AgeLine (aka AARP AgeLine) – Reviewed 2003

Reviewed by Valery King, Oregon State University Libraries,

Published by AARP, Research Information Center, 601 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20049. TEL 202-434-6231, 800-424-3410, FAX 202-434-6408. email:,

Coverage: 1978- (with selected retrospective coverage for 1966-1977).

Distributor and Price Information: CDROM, dialup and Internet access available from various vendors: See “Distributor Access and Price Information” at; also provided on the Internet free of charge by AARP. This review applies to the free version unless otherwise stated.


AgeLine is an unusual database compared to other bibliographic services offered in today’s library market, since its creator, AARP, provides AgeLine as a free online service. Commercial companies such as SilverPlatter, Ovid and CSA also sell access with varying value-added features. All statements in this review apply to the free Internet service unless otherwise specified.

The Federal Administration on Aging began building the database, but responsibility was shifted to the AARP (known then as the American Association of Retired Persons) in 1983. A nonprofit membership organization that addresses needs and interests of persons 50 and older, AARP owns a substantial collection of gerontological materials, and much of AgeLine is drawn from that with additional materials from other sources. It is an easily searchable database of citations with original abstracts to the literature of social gerontology. Intended audiences are the general public, researchers, practitioners, and providers and policymakers, with relevancy to a variety of disciplines including sociology, anthropology, psychology and medicine.

Scope, Size, Coverage & Currency

AgeLine has no print equivalent. The AARP Internet site is updated bimonthly; the commercial services update at varying frequencies, but the content is identical in all versions of the database. More than 3,000 records are added each year, and currently there are over 62,000 records in the database. The types of material indexed are articles (pulled from 300+ journals and magazines), books, chapters of books, research reports, dissertations and, uncommon for index services, videos. Only relevant journal articles and book chapters are included; no work is indexed cover-to-cover. The core list of journals (i.e., those that yield the majority of articles) is clearly identified on the Journal Title List of AgeLine‘s home page in boldface. This is not a complete list; for that you need to go to the AgeLine Multiple Options Search page and click on Journal Title.

The journal list is multidisciplinary. Besides “core” titles like American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Gerontologist, and Assisted Living Today, there is more eclectic coverage such as Time and Newsweek, Consumer Reports, the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Medical Anthropology Quarterly and the Journal of Family Law. Journals are primarily American, but there are several Canadian, European, Israeli, Australian and New Zealand journals included. An example of the scope of coverage is that almost a dozen journals have the word “International” in titles. Only English-language publications are indexed.

Subject coverage is interdisciplinary and diverse, including demographics, economics, psychology, health and health care services, housing and so on as they relate to the aged and aging. Geographic coverage is international, although the focus is on the United States. The relevance to sociology research is obvious; relevance to anthropology can be demonstrated by a selection of terms from the Browse index of AgeLine’s Subject Search: Ancient Societies, Cross Cultural Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Developing Nations and Racial and Ethnic Differences. Various countries, regions and ethnic groups are named in the Subject Keyword list. (See under User Guidance for more information.)

Format and Organization

The layout of the search screens is clear and appealing, with good use of color and contrast, which is sensible when a large portion of the audience may have sight issues. There is limited use of graphics, so the pages load quickly on machines with slower connection speeds. Display of search results is clear and terms used for the different elements of the record are understandable and free of jargon.

Electronic Record Structure, Retrieval and Display

The searchable fields in AARP’s database are Title, Journal Title, Author, Abstract, and Subject and Any word(s). Additional search options are often available from the value-added vendor packages.

AgeLine references provide some or all of the following types of bibliographic information: Title / Document Type / Audience Code / Author / Journal / Publisher / Series Title / ISSN or ISBN / Notes / Availability / Publication Number / Funding Source / Descriptors / Abstract / Accession Number / Record Number / AARP Call Number.

Different database distributors often group the information slightly differently, label some fields by different terms, or leave some fields out of the records entirely. Additionally, while not all fields are searchable in AARP’s website version, records are constructed so that other providers can make any or all of them searchable.

Limiting options are by Audience (Research; Public Policy; General/Consumer; Professional/Provider), Year (range), Document type, and some limited control of Maximum items displayed (200, 400, 600, or no limit). Document types include Book, Chapter, Journal Article, and Video; there is no limiting option to specify research reports. Since the Audience codes were not added until 1996, anything searched with one of these limiters will not bring many records up that were added before that date. A record may also have more than one audience code.

The default display is Brief. The user can change this by going to the bottom of the results display page and choosing View All Abstracts, which will then become default for the rest of the session.

Four types of search pages are offered on AARP AgeLine: Basic, Advanced, Multiple Options (Title, Journal/Magazine, Author, Subject, or Any Word) and Subject. A link to an explanation of how Boolean searching works is posted in a prominent place on each search page. Boolean searching is still a trifle confusing, being supported in different ways on different search pages. Truncation and Proximity Searching is possible but it can also be confusing, as it works in different ways from other databases. Detailed explanations can be found on the database site.

Indexing and Subject Access

Access to a subject keyword list is provided, where a user can click on a box to have a subject term added to their search.

