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RILM online: a comparison of vendors.

(The following review is based on a presentation by the authors at the Electronic Reference Services Subcommittee session at the annual meeting of the Music Library Association in Arlington, Virginia, 12 February 2004. Some recent updates have been included. All Web sites were accessed on 26 May 2004.--Ed.)

For decades the RILM Abstracts of Music Literature has been a household word to everyone engaged in serious music research, and if anyone needed an indication of its importance it should suffice to note that no fewer than five database vendors are now making RILM data available through their interfaces. The relative virtues of their products have already been the subject of at least one investigation (Guy Leach, "Comparative Review of RILM on NISC BiblioLine, OCLC FirstSearch, and Silver-Platter," Charleston Advisor 4 [July 2002],, and will continue to motivate subscription decisions at institutions supporting music research. Evaluations and recommendations regarding the FirstSearch interface have also been produced since 2000 by the Music OCLC Users Group Reference Products Committee (the most recent iteration of these recommendations is available at With the recent discontinuation of the five-year indexes to the paper RILM volumes, no doubt many smaller institutions will feel an added degree of urgency in migrating to an online interface as well.

The following comments seek to describe, in lieu of illustrations, the "feel" of each of the interfaces, as well as their salient characteristics. Major features of the interfaces are summarized in the accompanying overview (see table 1 pp. 202-3). The URL accompanying each vendor represents only the home page address, or the page where the RILM database is described, since the actual mode of access to RILM may vary, even with the same vendor, among different subscribing institutions.

Cambridge Scientific Abstracts: Internet Database Service.

The interface developed by Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA) is busy, but it does not yield the impression of clutter. It divides the screen into two frames, and manages to include in its left-hand frame most of the options a patron would need for basic searching, without requiring the patron to scroll down (assuming the most common screen resolutions). Terms entered in the search box can be limited in the usual ways (date, publication type, English only, etc.); multiple-term searches can be executed as "exact phrase," "any word," or "all word" searches. Especially gratifying is the fact that the patron's choices are "sticky"--that is, retained from one search to the next. The default search "as keyword" omits author words, but the pull-down menu allows for an "everywhere" search that accesses all fields--and this choice is sticky as well.

The right-hand frame is used for displaying results, which can be displayed as citations or full records, individually or in lists. Useful hyperlinks are provided for author names, as well as for the numerical identifiers connecting main and component works. Subject headings are also hyperlinked, but in a manner that breaks between main and subheadings: "Aesthetics: viewed by Boulez, P.," for example, is broken into two different headings at the colon, and the latter heading is not terribly useful.

Scrolling down the left-hand frame reveals a button to "Advanced Search" (guided keyword) mode; a logical search string mode is also available within Advanced Search. Other buttons include "Thesaurus Search" (CSA is one of only two interfaces to offer the RILM Thesaurus), "Browse Indexes" (authors, subjects, journals, and document types), and "Search History/Alerts." The subject browse index still needs some work, as it lumps main headings and subheadings (e.g. "viewed by Boulez, P.") into one alphabetical order while also attempting to impress them into a hierarchy of broader and narrower terms. This is, however, CSA's only serious failing, one's personal preference or distaste for frames notwithstanding.--SL

EBSCO Information Services: Bibliographic and Full Text Databases.

Whereas the CSA interface manages to pack a lot of functionality into fairly little screen space, EBSCO's interface leaves a lot of blank space on its search screens--pleasant to the eye, but most if not all of the Basic Search functionality could have been easily accommodated in less space, obviating anyone's need to scroll down. (This is less true of Advanced Search mode, a guided keyword search mode featuring a number of ancillary pull-down menus.) This much said, EBSCO's interface is a model of simplicity that belies only a few hidden learning curves. One of these is the necessity of using Boolean operators for all "and" searches--something the user raised on Google learns only by trial and error, by reading the help menus, or by receiving assistance. Another is the use of the term "Default Fields" as field descriptor in Advanced Search: this means nothing more than "keyword." In addition, one discovers that EBSCO's keyword indexing includes all authors except review authors.

