School & District Management

ERIC Clearinghouses Close; New System in Works

By Debra Viadero — January 14, 2004 3 min read
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With little fanfare, the 16 federally financed clearinghouses that have been the nerve centers for the nation’s largest and oldest electronic education library closed last month.

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View the accompanying resources, “New Sources for Clearinghouse Materials.”

The Department of Education closed the clearinghouses on Dec. 19 as part of an effort to revamp, streamline, and centralize the electronic library system, called the Educational Resources Information Center, or ERIC. The 38- year-old system archives more than a million reports, studies, hearing transcripts, and other pieces of education-related information.

The clearinghouses, most of them set on university campuses, specialized in subjects ranging from assessment to vocational education. Their staff experts fielded information requests from educators and policymakers, synthesizing research into policy briefs, digests, and reader-friendly reports, and, in some cases, offering personalized question-and-answer services.

But Education Department officials, in a decision that generated controversy last spring, said the far-flung system had become creaky and inefficient. (“Plans to Alter ERIC Set Off Alarms,” May 28, 2003).

By the end of this month, they hope to name a contractor who will replace the old system with a more centralized one that operates like popular commercial Web-search engines such as Yahoo or Google.

Late last month, notices reading, “This Web site is no longer available” quietly popped up on the former Web sites of all 16 clearinghouses.

During the transition, users can still get the documents in the ERIC system through its central online database at http://www.eric.ed.gov. In addition, most of the clearinghouses have moved their electronic archives to new electronic homes where users can continue to access them—in some cases, at less cost.

The new system, when it’s up and running later this year, is not expected to include all of the offerings that the clearinghouses produce now.

“Our users can go on our Web site and download the full texts online,” said Philip K. Piele, the director of the Clearinghouse on Educational Policy and Management at the University of Oregon in Eugene, which is the new incarnation of the former ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management.

“If you’re looking for a full text on ERIC, you may have to pay a fee for it,” said Mr. Piele, who also directed the former ERIC clearinghouse.

Going From Here

Because the University of Oregon’s education school agreed to support a stripped-down version of the former clearinghouse while its directors look for other funding sources, the educational management clearinghouse’s transition has been relatively smooth. Other clearinghouses have divided their information collections among several hosts; some shut them down altogether.

The federal Education Department had originally planned to award the contract for the new ERIC system in October. According to Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the director of the department’s Institute of Education Sciences, which oversees ERIC, the delay will likely set back the new system’s startup by a month.

“It has turned out to be a complex procurement, and everybody’s taking great care to make sure the final decision is defensible in every way,” he said.

Some longtime ERIC users worry that the holdup could mean a gap in knowledge because the ERIC system, which has a four- to six- month backlog of documents, is accepting no new materials during the transition.

“They seem to think they’ll just pick up, and there’ll be no major gaps,” said Kate Corby, a librarian specializing in education and psychology at Michigan State University in East Lansing. “It sounds like pie in the sky to me.”

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A version of this article appeared in the January 14, 2004 edition of Education Week as ERIC Clearinghouses Close; New System in Works

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