Criminal Justice Abstracts – Reviewed Spring 2000

Reviewed by Wade Kotter, Stewart Library, Weber State University, April 4, 2000.

Criminal Justice Abstracts, 1968-date. Publisher: Criminal Justice Press, P.O. Box 249, Monsey, NY, 10952, phone 1-914-354-9139, Fax 1-914-362-8376,
Vendor: SilverPlatter Information Inc.Vendor: SilverPlatter Information
Inc., 100 River Ridge Drive, Norwood, MA, 02062-5043, phone
1-800-343-0064, Fax: 1-781-769-8763,
Pricing is based on number of simultaneous users within a single
institution. Purchasers may select annual or quarterly updates, the
latter involving additional costs. Negotiated consortium prices can be
arranged, and discounts may be available through regional networks.
Pricing is independent of ownership of the printed product.


Published by Criminal Justice Press in cooperation with the Criminal Justice/NCCD Collection of Rutgers University Libraries, Criminal Justice Abstracts
(CJA) provides indexing and abstracts for selected articles from nearly
600 periodicals in criminal justice and related fields from 1968 to the
present. A list of periodicals indexed is published annually on the
Criminal Justice Press Web site. CJA also indexes and abstracts
selected books, chapters in books, dissertations, and reports. This
comprehensive database provides access to information that is directly
relevant to sociologists and anthropologists whose research focuses on
such topics as deviance, social control, social movements, and social
psychology. It is intended for anyone doing research in criminal
justice and will be equally valuable to students, faculty, and
practitioners. The version reviewed The version reviewed here is
accessed over the Internet using SilverPlatter’s WebSpirs interface
(Version 4.1), which provides a full range of search capabilities. A
print version is also available.

Scope, Size, Coverage and Currency:

The publisher of CJA claims to provide comprehensive international
coverage of the major publications in criminal justice and related
fields. An examination of the annually updated title list provided on
the Criminal Justice Press Web site supports this assertion. The
database not only provides full coverage of over 60 periodicals in
criminal justice and criminology in several languages and from all
parts of the world, but also selective coverage of relevant articles
from core journals in such related fields as criminology, law,
penology, police science and forensics. Selective coverage extends to
majors. Selective coverage extends to major international publications
in sociology and social work as well as core works in seemingly distant
fields such as medicine, public health, political science, biology,
history, business, and economics. Because of the multi-disciplinary
nature of the database, it is not possible to give an accurate account
of proportional coverage of the major subjects. It is clear, however,
that searchers will retrieve relevant documents from an extraordinarily
broad range of publications when they use this database.

The breadth of geographic coverage is clearly reflected in the
results of a sample search for publications on domestic violence
published in 1998. Of the 86 items retrieved, 20 referred to
circumstances outside the United States as determined by a direct
examination of the citations. Although the descriptor field often
includes a geographic term, such as New Zealand, there seems to be
inconsistency in the applicatms to be inconsistency in the application
of terms. Some items in this search were clearly focused on the United
States but were not assigned any geographic term in the descriptor
fields. Others were assigned the term United States, while still others
were assigned terms representing individual states, such as California.
Fortunately, the assignment of geographic terms for the rest of the
world seems to be more consistent.

Where language is concerned, cited publications in the database are
primarily in English, although the online index for the Language field
indicates that publications in at least 16 other languages are indexed
in the database. This fact also supports the publisher’s claim for
international coverage. Unfortunately, the language field in available
only in records from 1988 onward, making it impossible to provide
accurate proportions for the entire database.

Examination of the 86 citations retrieved in the search mentioned
above showed that 38 represented non-periodicals, including monographs,
chapters in edited collections, and reports. Although instructive, this
example may not reflect the proportion of periodical to non-periodical
in the entire database. In fact, the overall proportion is impossible
to determine due to a problem similar to that noted for language: the
document type field is available only for records added from September
1999 onward.

