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Volume 55 / Social Sciences

ELECTRONIC RESOURCES


HAROLD COLSON, Head of Public Services and Latin American Librarian, International Relations and Pacific Studis Library, University or California, San Diego


THE ELECTRONIC SECTOR CONTINUES the promising and exhilarating transformations examined in HLAS 54, with news resources from and about Latin America posting especially dramatic gains. Despite the unfortunate demise of one premiere Latin Americanist database, social science offerings are unquestionably stronger than they were just two years ago, due to numerous major products newly available on compact disc or via the Internet. Gladly, an increasing proportion of the electronic marketplace comes from Latin America itself, and present trends augur well for even better coverage of hemispheric affairs in the near term. At the same time, contrary to rising public expectations associated with the ongoing Internet boom, most of the jewels of the database sector remain outside the free portions of the worldwide net, although each day finds evermore sparkling bounty therein.

Numerous general and discipline-based files for bibliographic research in the social sciences were treated in the prior volume, and as a whole these databases still constitute the largest and most accessible corpus of electronic indexing and cataloging for the Latin Americanist researcher. Newcomers to computerized bibliographic research should consult HLAS 54 (p. 3-22) and the earlier database survey by Colson and Stern (see HLAS 54:10) for descriptions of baseline products such as WorldCat, Dissertation Abstracts Online, UNCOVER, Article1st, Sociological Abstracts, Social SciSearch, PAIS International, IntlEc, Economic Literature Index, Anthropological Literature, and HAPI Online. Recent arrivals of note include the International Bibliography of Social Sciences or IBSS (item bi 96013480), with coverage of worldwide journal literature dating back to 1981, and International Political Science Abstracts (item bi 96013481). The online IPSA fills a longstanding need for a comprehensive political science electronic resource, providing global coverage of articles drawn from over 2,000 journals, many of which are not treated by other databases. Moreover, its searchable article abstracts give IPSA a considerable topic-retrieval advantage over the various competing indexes that rely principally on title words as access points.

Both IBSS and IPSA are welcome additions to the bibliographic CD-ROM scene, but an even more powerful portable resource for Latin Americanists is HLAS/CD (item bi 96013359), the long-awaited electronic version of the complete Handbook of Latin American Studies vols. 1-53 (1936-1994). With some 250,000 searchable annotated citations drawn from books and journals spanning the social sciences and the humanities, HLAS/CD instantly ranks as a preeminent resource for bibliographic research in Latin American history and literature, outpacing Historical Abstracts and MLA International Bibliography in coverage intensity and retrospective depth. At the same time, it offers strong and often unique content in such social science fields as anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology, as well as in humanities disciplines such as art, music, and philosophy (in addition to the aforementioned strengths in history and literature). Standard indexing and abstracting databases in the social sciences tend to have light coverage of materials from Latin America, so HAPI Online (journal articles) (See HLAS 54: 46) and now HLAS/CD (journal articles, books, and chapters) are two robust supplements on the market with much otherwise missing content. Considering its attractive, navigable search interface, its affordable list price ($150), and its unparalleled portfolio of key scholarship, HLAS/CD is the outstanding new compact disc product for 1995, a resource that should serve with distinction in academic libraries and faculty offices worldwide.

In the prior chapter on electronic resources (see HLAS 54, p. 6-9), the prospective HLAS CD-ROM product was characterized as the fourth of the Latin Americanist database "tigers," ready to join the established INFO-SOUTH, Latin America Data Base (LADB), and HAPI Online files as a central resource for our field. As it turns out, there are now only three active database tigers, for less than three months after HLAS/CD was unveiled at a crowded LASA reception in the Library of Congress, the pioneering INFO-SOUTH current affairs database ceased updates. Despite its unchallenged role as the online source for article abstracts drawn from Latin American newspapers and news magazines, INFO-SOUTH never generated enough revenue during its six-year run as a commercial database to become wholly self-sufficient, and eventually fell victim to declining federal subsidies to its parent North-South Center.(1) At the time of its final update in Dec. 1995, INFO-SOUTH held approximately 94,000 newspaper, magazine, and journal entries dating back to 1988, a nonpariel cyber-chronicle of Latin American news literature offering coverage of diverse topics from cartels and contras through privatization, NAFTA, MERCOSUR, Zedillo, and beyond. Research conducted at subscribing government, academic, and corporate sites across the nation will now be marginally poorer for its loss, at what eventual cost to hemispheric understanding one can only speculate. The only positive note to this story is that negotiations are currently underway at the Univ. of Miami's North-South Center to allow use of the retrospective information already collected in the database.