There are a number of AgeLine descriptors useful for identifying specialized types of materials, such as Videos, Audiovisual Materials, Conference Proceedings, and Consumer Guides. Some of these terms can serve the same functions as the Audience Type limiter: to make it easier for general readers to find general interest and consumer information, or practitioners to find professional literature. This can be a great time-saver, but care should be exercised in using the Audience Type limiter by those wanting to conduct a more complete search of the database, as audience codes have only been added to records since 1996.

User Guidance

Help screens are plentiful, scattered throughout all menus and search screens, and are easy to understand.

There is a User Forum that links to a Search Tips page and a useful Frequently Asked Questions list (called Ask AgeLine) with an email link for asking further questions. A query sent to this address elicited a reply within two days, even during the December holiday season.

AARP publishes a guide to the controlled subject terms vocabulary called Thesaurus of Aging Terminology. The Thesaurus can be very useful in defining how a term is used in AgeLine, in identifying references having a major focus on that topic, and in providing narrower or broader search terms. The Thesaurus is updated every three to four years. The current 7th edition was published in January 2002 and ordering information is available online.

At the top of each search page are links “HELP for this screen” and “HELP topics.” Included on HELP topics page are links to a variety of documents under the main headings, “Making the System Work for You,” “The AgeLine Search Screens” and “Refining Your Ageline Search.” Each screen has screen-specific instructions for how to search using that method (Basic, Advanced, Multiple Options and Subject)

One nice feature, especially for novice users, is that when you get no hits in a search, a link pops up to the article, “Why Am I Getting Zero Results?” with tips on refining searches. A link is also provided to the article “How to Research a Term Paper in Gerontology.”

Recently a new feature appeared, Searches to Go, where a constantly changing list of hot topics have already been “pre-searched.” Results, however, are extremely limited.

Comparison With Related Resources

No other product compares directly with AgeLine, but other databases cover certain aspects of gerontology and can be used for limited comparisons.

When comparing sources with other major databases, AgeLine‘s number of unique titles is quite high as illustrated in the following table. Keeping in mind that these other databases are not focused solely on aging issues as AgeLine is, these totals are quite impressive:

Titles Unique to Ageline

Titles the same
as AgeLine

Total titles in database
(compared to Ageline‘s 1359)
Academic Search Elite 783 576 3015
PsycINFO 672 687 3039
Sociological Abstracts 802 557 3172
Social Service Abstracts 1033 326 1570

A better measure of the value of AgeLine for gerontological research is a comparison of subject terms with other social science databases. In this AgeLine shows itself to be strong. For more precisely comparison, the other databases were delimited by age group terms as appropriate (such as elderly and middle aged adults) and date range to coincide more closely with AgeLine‘s 1978-present range.

Subject Term AgeLine PsycINFO Sociological Abstracts Social Services Abstracts
Divorce 181 183 26 16
Sex Roles 259 314 24 3
Homosexuality or lesbianism 132 103 21 47
Marriage 136 104 28 8
Nutrition 838 296 15 18
Death and dying 608 972 81 44
Nursing homes 5495 1840 195 362
Elder abuse 910 358 123 251

Recommendations for Improvement

Finding the database if you don’t have the URL can be a challenge. Search engines will locate it easily enough, but users trying to navigate to it from AARP’s home page at might have a hard time. It is not directly linked from there, nor is it even mentioned by name. Users only find it when they choose the Policy and Research topic, and look for the Research Center page.

Having the Thesaurus of Aging Terminology online would be very useful; while providing a Subject Keyword list is sufficient for most, serious researchers would benefit from having the more descriptive resource more readily available.


Other databases that are widely available to academic and public libraries index many of the same literature sources as AgeLine. A library with PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts and MEDLINE may in fact provide enough coverage of gerontology to satisfy most researchers. AgeLine, though, has the advantage of allowing searching for literature of all aspects of gerontology (psychological, sociological, social and medical) in a single database. It is unique as the only database that deals exclusively in gerontology literature and issues pertaining to the middle-aged, while at the same time presenting content for a wide variety of audiences. This interdisciplinary approach is both broad and focused.

Free vs. Fee
AARP is very generous in offering access to such a useful database at no charge, and this free access is a tremendous positive about this database. This site is easy to use and more than adequately functional for general users. The question then arises, if there is a good free website available why should a library purchase access from a vendor?

There are several good reasons to purchase one of the “value-added” versions, since AARP’s web interface contains several weaknesses. AARP’s Descriptors are not hot linked. Many fields in the records are not searchable. The Subject browse list is somewhat unsophisticated-there are no narrower/ broader or related term notes, and no hypertext links. The AARP site also lists search results by most recent first and no sort option is given.

Yet another drawback of the free site is in printing and downloading. These are not functions offered by the AARP interface; users must make do with what they can accomplish with their browser functions. Therefore, printing and saving will only function for the page displayed, not for all search results. And while the user can mark results and create a list that way, each record must be tagged individually; there is no kind of “mark all” option.

Most, if not all, of these issues are resolved in the versions offered by the various vendors. Libraries supporting advanced research should consider purchasing one of the value-added packages offered by the various distributors identified at: However, the free site at:, will be sufficient for most public libraries.

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