As of September 1999, the database included more than 75,000
records. According to SilverPlatter, approximately 3,000 records are
added each year. Subs00 records are added each year. Subscribers may
select either quarterly or annual updates. The version reviewed was
updated in September 1999. As of that date, there are 562 entries for
items published in 1999, 1,797 entries for 1998, and 2,484 entries for
1997. These data suggest a lag time of approximately six months between
publication and indexing.

Format and Organization:

For this review, CJA was accessed using SilverPlatter’s WebSpirs
user interface, Version 4.1. This Web-based product combines text and
graphics to create what most searchers will find to be a user-friendly
interface. When started, WebSpirs 4.1 opens a full screen browser
window and immediately overlays this with a second, smaller window with
three frames. Along the right side is a narrow frame containing a
column of graphic buttons with text labels that support navigation,
proxt labels that support navigation, provide access to generic and
database-specific help screens, and allow the user to logout of the
system. Options not available are grayed out. A wider frame takes up
the top left portion of the window. It provides a text box for typing
in search terms, a drop-down list that provides access to
database-specific help, and radio controls for limiting the search. To
the right of the text box are two buttons: one initiates the search and
the other links to the Search Builder, a forms-based window for
searching multiple fields. Also provided are graphic buttons that link
to screens where additional limits can be placed and display parameters
can be modified. Below the search frame is another frame of the same
width that is initially empty.

Clicking on the Start Search button initiates the search. In a few
seconds, a message stating the number of items retrieved together with
a Display button appears. Clicking on the Display button clears the
left side of the main window and presents a scrollable list of results
in a format that is fully customizable. The option of long field
descriptions is especially valuable for inexperienced searchers.
Citations are clear and complete, and avoid the use of cryptic
abbreviations. The results screen includes graphic buttons for
printing, saving, and emailing results. A button labeled Searches on
the right side of the screen returns the user to the search frame and
displays a search history in the bottom frame. This frame provides
check boxes and radio controls that can be used to combine previous
searches, as well as graphic buttons that allow searchers to save their
search history and load previously saved searches. Overall, the format
and organization of the search interface is logical and consistent.
However, clicking on one of the graphic buttons almking on one of the
graphic buttons almost always opens a new browser window. The result is
that three or four windows are often open at the same time, creating a
potential for confusing even the most sophisticated user.

Record Structure, Retrieval and Display:

The following fields may be searched in the SilverPlatter version of CJA:

Abstract [AB] Keyword 1968-Present All document types
Accession Number [AN] Keyword or Index 1968-Present All document types
Author [AU] Keyword 1968-Present1968-Present All document types
Book [BK] Keyword 1968-Present Non-periodicals only
Classification [CL] Keyword or Index 1968-Present All document types
Descriptors [DE] Keyword 1968-Present All document types
Document Type [DT] Keyword or Index 9/1999-Present All document types
ISBN [IB] Keyword 9/1999-Present Non-periodicals only
ISSN [IN] Keyword 9/1999-Present Periodicals only
Journal [JN] Keyword 1968-Present Periodicals only
Language [LA] Keyword or Index 1988-Present All document types
Notes [NT] Keyword 1968-Present All document types
Non-English Title [OT] Keyword 1988-Present All document types
Publisher [PB] Keyword 1982-Present All document types
Publication Year [PY] Keyword or Index 1968-Present All document types
Source [SO] Keyword 1968-Present All document types
Series Title [ST] Keyword 1968-Present Non-Periodicals only
Title [TI] Keyword 1968-Present All document types

The abbreviation in brackets is the code used for each field when
entering search statements. Inclusion of a field in a record depends on
the type of publication and the date the citation was entered into the
database. Book, ISBN and Series Title are used only for
non-periodicals, while ISSN is used only for journal articles.
Publisher only appears in citations from 1982 onward and Language in
citations from 1988 onward. Document Type, ISBN, and ISSN first
appeared in citations added in September 1999. These facts reduce the
usefulness of these fields except for the most recent entries. Most
records also include a display-only field called Publication Details
[PD], which contains the nn Details [PD], which contains the number of
pages in the item and identifies if it has appendices.