Results lists are functional, but unattractive. Citation information in the lists is remarkably extensive, but at the cost of making unwieldy and syntactically confusing paragraphs out of the information. Of all the interfaces, EBSCO offers the most extensive hyperlinking, and it is intelligently done: there are hyperlinks between main entries and their reviews as well as between main and component works, and the hyperlinking of subject headings betrays a degree of human intervention and discrimination. There is no thesaurus, but the subject index--one of three, along with publication and author indexes--is well organized.--SL

NISC BiblioLine. National Information Services Corporation.

BiblioLine is the Web searching service of the National Information Services Corporation (NISC). It offers two interfaces for RILM: BiblioLine Pro, a framed environment with three search modes--Quick, Advanced, and Expert--and BiblioLine Basic, a simplified and less busy interface which uses tabs rather than frames to navigate the RILM database. Music librarians may want to set the Advanced Search mode as the default option for BiblioLine Pro; the Expert Search mode is suitable only for users who want optimal search capabilities and is not recommended for undergraduate students, nor anyone unwilling to spend a good deal of time reading the attached tutorial.

Users will appreciate the automatic search functions, which include automatic plurals, international spellings, and compound searching, as well as a "sounds like" feature for author or name search. There are detailed and numerous help links as well as the ability to simultaneously search other NISC databases such as RISM or RIPM. Nicely formatted "Quick Guides" are available and can be used by instruction librarians to teach users how to use the interface, although none of the guides is specific to RILM, or to music. NISC is also one of two interfaces to offer the RILM Thesaurus, and easy-to-use indexes are available for all fields. To improve subject searching in RILM, NISC recently modified the indexing of the "Major Topics" field to enable searching of any subdivisions within that field.

Unique to BiblioLine is the use of collective records. For example, if a search retrieves a book citation, citations for reviews of the book will be appended directly to the bottom of the record. While brief entries for component works have been similarly appended to the record for a main work, NISC has recently introduced hyperlinks to the records of these component works, with their abstracts, from the brief entries. Another recent addition is lateral searching, whereby a user can click on a highlighted term and the search results for that term will be presented in a new window. This is available in the following fields: cross-references, authors, major topics, and subject strings. Full-text linking can be implemented either by using NISC's existing arrangements with selected full-text partners or through an Open URL provider.

There are a few features that users will find annoying, such as the required use of the BiblioLine navigational tools as opposed to the Internet browser's navigational tools. NISC databases also have a required survey that appears after each session upon exiting. In general, however, subscribers to BiblioLine will find NISC a small, friendly, socially conscious company willing to adapt itself to user recommendations.--HS-B

OCLC FirstSearch. OCLC Online Computer Library Center.

A positive feature of FirstSearch databases is the "seen one, seen them all" phenomenon; many observations about the ubiquitous WorldCat apply to RILM and all other FirstSearch databases. For example, Advanced Search, with its three search boxes defaulted to keyword, is so user-friendly that many patrons get excellent results searching it as is without accessing the thirty-seven other choices on its pull-down menus. It is no more "advanced," and certainly more useful, than Basic Search, with its fixed keyword, author, and title boxes. Finally, for those who prefer complicated searching, Expert Search offers one large box for constructing logical search strings, as well as a pull-down menu listing forty field labels. There are also tips for entering commands for plurals, truncation, adjacency, wildcards, and proximity at the bottom of the screen.

Help screens are accessible from all interfaces and are searchable. Although they explain search principles, most are not RILM-specific. A help screen entitled "US-MARC Fields and Subfields in WorldCat FirstSearch Indexes" is available, but hard to find; the quickest way is to click the Help button and enter "marc" in the search box.

Searches for reviews or articles in Festschriften illustrate interface-specific problems. To find reviews of a given work, one must search by work title plus document type (or by using title keywords and the keyword "reviews"); the author of the reviewed work is recognized neither by author nor by keyword search. Festschrift article citations usually contain hyperlinks to citations for the main works, whereas citations for entire Festschriften list contents without links to article citations. Several previous writers have noted these and other deficiencies such as the lack of presorting capability and extremely limited authority control. Some of the RILM Thesaurus functionality is present, but it is well hidden: only a keyword search in Basic Search mode on "tchaikovsky"--the Franco-English spelling--retrieves a "Reference Type" record that cross-references to the RILM spelling.--DA

Ovid SilverPlatter WebSPIRS. Ovid Technologies, Inc.

