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With the unprecedented total of 6 million monthly accesses, the SciELO library is going to study its user profile

SANDRO CASTELLIThe electronic library SciELO Brasil has reached an unprecedented level of visibility: each month, by way of the internet, 6 million consultations concerning articles in the Brazilian scientific magazines covered in its data base are carried out. The multiplication of accesses has gone forward at a fast rhythm – some three years ago there were no more than 200,000 downloads of articles per month. In order to understand the phenomenon, the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Science Information (BIREME), responsible for operating the library, is going to investigate each one of the accesses over the next few months. “We calculate that between 400,000 and 600,000 monthly accesses come from other academic data bases”, says Abel Packer, the BIREME’s director and the operational coordinator of SciELO, whose initials signify Scientific Electronic Library On-line. “As yet we have little information about the origin of the majority of our accesses”, he says.

The expansion of the virtual library’s popularity, established in 1997 and which today brings together 158 Brazilian scientific publications whose content is totally open and free, is related to the success of the search sites on the internet such as Google, which easily brings up the articles to the internet users. Today the SciELO collection has turned itself into one of the ten most accessed information sources by users of Google Scholar, the Google tool that specializes in academic research. But if it is known that a part of the accesses comes from internet searchers, beyond Google Scholar, there is no highly used origin. Some key words of interest for anyone is searching for pornography on the network, such as “clitoris”, for example, generate a significant number of research hits. Other terms, such as “football”, also generate a profusion of consultations. It is possible that part of these accesses could be accidental and one is not dealing with the reading of articles.

The survey that is going to map out the origin of accesses should be ready by the end of the year. But right now, it is possible to observe that the library, created with the objective of making academic research carried out and published in the country more visible, is conquering a particular profile and is of greater importance than that conceived by its creators: it came about thanks to a celebrated partnership in 1997 between the BIREME, which is linked to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and FAPESP. It was also been able to count upon a partnership and support from the CNPq (the National Scientific and Technological Board) since 2002. On the one hand, one has to commend the impressive performance for a data base that, in the vast majority of cases, brings articles in Portuguese.

“That concern that we had right from the first days of the internet, that there was little information in the Portuguese language on the internet, is beginning to be resolved in a systematic manner”, says Abel Packer. “The best of the scientific production in Portuguese is here.” 2005 data from the Latin Union organization has shown that almost 2% of the internet’s content is in Portuguese, in the face of the 45% in English. On the other hand, one must ponder that, although many accesses do not have any academic finality, the internet users are consulting information of quality – in order to gain admittance onto the SciELO, a scientific magazine must comply with a series of pre-requisites attainable only by top line publications, in relation to content quality, originality of research, regularity of publication, among others.

“Educational instrument”
“Although it was not its original function, the SciELO library is becoming a major virtual public university, an educational instrument that provides information for all of the world that needs it”, stated the astronomer João Steiner, the director of the Advanced Studies Institute (IEA) of the University of São Paulo (USP) and the editor of the magazine entitled, Estudos Avançados [Advanced Studies], one of the most visited within the SciELO data base. The trajectory of this magazine reveals the evolution of the library. The publication came onto the data base in March of 2004. Since then the IEA has mobilized itself towards digitalizing all of the back issues, right from the founding of the magazine in December of 1987, and is integrally placing them on the SciELO. In spite of its recent entry it is in 18th place among the most consulted titles in the history of the SciELO. When the monthly data is analyzed, the publication is showing growing performance. It was the third most accessed magazine in May with 233,533 consultations, and reached second place in July with 230,899 consultations.

The terms “Brazilian reality”, “Brazil” and “Amazon” are the most used key words for the internet user searches. The profile of the three most well read texts gives one a measure of what is popular on the internet. The first is the article entitled, “Cloning and stem cells”, published in the middle of 2004, whose author is the genetics professor Mayana Zatz from USP. The second is the essay entitled, “Globalization: the new paradigm of social sciences”, written by the sociologist Octávio Ianni (1926-2004) and published in the middle of 1994. The third entitled, “The trajectory of the black in Brazilian literature”, was written by professor Domício Proença Jr. from the Federal Fluminense University and published at the beginning of 2004.

