The newly revamped version of the nation’s largest electronic education library quietly made its debut this month, with promises of more offerings to come from the federal project.
In what the Department of Education called a move to upgrade and streamline the 39-year-old Educational Resources Information Center, the department last December shut down the 16 clearinghouses that once made up the ERIC system’s backbone. (“ERIC Clearinghouses Close; New System in Works,” Jan. 14, 2004.) In place of that far-flung system, the department has erected a more centralized one that operates like popular commercial Web-search engines such as Google and Yahoo.
The new system, which went online Sept. 1, is essentially a bare-bones operation so far. Full texts, for instance, of the 1.1 million reports, articles, speeches, hearings, and other documents housed in ERIC’s massive archives are not yet available.
But department officials say they will add features next month to make the database more useful and user-friendly. The biggest change, set to begin Oct. 1, calls for providing free access to the full texts of 107,000 documents that entered the system after 1993. Under the old system, users paid small fees for full text documents.
“Much of the underpinning for this new system was to make as much full text free as possible,” said Luna L. Levinson, ERIC’s director, who said the department will add more free documents as the system develops.
In its current form, ERIC also provides a free online thesaurus, a feature for which users previously had to pay, and a new function that allows users to save searches and come back to them later. And, while the system still contains all the old ERIC digests summarizing research on particular topics, the department has no plans yet to publish new ones.
New Materials Coming
By December, the system will begin once again to accept new materials. It stopped indexing such materials after the overhaul began this year. Ms. Levinson said the Education Department’s aim is reduce the time it takes for new documents to enter the system from six to eight months after publication under the previous system to one month.
“You’ve basically got everything you had in the old ERIC, but a whole new way of getting to it and getting new materials,” said Phoebe H. Cottingham, the commissioner of the National Center of Educational Evaluation and Regional Assistance in the department’s Institute of Education Sciences.
The department’s plans to centralize ERIC were controversial when they were unveiled last year. Last week, some of the former system’s heaviest users said they were still skeptical of the changes.
“This may be useful for parents or teachers who want to quickly identify a few things,” said Kate Corby, a Michigan State University librarian who has kept close tabs on the renovation. “Right now, it’s not something researchers are going to want to use.”
Ms. Levinson said that reluctance may change after December, when the system introduces more sophisticated descriptions for its search and sorting system.
A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 2004 edition of Education Week as ERIC Education Library’s New Look Debuts Online