Ovid's interface to RILM via SilverPlatter is in transition. Many libraries are still using Version 4.3, the one under review here; however, since the newly released Version 5 seems to offer mostly changes in display rather than functionality, most of the following comments are still applicable.

SilverPlatter's screen is clear and relatively uncluttered. Keyword searches access all fields, including portions of subject headings and entire abstracts. Keywords are in fact the best option for subject searching, since using the subject headings themselves, if they are not already known, often requires retyping them once they have been found in a record. Subject headings are not hyperlinked, and copying and pasting is difficult because the component words are linked by hyphens unrecognized by the search mechanism.

Searches can be limited by language, document type, etc., and the default display formats can be readily adjusted. It is easy to mark and display the records that are of interest, and to incorporate local options for connecting to full text in other databases such as JSTOR.

The "Index" function simply lists keywords, so variant spellings (Scriabin, Scrjabin) will appear. There is also a "Suggest" function, which helps to discover the correct spellings of terms used in subject headings, but this is not always reliable since the terms entered do not necessarily appear in the suggested subject headings. Keyword searching, using all variant spellings, may thus be the best way to access information by subject.


It would be churlish to expect the interfaces to triumph over problems with the source data, but some have better success in this than others. Numerous Festschrift records, for instance, include only partial RILM numbers (omitting the year) in the list of component essays in the record's abstract; this renders the numbers useless for hyperlinking in the CSA interface, and apparently stymies EBSCO's "Link to Constituent Parts." FirstSearch and SilverPlatter do not offer the hyperlink option to begin with, and here one might appreciate NISC's solution of appending the component records to the main record. Another case involves numerical citation identifiers. Since about 1988, RILM has been using both accession numbers and the traditional, classification-driven "volume" or "RILM" number; only SilverPlatter consistently and correctly distinguishes between the two.


The question of which interface is best is, obviously and ultimately, unanswerable. It is more to the point, and gratifying besides, to note that all five of the vendors have been working on product improvements. Version 5.0 of the SilverPlatter interface has already been mentioned. CSA plans to release an alternate, nonframes interface later this year, as well as make improvements to its indexing. EBSCO plans to add a Table of Contents feature to its alerts service. OCLC has yielded to requests that the contents of all author fields be accessible to keyword searches. NISC's changes, some of which have already taken place, may well be the most ambitious: author names now index in keyword searches; hyperlinking now connects main and component records, and usage statistics functionality has been added.

A final word about pricing: Only two of the five vendors responded to requests for their pricing structure, and one of these provided an honest, if not very helpful, response to the effect that price varies according to "accessing sites (campuses), FTE, and other factors." It is hardly likely, anyway, that one interface will be the least (or most) expensive for all institutions, and large consortial discounts are not uncommon.
TABLE 1. RILM Interfaces: Comparative Overview