Using text boxes, check boxes, and radio controls, the search
interface provides for a combination of menu and command searching.
Novice searchers familiar with Web search engines will find this
interface familiar and easy-to-use, and expert searchers will
appreciate the flexibility provided in support of more sophisticated
searches. Radio controls on the main search screen allow users to
search for keywords anywhere in the record or limit their keyword
search to author, title or subject. Using a different set of controls,
users may also limit their search to articles in one or more of the
following languages: English, French, Spanish, German, or Italian. The
text box allows users to enter single words or phrases as well as
complex search statements using a full set of boolean operators,
proximity operators, and truncation wildcards. Previous searchruncation
wildcards. Previous searches listed in the search history window can be
represented in search statements by set number. The Publication Year
field can also be searched using range operators. Search statements may
be nested using parentheses. Keyword searches may also be limited to
specific fields using the in operator, and index fields may be searched
using the = (equals sign) operator. For example, the following search
statement would retrieve citations with “recidivism” in the Title
field: recidivism in ti, while this search statement would retrieve
citations for publications whose original language in Spanish:

An Indexes button on the right side of the main window gives access
to five alphabetical indexes: General, Accession Number,
Classification, Document Type, and Language. One or more terms or
phrases may be selected from these lists and added to the search. The
General index is probably the most useful, since it includes words and
phrases from all of the text fields. A Search Builder button provides
access to a forms based interface for building multiple field searches.
Finally, a Set Other Limits button allows the searcher to set more
precise limits by Publication Date, Accession Number, Classification,
Document Type, and Language. The least useful of these is Accession
Number, which is a number assigned by the publisher as an identifier
for the physical item in the Criminal Justice/NCCD Collection of the
Rutgers University Library. Although this number could be used for
document delivery from Rutgers as a last resort, the help screens
encourage searchers to use interlibrary loan at their home library to
obtain items. The usefulness of the Language field is restricted by the
fact that it is only available in citations from 1988 onward. The
Document Type field is even less useful because it appears on less
useful because it appears only in citations added during the most
recent update in September 1999.

Records are displayed in a clear, easy-to-read format that is fully
customizable. Entries in the Author and Journal fields are highlighted
in blue and underlined. Clicking on these initiates a lateral search
for all citations containing the highlighted word or phrase in the
appropriate field. In addition, displayed records may be printed,
downloaded to disk, or sent to an email address. Novices will likely be
overwhelmed by the multiple options provided, but tests of each option
proved successful.

Indexing and Subject Access:

The Author field is searchable both by keyword and alphabetical
index. Names are not abbreviated and a scan of the author index
indicates careful, although not perfect, authority control. The ability
to do lateral searching by author adds to the usefulness of this index.

subject access is provided by entries in the Classification field,
which are selected from the following six choices: Crime, the Offender
and the Victim (C); Juvenile Justice and Delinquency (J); Police (P);
Courts and the Legal Process (CT); Adult Corrections (CR); and Crime
Prevention and Control Strategies (CP). Users can search this field by
keyword, by the abbreviated codesd by keyword, by the abbreviated codes
listed above in parentheses, or by selecting terms from an alphabetical
index. Interestingly, the index includes entries for the entire phrase
as well as each significant word in that phrase.

More specific subject access is provided by entries in the
Descriptors field selected from a much longer list of controlled
vocabulary. Four was the maximum number of descriptors assigned to
citations examined as part of this review, but the majority had three
or fewer. These descriptors vary from single words to long phrases,
resulting in a sometimes confusing combination of individual terms and
pre-coordinated phrases. Most of the descriptors are topical, although
the controlled vocabulary includes a number of geographic terms as
well. Unfortunately, the publisher does not provide a formal,
structured thesaurus either online or in print. Instead, online users
must use the Database Information button to access several scrformation
button to access several screens of “related terms,” which list each
descriptor in alphabetical order followed by possible alternatives.
Also, there is no alphabetic index for the Descriptors field. Users can
find descriptors listed in the General keyword index, although these
are not particularly easy to identify.