The announcement of the INFO-SOUTH project seven years ago set the stage for the present boom in online Latin Americana, but the lack of future additions to this pacesetting bibliographic news file does not dim the scene completely. Enough timely full-text sources emerged in 1995 to sustain and enhance the current affairs coverage formerly provided by the Miami product. Indeed, within a week of the North-South Center's decision to halt INFO-SOUTH operations, the federal government announced World News Connection (item bi 96013556), an Internet World Wide Web (WWW) service with long-awaited online access to the complete texts of the worldwide Daily Reports from the US Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), key current affairs publications which for years have languished in paper- and microfiche-only format outside the federal intelligence community.(2) Like many key information commodities, the World News Connection is not free, but the reasonable subscription fees offer access to a searchable database of timely translations drawn from major press and broadcast sources across Latin America. With only a 48- to 72-hour delay from in-country radio, television, wire, or newspaper transmission to translated full-text on the Washington-area Internet site, World News Connection operates in a far more timely manner than did INFO-SOUTH. The service offers complete texts online rather than just abstracts, features that should position it to flourish in both the corporate and academic markets. Certain newswire files and newspaper homepages offer more rapid information from the region, but these scattered same-day sources lack the hemispheric breadth and multi-source scope of the powerful FBIS product.

The debut of World News Connection in Dec. 1995 was only one of many significant full-text news arrivals that year. Indeed, 1995 could be dubbed the year of the electronic newspaper, as many dailies from across Latin America inaugurated Internet editions, and two Mexican papers, El Norte and Reforma, became the first from the region to go online with major North American commercial database systems. La Jornada from Mexico started the newspaper boom in Feb. 1995 with a Web site sporting fresh loads of entire articles and even graphics, giving global Internet users access to much of the content enjoyed that day by Mexico City readers. For US research library denizens accustomed to long lags in the receipt of even airmailed papers from Latin America, the sight of La Jornada's current frontpage and more on the computer screen was a delightful, almost stunning breakthrough.

Dozens of additional papers and news publications from Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and elsewhere across the hemisphere produced similar Web news sites during the year, giving wired Latin Americanists everywhere a strong and growing body of "hot" information and commentary direct from in-country press sources. Indeed, with searchable back issues and other research features now appearing on some sites, the overall power of free Latin American news on the Web is already quite compelling, and can rightfully be characterized as revolutionary considering the paucity of such online text resources just a few years ago. Although fee-based, commercial database systems still offer mammoth searchable libraries of full-text news information about Latin America, they have been slow to incorporate non-English-language newspapers, wires, magazines, and such from the region, and may be in danger of losing much emerging local information to postings on new Web sites. In the summer of 1995, the US-based vendors DataTimes and Dialog made a breakthrough in Latin American coverage by adding Reforma and El Norte to their massive repertoires of online publications. It remains to be seen if this welcome albeit overdue Spanish-language lead will fizzle out or spark a Latin American race in the commercial database sector. Certainly, the commercial sources provide better word-searching capability and greater historical depth (back to Apr. 18, 1995 on both systems) than the typical newspaper Web site, but the majority of wired Mexicanists should find the (presently) free Internet versions of the same titles more than adequate for casual use.

Not all full-text products are suitable or intended for access via the Internet, of course, and the CD-ROM format continued to garner some of the most notable and powerful database releases from Latin America. The Centro Nacional Editor de Discos Compactos at the Univ. de Colima (Mexico) enhanced its leading role as a CD-ROM producer with full-text output spanning journals and magazines, legislation, international treaties, and a biographical dictionary of the Mexican government. Long runs of Comercio Exterior (item bi 96013347), Investigación Económica (item bi 96013532), and Revista Este Pais (item bi 96013530) are now fully portable and searchable thanks to the prolific Colima operation. In addition, CENEDIC's two-disc collection of treaty texts, Tratados Internacionales Celebrados por México (item bi 96013542), makes an instant international law collection for many libraries. The important Mexican news magazine Proceso offers a free Web site with recent article texts, but its companion backfiles database on CD-ROM (item bi 96013527) is the true research treasure, with over 13,000 complete articles drawn from the more than 300 issues published during the Salinas sexenio (1988-94). The forthcoming Colima CD-ROM of the Mexican magazine Nexos will cover the Salinas era and much more, reaching back with full texts from 1978-94. Long resident online via LEXIS-NEXIS, Latin American Weekly Report and its kindred regional and specialty newsletters debuted on CD-ROM (item bi 96013507) in 1995, giving users access to thousands of complete articles dating from Jan. 1990-June 1995. Like many other commercial publishers, the Latin American Newsletters firm maintains a Web site offering free access to only a few current articles, keeping the full complement of its electronic materials available via fee-based subscriptions.

