Hello Everyone:

*Please excuse cross-postings*

Recently I posted a query on behalf of Jill Rafuse, Canadian Medical Association Publications Department, regarding the usefulness of the print index in journals. Jill has prepared a summary of the replies and I am providing it below, for your information.

Thanks to all who responded to the question.

Deidre Green
OSLER Support Librarian
Canadian Medical Association
Ottawa, Canada

Relevance of subject and author index for print journals

Online searching has prompted many publishers to ask whether the print journal's author and subject index is still relevant, and whether it is of sufficient value to librarians and readers to justify the expense of producing it. Some journals have eliminated the annual/semi-annual index altogether, and others are only posting the indices online as PDF documents.

CMAJ recently invited comments from librarians on the CANMEDLIB and MEDLIB list-servs on the relevance of the print journal index. The response was inconclusive:

6 librarians said they still need a print index.
9 librarians said they don't use the print index at all.
7 librarians would prefer to have a print index, but could make do without one.

However, the comments were quite interesting, as these (abridged) excerpts show:

"If there is still a print issue, there should be a print index. We have had too many cases of not being able to retrieve citations using the electronic sources only... I have found and reported several incidences to the National Library of Medicine where author name, name format or citation were not accurate or did not reflect the actual item and did not lead to retrieval of the article electronically. The future is not here, yet, for fast, accurate, reliable online citation retrieval... in about 5 years, I suspect."

"Short items like obituaries are not picked up by the databases, and some journal website searches don't pick up all their content, especially supplements. "

"Print indexes are valuable, but they need to be printed with the last issue of the volume/year."

"For all the technology, it is still faster to flip to the index in the back if you know the year and topic than to pull up PubMed, search, then go to the shelf or get the article online (IF your institution has activated online access)."

"If a citation is off just a little, it's not hard to correct if one has the volume in hand with an index."

"Journals not indexed in Medline or CINAHL are far less available - a journal specific index helps us search those."

"Most patrons come to the journal after doing a lit search, so we rarely, if ever, use the index."

"As long as a journal is in Medline there's no need for a paper index."
"Our small library can't afford subscriptions to many of the online databases, so we rely on the printed index that comes with the final issue. And in the area of complementary medicine, many of the larger databases do not index the CAM literature sufficiently."

"We encourage all clients to use PubMed or Medline and limit to the specific journal title rather than using the published index."
"Since the Internet, many 'essential tools' became redundant ... annual or semi-annual indexes essentially are not essential anymore."

"The printed index is absolutely not necessary. PubMed is free."
"100% of our users locate their research through sources such as PubMed or CABI, not the print index."

"Here's a description of our procedure for including an online-only index in the bound paper version: 1) print the PDF index off the Web, if you have access to it, 2) take that copy to the print shop with specially-purchased acid-free copy paper and make a two-sided copy, 3) send that copy to the bindery with the journal, and 4) pay extra to trim the index to the same size as the journal."

"I don't like to bind a journal without an index and am quite happy printing off a PDF to include in the bound volume. Don't phase out the index completely."

"As space is at a premium at our library, there is no printing out of anything [such as a PDF of the index] in addition to the hardcopy retained."
"We'd prefer to get a print copy of the index, but we have printed out the PDFs."

"I wasn't aware that some journals have stopped sending paper copies of the indexes. We'll now have to think about possibly downloading and printing the PDFs."

"If the index is only produced in PDF online, are all subscribers notified by email so they can download it if they want to."