Reviewed by Bonnie Crarey Ryan, Syracuse University Library
Publisher: ProQuest Information & Learning, 200 N Zeeb Rd., P.O.Box 1346, Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1346 Tel: 800-521-0600. Fax: 800-864-0019. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Alt-Press Watch (APW) is a full-text web-based database that covers alternative newspapers, magazines, journals, newsletters, and reports. Libraries may subscribe to APW solely or as part of ProQuest’s “Diversity Suite,” which also includes the databases Ethnic NewsWatch and GenderWatch. The latter two databases were previously reviewed in this newsletter by Randy Hertzler and Rui Wang (2006).
Some consumers may mistake APW for the electronic version of another well-known source, Alternative Press Index (API), but actually they are two separate products. API is produced by the Alternative Press Center, based in Baltimore, Maryland. The electronic version of that database, including its archives, has been acquired by OCLC FirstSearch. This article is a review of ProQuest’s APW database alone, but includes a comparative analysis of APW and API.
This review concentrates on the content of Alt-Press Watch rather than its organization or structure. There is a brief explanation of technical aspects of APW, a description of the coverage, a discussion of search results including comparisons with API, and recommendations for improvement.
The technical functions of APW are identical to the other Diversity Suite databases, and similar to other ProQuest web-based sources. These capabilities were covered comprehensively in earlier reviews of Ethnic NewsWatch and GenderWatch for this publication by Hertzler and Wang (2006). Overall format and organization of the database is the same as the other databases in the ProQuest Diversity Suite: Basic searching, Advanced Search, Topic Guide, Publications Search, and My Research options are offered through user-friendly tab navigation.
Similar to the other two Diversity Suite databases, the default language for searching in APW is English. There are options to search in other languages, as well as non-English output for some full-text content.
Publication titles are searchable individually in APW as they are in the other Diversity Suite databases.
APW was first produced by Softline Information and released by ProQuest in 2001 (Yarnell, 2002). Indexing terms that were first developed by Softline were then mapped to ProQuest’s subject indexing (Yarnell, 2007).
As with all ProQuest databases, APW covers a variety of sources including scholarly articles, magazines, newspapers, and “reference/reports,” which include largely newsletters of non-profit organizations. It covers information not found in the mainstream press, and includes subjects such as politics, disabilities, gender, environment, labor, native peoples, and human rights. The database is applicable to a wide variety of disciplines including ethnic studies, sociology, history, anthropology, political science, and women’s studies. The database is easy to use and should appeal to users at all levels of research.
As of January 5th, 2007, there were 187 publications listed within APW’s “Publications” search tab. The publications listed are largely focused on the United States, with a few exceptions (e.g. Canadian Dimension, Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, and Economics and Culture). Many of these publications first appeared in the 1960s or early 1970s, but APW only indexes most of them from the 1980s on. Off Our Backs is an exception, and is indexed from Feb 27, 1970 (Volume 1, Issue 1) to present. Indexing for most publications in APW goes back farther than full- text access, which typically extends back only to the 1990s. All full-text articles are available in HTML format, and many are also available in PDF or in HTML format with graphics.
APW offers access to contemporary publications of some movements and organizations that began as grassroots, counterculture, or community activist groups in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. Examples include the gay rights, women’s, and environmental movements. Many of these publications are small newspapers or newsletters that highlight American social history at the local or community levels. Publications include journals such as The Advocate, Tikkun, and the Alternative Press Review, as well as alternative newspapers such as the Birmingham Weekly, the Boise Weekly, and the Syracuse New Times. Other material includes publications of non-profit organizations such as the Braille Forum, ECO NEWS, and the FCNL Washington newsletter.
While some researchers might think to use only APW to search alternative publications dealing with ethnic, racial, or gender issues, it would be best if they supplemented their searches by using Ethnic NewsWatch or GenderWatch, as well as other databases that are specific to those areas, such as International Index to Black Periodicals, Bibliography of Native North Americans, or GLBT Life. While APW does cover some publications dealing with gender, for example, such as Off Our Backs or GCN: Gay Community News, it does not cover the majority of gender alternative publications nor ethnic publications such as the Chicago Defender or the Cherokee Voice, which are both indexed in Ethnic NewsWatch. At some future point, it might be interesting to investigate the holdings of gender and ethnic sources between the three Diversity Databases for comparison and duplication.
The content of APW was compared with API for this review in two ways: an analysis of the databases using a simple search strategy; and a brief survey sent to the ANSS-L listserv on November 30th, 2006. The analysis involved a keyword search performed in each database on December 19, 2006 for the phrase “homeland security.” The phrase was searched as a keyword rather than a subject because most users begin with the default keyword search.
Alternative Press Index (API)
OCLC FirstSearch offers API as a current file (1991- present), as well as backfiles from approximately 1969-1989 (Olson, 2006). As an OCLC FirstSearch product, API also includes the holdings of libraries that own the publications indexed. The printed API includes a variety of document types not contained in the online product, such as bibliographies, directories, speeches, and indexes (Alternative Press Index, 2006). The OCLC FirstSearch product is limited to articles, including biographies, book reviews, film reviews, and obituaries. API does cover a wider variety of scholarly alternative journals than APW, including ethnic and women’s studies journals, as well as those that are international in scope such as Black Scholar, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Cultural Survival Quarterly, Women: A Cultural Review, and Asian Labour Update.