SANDRO CASTELLI“All of them are marvelous articles, a sign that the users are looking for quality content”, says Steiner. “But one has to be careful in the interpretation of data, since the number of consultations isn’t an adequate indicator of impact or of quality”, he says. The performance of the most accessed publication of the entire library, the Public Health Notebooks from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, show that extra-academic factors influence the popularity of articles. The first and third articles most consulted are by the same author, Maria Cecília Mynaio: “Social violence upon the prospect of public health” (1994) and “Quantitative-qualitative: in opposition or complementary?” (1993). These are essays taken as fundamental for those working in public health. But the editors of the magazine believe it plausible to ascertain that the second most accessed article, “Muscle building, the use of anabolic steroids and the perception of risk within young body builders from a popular district in the city of Salvador, state of Bahia”, by Jorge Iriart and Tarcísio de Andrade, is highly sought out because the theme is popular on the internet. “People interested in muscle building could well be reinforcing the search for the article”, explains Reinaldo Souza dos Santos, the associate editor of Cadernos de Saúde Pública [Public Health Notebooks].

There are magazine categories more accessed than others, such as the field of public health. The accumulated numbers over nine years of SciELO show that, after Fiocruz’s Public Health Notebooks, with 3,3 million consultations, comes the Public Health Magazine from USP’s Public Health Faculty with 3.2 million downloads. Publications in the area of education, such as Education and Society, from USP’s Education School, the 7th in rank order, are also highly sought after. “Who move these numbers are research communities and professionals in need of information”, suggests Packer.

Lost science
This academic production fits in, to a certain extent, with the thesis by W. Wayt Gibbs, who in 1995, in an article published in the magazine Scientific American, pontificated about the existence of a “Lost Science of the Third World”, not indexed in international data bases, but of major regional interest. He referred to production in areas such as public health, agronomy and education. With the advent of the SciELO library, which offers the content of the best Brazilian magazines via open access, the “Lost Science” was no longer invisible.

The model is being followed by other countries. Shortly after the launch of SciELO Brasil in 1997,  Chile (currently with 56 titles) adopted the methodology and provided the initiative for the expansion of the SciELO Network into Iberian-American countries, which can count upon national collections ratified in Spain (26 titles), Cuba (19 titles) and Venezuela (16 titles). Other countries, such as Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Portugal and Uruguay, are in the advanced process of developing their collections. The SciELO library also operates international thematic collections as in the areas of public health and the social sciences.

The magazine Química Nova [New Chemistry], a publication from the Brazilian Chemistry Society, is a peculiar example. In 3rd place in the SciELO general ranking, with more than  2 million accesses, the magazine has its popularity associated to a grouping of factors. The most important of them, in the opinion of the magazine’s editor Susana Torresi, a professor at USP’s Chemistry institute, is the publication’s prestige – classified as International Class A by the Tertiary Level Personnel Training Coordination (Capes). “But since the magazine went onto the SciELO data base the push by researchers in associated areas, such as geo-chemistry, food and agricultural engineering to publish articles in New Chemistry has increased.”, says the professor.

The editors have also observed that a greater number of people, among them students and researchers from other areas, have gone on to consult the magazine. It is not by chance that revision articles, which give an update on the international literature covering certain questions, are the most popular. The New Chemistry has its own peculiarity that also explains why it’s sought out: it is the only major national chemistry magazine whose articles are written in Portuguese. “But one’s dealing with an academic magazine that is unlikely to inspire interest in the lay public”, says Susana.

Thematic numbers tend to be more consulted than a common edition, since they have longer lasting repercussions. The magazine São Paulo in Perspective, from the Seade Foundation, occupies 19th place in the ranking of those most accessed, with more than 930,000 consultations since 1997. But it exhibits a much more impressive performance in another ranking, that of the specific issue of each publication most sought after. The magazine is a thematic publication. Each issue brings together in-depth articles on a determined issue. “The editions don’t lose their timing. We only publish structured articles, without concurrent analyses”, advised Aurílio Sérgio Caiado, the publication’s editor. The most visited specific issue on the SciELO data base, with almost 150,000 accesses, is the June 2000 issue of the magazine of the Seade Foundation. This is the collective issue entitled, Education: culture and society.

In the survey that the BIREME will make concerning access to the SciELO library, there will be an evaluation as to whether the recent growth in the number of accesses, by way of the internet, has made the magazines be more cited in other scientific publications. As yet there are no indications that this has been happening in a consistent manner. “But there’re reports of cases of publications that have improved their impact factor after the availability of their content freely on the internet”, says Rogério Meneghini, a retired professor from the Chemistry Institute of the University of Sao Paulo and the SciELO’s scientific coordinator.