Macroeconomic indicators, import-export figures, census enumerations, and other statistics underpin much current social science scholarship on Latin America. The database sector now offers several key resources for the numerically inclined investigator, although present data offerings lag behind the bibliographic and full-text markets in overall coverage breadth and access convenience. Many of the most cited statistical files are maintained by international organizations, but a number of rich data products have emerged from Latin America on CD-ROM or via Internet connection. The World Bank's new World Data compact disc (item bi 96013544) stands out as an excellent value, providing some 700 annual time series dating back to the early 1960s for 200 countries on national accounts, balance of payments, trade, external debt and finance, social development, and natural resources, all for only $275. Likewise, the World Trade Database CD-ROM (item bi 96013545) of United Nations data on global commodity-by-country trade flows (1980-93) is available from the Canadian government's statistical agency, Statistics Canada, at an affordably discounted price for academic institutions. (A free Internet source for much of this UN data is the International Trade Information System or It-Is now available from the Center for the Study of Western Hemispheric Trade via The University of Texas at Austin's Latin American Network Information Center or UT-LANIC. The WTDB is especially welcome because it is one of the most accessible sources for disaggregated trade flows not involving the US or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. That is to say, there are many print and electronic products with worldwide or Latin American country import-export totals, and US and OECD sources add country-by-commodity breakdowns for Latin American trade partners, but before the production of the WTDB it was often difficult or expensive to obtain reasonably current statistics detailing, for example, Chile's trade with Thailand by sector. Similarly, the Wistat or Women's Indicators and Statistics Database CD-ROM (item bi 96013543) from the United Nations provides a rich base of numbers for the study of women in Latin America and elsewhere, with over 1,600 country series covering population, education, households and fertility, health, economic activities, and more. Another new global resource with much useful Latin American content is World Marketing Data and Statistics (item bi 96013562) on CD-ROM, which contains over 450 tables with annual series (some dating back to 1977) covering demographic, economic, trade, consumer, business, and infrastructure indicators for 207 countries. Much of this market-related data can be difficult to find in standard government statistical products, although the popular and powerful National Trade Data Bank (See HLAS 54: 60) from the US Dept. of Commerce remains a great place to start. An excellent CD-ROM database for identifying Latin Americanist data and analyses reported - but often overlooked - in thousands of international government publications is Statistical Masterfile (item bi 96013538), covering yearbooks, bulletins, special reports, working papers, journals, and books issued by the World Bank, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and dozens of other agencies.

Of special note to Mexicanists are the superior print and electronic statistical products of the OECD, which started reporting current and historical data for Mexico following its accession to membership in 1994. Respected OECD titles such as Main Economic Indicators, Quarterly National Accounts Statistics, Monthly Statistics of Foreign Trade, and OECD Environmental Data are now among the most accessible and thorough sources for many Mexican data series. Mexico itself remains a leader in census databases, with major INEGI releases on CD-ROM covering recent national agricultural, ejidal, and economic enumerations. Colima added to the bounty with a compact disc version of La Economía Mexicana en Cifras (item bi 96013349). NAFTA and the peso bailout helped bring an extensive collection of official Mexican economic and financial statistics to Internet users on Wall Street and beyond, courtesy of the free Web site maintained by Mexico's Consulate General in New York City. Basic country statistics from the Inter-American Development Bank, the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Agency for International Development, national governments, and other sources are also readily available on the Internet, although the timeliest and most comprehensive electronic sources of numerical data on Latin America are still generally reserved as revenue sources by their producers and allied redistributors who sell information commodities on tape, diskette, CD-ROM, or via online services rather than posting them freely on the networked "commons."

The Internet sector in early 1996 is substantially richer, faster, more accessible, and better organized for Latin Americanist work than it was at the close of the debut HLAS chapter on electronic resources some 24 months ago. Two years is practically an entire generation in the accelerating Internet realm, and the intervening time has brought a bevy of improved sites, browsers, search tools, and publications for the intrepid Web navigator, who can easily locate and retrieve free electronic treasures ranging from daily newspapers to country statistics to scholarly publications. The flagship UT-LANIC server (see HLAS 54: 73) remains the best single point of entry for Latin Americanist forays across the Internet, offering convenient and well-maintained selections of new and established resource links organized by country and by subject area. Of course, the entire global Internet features a myriad of operational sites with Latin America-related content, and new Web homepages from universities, government agencies, political parties, research centers and institutes, publishers, opposition groups, and companies appear every week. The UT-LANIC helps organize these burgeoning resources with a point-and-click hierarchy, but a number of powerful new Internet search tools offer almost instant keyword retrieval from millions of texts across the globe. Lycos, Infoseek, Alta Vista, HotBot, Open Text Index, and other search engines can locate farflung and hitherto obscure electronic documents mentioning one or more specified terms, in much the same way DataTimes or LEXIS/NEXIS can bore through mountains of proprietary full-text newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and wires. Naturally, retrieval success will vary depending on the engine and the topic, but the collective power of the assorted Internet search tools is already quite compelling, and constitutes a major advance in unearthing the buried riches of the open Internet. Still, whether one approaches the Internet through an ordered gateway like UT-LANIC or a global sieve like Infoseek, it should be kept in mind that many of the core bibliographic, full-text, and statistical databases for Latin Americanist work are either protected by subscription-based password controls or sold offline on magnetic or optical storage media.

Notes

1. Ironically, North-South Center administrators decided to close the database just a few weeks after their own publicity newsletter ran an article headlined "INFO-SOUTH Becomes Landmark on Information Superhighway." Press accounts of the INFO-SOUTH shutdown are available in El Nuevo Herald (Miami), Dec. 13, 1995, p. 1A, and The Miami Herald, Dec. 14, 1995, p. 2B.

2. Actually, the FBIS translations did enjoy a tantalizing albeit unauthorized run as a public database a couple of years ago, when an enterprising purveyor of online news converted portions of the print dailies to electronic form and briefly remarketed them on some major systems as "International Intelligence Reports."


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