The results of the keyword searches of the phrase “homeland security” in both APW and API were:
- 2,742 total
- 178 Scholarly journal articles
- 303 Magazines
- 2,146 Newspapers
- 72 Reference/Reports
- 90 journal articles total
The most significant differences between the two databases are the types of sources covered and the format of the citations. APW offers full-text access to the majority of its citations, including even a few periodical titles going back to the 1970s and 1980s, while the online version of API is limited to citations and brief abstracts of articles and contains no full text sources.
The largest set of citations in APW was for the newspapers at 2,146. Clearly the inclusion of small, local, and regional alternative newspapers is a strong point of the database, and these materials are not indexed online elsewhere. APW also includes a wider range of newsletters and reports from non- profit organizations than API.
One significant finding from this comparison is the low degree of duplication between the databases.
Out of 90 citations from API, only 12 were duplicated in APW. In most cases, APW simply did not cover the same publications indexed, or its coverage was more recent than that of API.
The outcome of this brief analysis of the databases raised another question: What is considered “alternative”? From the content of the articles, “alternative” appears to mean those that are predominantly left-leaning politically. If a researcher wants a balanced political view on an issue, where should that researcher go for more conservative viewpoints? One of the reasons the issue “homeland security” was chosen was that it is a current issue with clear arguments on both sides of the political spectrum. Within this search, APW covers only one publication, American Conservative, that is politically conservative, and APW only began including this title in 2006. Accessing other databases such as EBSCO’s Masterfile Select can offer a greater balance of political viewpoints.
To augment the comparison, a brief survey was sent to the ANSS-L listserv with the following questions:
- Does your institution subscribe to APW? If not, why not?
- Does your institution subscribe to the paper source API? Does your institution subscribe to both sources? If so, why? How would you compare the two resources?
- When do you use the APW database or refer library users to it? What type of topics does it cover best for you and your library users?
- Have you found APW to be useful for anthropological or sociological research questions?
- Do you have an example of a search topic that worked well in APW for you?
- Do you have an example of a search topic that did not work in APW? Why didn’t you get the results you hoped for?
- Do you have any other comments about the APW database?
There were six respondents to the survey. Of the six, five subscribed to APW; of those five, three also subscribed to API Online, and two subscribed to the API backfiles. Survey respondents noted that the greatest difference between the two databases was that APW offered full-text access. One respondent felt that APW was narrower in scope than API. Another respondent whose library uses a meta- search utility, where a library user can search a topic in more than one database at a time, reported that APW is used less often than API. Three of the respondents use APW for current topics and for topics that are sociological in nature. Some examples of search topics included: eminent domain, tourism research, different cuisines, immigration, and gender. One respondent wondered about the overlap between APW and EBSCO’s Masterfile Select. A brief comparison of the publications in the A’s in APW, API, and Masterfile Select came up with no duplication among the three databases, except for the journal The Advocate. A deeper comparison of publication overlap among these three databases would be useful.
APW covers a wide array of alternative articles from journals, magazines, newspapers, and “reference/reports” in full-text format. From the comparative analysis discussed above, it is broader in scope than API. It offers local and regional perspectives on current, mostly national issues. It appears from the survey described above that some libraries subscribe to both APW and API, although the combined price is prohibitive to many smaller institutions.
APW leaves out many academic alternative sources which could give a researcher a better balance of information, including scholarly and international viewpoints. Researchers seeking more scholarly–yet alternative–viewpoints on issues may find APW lacking in extensive coverage of scholarly journals in contrast to API. Although APW appears to remedy its lack of more conservative alternative presses with the inclusion of periodicals such as the American Conservative, there are other databases that the researcher may need to turn to for broader coverage and more balanced political viewpoints such as Masterfile Select.
Overall, Alt-Press Watch is a very good database for access to sources for alternative viewpoints, largely on the politically left side of the spectrum. As with all ProQuest databases, the interface is user-friendly, offers full-text capability, and covers a broad array of sources. One of its strongest assets is the inclusion of local alternative newspapers. It should appeal to users at all levels of research.
My thanks to Ed Yarnell, ProQuest representative for colleges/universities and large public libraries and his colleagues for their patient and tireless answers to my endless queries about the Alt-Press Watch database, and to Lauris Olson, Social Sciences Bibliographer, Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania for his historical insight.
Alternative Press Index. 2007. Alternative Press Center. 25 Jan.2007
Alt-Press Watch. 2007. Information and Learning Company. 25 Jan. 2007 <http://www.proquest.com/products_pq/descriptions/alt_presswatch.shtml>.
Hertzler, Randy. “Ethnic NewsWatch (Online): News, Culture, and History.” ANSS Currents 21.1 (2006): 3-8.
Olson, Lauris. Email to the author. 30 Nov. 2006.
Wang, Rui. “GenderWatch (Online).” ANSS Currents 21.2 (2006): 5-8.
Yarnell, Ed. E-mail to the author. 5 Jan. 2007.
Yarnell, E. “Introduction to NewsWatch Series (Softline).” PowerPoint presentation. ProQuest Information and Learning National Sales Meeting. Syracuse, New York. 8 Jan. 2002.