million articles and books. Wolcott stresses that knowing your community is key to ensuring that your database is tailored to them. While single-window search engines may make research seem easy, typing broad terms into a general database can mean the researcher is missing vital papers, simply because the search results may be too large and unwieldy, and the researcher can’t know what should be there. "When cataloging items, not just books but journal papers, we are able to provide finer granularity and more subject-relevant details about the literature," says Wolcott. This means researchers achieve more meaningful results and save time by gaining both accuracy and precision. Kathy Wolcott highlights a few benefits of subject specific databases:

Filtering

The universe of literature has been limited to scholarly materials in the subject areas you're researching. When researchers are entering search terms like 'root', 'ring', and 'digit' in the context of mathematics, their results won't be about trees, jewelry, or fingers. "There's a relevance factor and you'll spend less time sifting through things that are not important to you. I'd like to know the relevant papers are in my search results and I don't have to go through thousands of things to find them," says Wolcott.

Authority

Expert input produces search results that are reliable, relevant, and representative of topics. "People with a working understanding of very specific terms and areas are able to capture nuance  that might be missed by someone who isn't deeply involved in the subject area," says Wolcott. At MathSciNet®, the editors are mathematicians who've selected the materials and assigned  subject classifications to them. This means a PhD mathematician has looked at an article and applied relevant markers that will help bring that paper into appropriate search results, and that's a great strength. More information that is of special interest to researchers in a particular subject area may be included in the descriptions of materials (e.g., detailed conference information related to a proceedings). This supporting information enables clearer interpretation and evaluation of search results.

Author Disambiguation

Unique identification of authors, an unusual offering in subject databases and an important feature in MathSciNet®, makes it possible to identify and follow an author's work easily and accurately. "Author identification makes it possible to develop a clearer understanding of a topical area or to track particular developments more efficiently and effectively," says Wolcott. If a researcher searches for an author name like S. Miller in a multi-subject database, they will be overwhelmed by results that include papers by many S. Millers. In MathSciNet®, author authority means that articles by an author have been identified and matched to that unique individual. Researchers can know with high-confidence what that person has written. “EBSCO has understood the great value an expertly-crafted subject index can bring to librarians, faculty and students. We are proud to work with partners such as the American Mathematical Society to make indexes like MathSciNet® available through our platform," said a spokesperson for EBSCO. Kathy Wolcott is the acquisitions librarian at Mathematical Reviews, a division of the American Mathematical Society. She holds an MLS from the University of Michigan and has done advanced graduate work in sociology at Michigan State University. She has worked in both academic and public libraries and is a member of the Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics (PAM) Division of the Special Libraries Association, the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS), and the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL). MathSciNet®, compiled, edited and delivered by the American Mathematical Society, is the authoritative gateway to the scholarly literature of mathematics. MathSciNet® contains information on over 3 million articles and books, and includes expert reviews, author profiles, and citation information on articles, books, journals, and authors. MathSciNet® is also available from EBSCO Information Services as MathSciNet via EBSCOhost®. For more information and a free trial, visit the EBSCO website.

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