 CSA Internet EBSCO Information NISC
 Database Service Services BiblioLine

Search modes 3: quick (single- 2: basic 4: quick
 field or (unrestricted kw (unrestricted
 unrestricted kw); or su/so/au kw); basic
 advanced (guided browses); (unrestricted
 kw); command-line advanced (guided kw); advanced
 (logical search kw) (guided kw);
 string) expert (logical
 search string)
Fields searched titles, subjects, titles, subjects, titles,
by kw search abstracts; abstracts, abstracts,
 separate sources, nos., notes, subjects
 "anywhere" search authors (but not
 accesses all reviewers)
Author indexed kw: no (but yes, but see yes
for kw search? "anywhere": yes) above
Hyperlinked authors, subject collected/ main/component
field in records terms, accession component/ works, authors,
 nos. of collected reviewed works, subjects, major
 component works RILM topics
 authors, document
 types, subjects,
 sources (but not
 special journal
 issue titles)
Thesaurus? yes no yes
Indexes authors, subjects, subjects, available for
 journals, doc journals, authors all search
 types fields;
 varies, as
 these are often
 lists of all
 words occurring
 in a given
Help menus "Help" button: "Help" button: general (but
 general "Searching general "Database extensive)
 RILM" info button: help" link: RILM-
 RILM-specific; specific
 also context-
 sensitive help
Festschrift: hyperlink via hyperlink: "Link hyperlink via
essay accession no. to Collected "Collection"
[right arrow] work" (also "Link title
main work to Parts")
Festschrift: hyperlink via hyperlink: "Link hyperlink from
main work accession no. to Constituent records of
[right arrow] within abstract Parts" in Record component
essay (not always Type field articles
 available; if not, (doesn't work in appended to
 a word search some older record for
 the "anywhere" records, in which main work
 option will work) case use kw
 search, e.g. au/
 ti or au/honoree)
Reviewed item execute new search hyperlink in main records of
[right arrow] by title of work to reviews reviews
reviews of item reviewed item via accession no. appended to
 (exact-phrase (more recent record for main
 search using kw/ entries); work
 ti/anywhere otherwise execute
 option) new search by
 title of reviewed
Specially titled journal title: SO journal title: journal title:
journal issues (source) issue Source issue Source issue
 title: MT title: Collected title:
 (monograph title) Work Collection
Numerical through 1988: RILM through 1988: RILM no. ("RILM
identifiers no. after 1988: RILM no. after Record ID") or
 accession no. 1988: accession accession no.
 (even when no.; RILM no. in ("Temporary
 identifying "RILM Source" Record ID")
 related works with field
 "RILM" nos.)
Available local holdings; full-text search full-text
library links full-text search; search; local
 ILL holdings; ILL
Search history yes yes yes
during session?
Saved sessions/ yes yes saved sessions:
Alerts? yes alerts: no
Usage reports? yes yes yes

 OCLC Ovid SilverPlatter
 FirstSearch WebSPIRS

Search modes 3: basic (limited guided 1: kw in single field (ti
 kw); advanced (guided kw); or au or su) or
 expert (logical search unrestricted
Fields searched titles, subjects, all fields
by kw search abstracts, sources (but
 not special journal issue
 titles), authors
Author indexed yes yes
for kw search?
Hyperlinked collected work, reviewed authors, sources
field in records work
Thesaurus? no no
Indexes available for virtually available for all search
 all fields; usefulness fields; usefulness varies,
 varies, as these are often as these are often
 uncontrolled lists of all uncontrolled lists of all
 words occurring in a given words occurring in a given
 field field
Help menus "Help" button: general "Help" button: general
 info button: brief RILM "Database information"
 overview; also context- button: RILM-specific
 sensitive help buttons
Festschrift: hyperlink via RILM no. execute new search (e.g.
essay using Festschrift title)
[right arrow]
main work
Festschrift: execute new search: if execute new search (e.g.
main work essay title identified, using au/ti of essay)
[right arrow] au/ti search possible; if
essay not, reconstruct RILM no.
 from abstract and search
 by "accession number"
Reviewed item execute new search (e.g. execute new search; limit
[right arrow] using title keywords or to "review-of-book"
reviews of item exact phrase plus "review"
 in title field, or using
 "reviewed work" in
 advanced search)
Specially titled journal title: Source identifies issue title
journal issues issue title: Collection only
Numerical RILM no. (although called before 1988:RILM no.
identifiers "accession number") after 1988: accession no.
 (AN) and RILM no. (RM)
Available full-text search; local local holdings; full-text
library links holdings; ILL search
Search history yes yes
during session?
Saved sessions/ no no
Usage reports? yes yes


University of North Texas


California State University, Hayward


University of Northern Colorado


Depauw University
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Title Annotation:Digital Media Reviews; Repertoire International de Litterature Musicale
Author:Arnold, Donna; Clarence, Judy; Luttmann, Stephen; Smith-Borne, Holling
Geographic Code:1U5VA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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