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Milestones in Engineering Information – Engineering Index/Compendex

on Thu, 09/01/2016 - 22:14

In 2017 the Engineering Libraries Division (ELD) will celebrate its 50th anniversary as a division and the 75th anniversary of the first organized engineering librarians group in the American Society for Engineering Education. In celebration of the ELD’s double anniversary year, the Anniversary Planning Task Force* is publishing a monthly e-mail digest called, "Milestones in Engineering Information" to highlight important topics in the history of engineering libraries and information. The goal of the task force is to publish a new digest every month (or so) until mid-2017. To sign up for the e-mail digest, you must be a member of the Engineering Libraries Division and the ASEE. Learn why you should join the ELD.

This week's digest highlights the historical importance of Ei Compendex.

Milestones in Engineering Information – Engineering Index/Compendex

Little did Dr. John Butler Johnson likely know when he started producing “index notes”, just for his own use, that his little project would grow into the oldest and most subject-comprehensive indexing tool in engineering.  Initially compiled into a personal book he called “Index Rerun”, in 1883 Johnson approached the Board of Managers of the Association of Engineering Societies (of which he was a member) suggesting that something similar to what he was doing, but more formal and elaborate, be produced and published in the Association’s journal.  The Board agreed, and in 1884 Johnson and some of his engineer colleagues began to produce “Index Notes” in issues of that journal.

In 1892, the first eight years of those notes (1884-1891) were compiled into the Descriptive Index of Current Engineering Literature, which eventually became known as the first volume of The Engineering Index.  The second volume, also a multi-year compilation covering 1892-1895, was the first published under the title: The Engineering Index.  Volumes three and four were also multi-year compilations, but in 1906, with volume five, The Engineering Index began to be published annually in a single volume.

In 1918/1919 the American Society of Mechanical Engineers took over ownership and publication of The Engineering Index and installments began to run monthly (with annual cumulations) in issues of the Journal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which only a year later changed its name to what we still know it as today: Mechanical Engineering.  At that same time, a cooperative agreement was reached with the Engineering Societies Library where the Index would review and index the key engineering journals published by the Library and the Library, in turn, agreed to provide the public with access to the articles covered by the Index.  ASME continued publishing the Index until 1934, when an independent, not-for-profit organization, “Engineering Index, Inc.” was formed.

By 1954, 70 years after Dr. Johnson helped publish that first set of “Index Notes”, Engineering Index published its one millionth record.  21 years later it published its two millionth.  From 1934 through 1961, The Engineering Index was again only an annual publication, but in 1962, because of both the volume of engineering articles being indexed/abstracted and the demand for more rapid access, Engineering Index Monthly made its debut.  Those issues were then cumulated at the end of each year into Engineering Index Annual.

Arguably the biggest and most important changes to Engineering Index happened in the late 1960s.  In 1967, a magnetic tape service called Current Information Tapes for Engineering (CITE) was introduced.  CITE covered abstracts only in plastics and electrical/electronics engineering.   Then, in 1969, the COMPuterized ENgineering inDEX, or COMPENDEX, made its debut.  Compendex, a monthly magnetic tape information service, covered all of the subject content in its print counterpart, and as a result, the specialized subject content covered in CITE was no longer needed and the product was phased out at the end of that year.  In 1973, Compendex was offered for the first time through online commercial vendors such as DIALOG and ORBIT. 

1981 saw a name change, as “Engineering Index, Inc.” became “Engineering Information, Inc.”, as Ei began to look at broadening their product offerings beyond just Engineering Index / Compendex.  One of those new product offerings debuted only a year later, as the Ei Engineering Meetings database, which indexed papers from roughly 2000 conference proceedings, was introduced.  In 1983, Engineering Index on CD-ROM was released, and then three years later, in 1986, Compendex first appeared on CD-ROM.

The next big change came in 1995, when the Engineering Information Village was launched, making Compendex and other EI products available via the World Wide Web.  The name was representative of the design of the original web site, which featured a series of building images on the top page, meant to represent a village, with each building linking to a different type of resource.  Engineering Information Village 2.0 premiered less than a year later.

Engineering Information, Inc. was an independent company from 1934 until March, 1998, when it was purchased by Elsevier.  Roughly two years after the purchase, the next major release of the Ei search platform occurred as Engineering Village 2 (EV2) debuted.  In 2003, Elsevier began to host other indexing and abstracting databases on EV2, when INSPEC licensing became possible.  Over the next few years, NTIS, Referex, multiple patent databases, GeoBase, Chimica, PaperChem and GeoRef all became available on the Engineering Village 2 platform.

While it took 70 years for Engineering Index to reach its one millionth record, today Compendex boasts over 20 million records, with more than 800,000 new records added annually.  Now at 130+ years and counting, Engineering Index / Compendex is the preeminent indexing/abstracting resource for the broadest range of engineering disciplines.

For further reading:

While there are a number of works that address, in various ways and time frames, the history of Engineering Index, four were particularly useful in compiling this brief history.

Engineering Index 1884-1984: Its History and its Service to Special Libraries, by Herbert B. Landau.  In Special Libraries, vol. 75, no. 4, October, 1984, pp. 312-318.  See page 85 of the pdf file.

Changing Roles for Science & Technology Librarians as Reflected in the History of Engineering Index, by Daryl C. Youngman.  In Issues in Science and Technology Libraries, no. 18, Spring 1998.

The History of Ei, from Elsevier.

and last, but definitely not least, from ELD’s very own Nestor Osorio

The Engineering Index: The Past and the Present, by Nestor Osorio.  Presented at the 2010 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Louisville, KY.


Mel DeSart
Head, Engineering Library
Acting Head, Branch Libraries
University of Washington