Several citations were examined in preparation for this review. The
descriptors assigned to these citations seemed appropriate. However, as
noted above, there was some inconsistency in assignment of United
States as a geographical term. There were no factual or typographical
errors in the citations examined.

User Guidance:

SilverPlatter provides two levels of user guidance in its version of
CJA. A Help button on the left side of the main search window provides
access to a series of general help screens for the WebSpirs interface.
This information is well organized and easy to use. Context-sensitive
access to these general help screens is provided by yellow word
balloons, enclosing red question marks, that are strategically placed
on the various screens. Clicking on these balloons brings up the
appropriate section of the general help screens. Well-written user
guides for WebSpirs are available directly from SilverPlattertly from

A Database Information button on the left side of the screen
provides access to information specific to CJA, including a list of
search fields, several search examples, and links to the screens of
related terms mentioned above. The information is well organized and
clearly written, although the use of multiple browser windows might
create confusion for some users.

SilverPlatter provides general support on their web site, byides
general support on their web site, by email, and by toll-free phone
number. Sample user inquiries were handled promptly and professionally.
A link to an annually updated title list is provided on the Criminal
Justice Press Web site, as is an email address for specific inquiries.

Document Availability:

There is no online document delivery. Instead, in the online
database guide users are encouraged to use interlibrary loan to obtain
indexed publications not found in their home library. As a last resort,
users may contact the Criminal Justice/NCCD Collection of Rutgers
University Library for fee-based assistance in obtaining specific items.

Comparisons with Related Resources:

A comparison of CJA with Criminal Justice Periodicals Index (CJPI),
an Internet accessible ProQuest Direct database from Bell and Howell
Information and Learning, Inc., brings to light some interesting
similarities and differences. A significant difference is that CJA
provides abstracts in all records, while CJPI began adding abstracts in
1999. CJPI also provides full-text for selected publications, an option
not available in CJA. Another difference is that CJPI only covers
periodicals, while CJA covers a wider selection of document types.

An important similarity is the obvious overlap in major subjects.
However, the latest title list for CJPI includes 135 titles, 66 of
which are shared by CJA, an overlap slightly under 50%. The unique
titles in CJA include several foreign publications and selectively
indexed journals from distantly related fields. On the other hand, CJPI
covers a number of legal digests and reporters not indexed by CJA. One
would expect differences in the items retrieved by a search.

A keyword search for items on domestic violence published in 1998 in
each database supported this expectation. CJPI yielded 77 citations,
while the same search in CJA resulted in 86 hits. However, only 48 of
the CJA citations referred to articles. The other 38 were monographs
and reports. This would seem to give C reports. This would seem to give
CJPI the advantage for periodicals, but 33 of the hits from this index
were to untitled notices of court decisions from legal digests and
reporters. And many of the unique citations from CJA refer to lengthy
articles from journals in related fields such as psychology, sociology,
and public health. Given the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of
Criminal Justice, this would seem to be significant advantage.

Although not definitive, this comparison suggests that researchers
wishing to do a broad, comprehensive literature search should use both
products. Institutions that must choose between them will need to
consider the specific needs of their patrons. However, the breadth of
coverage, the inclusion of abstracts for all records in the database,
and the coverage of non-periodicals would seem to give CJA an advantage
in most circumstances.

Recommendations for Improvement:

Subject access would be significantly improved by adding an index
search option for the Descriptors field as well as the capability for
lateral seapability for lateral searching of descriptors from the
record display. A more ambitious improvement would be a redesign of the
controlled vocabulary along the lines of the sophisticated thesauri
used by databases such as PsycInfo and Sociological Abstracts. It would
also be useful to move geographic terms to a separate field to ensure
that the controlled vocabulary is consistently topical in focus. There
should also be more consistency in the use of United States as a
geographic term. Finally, it would be very helpful if the publisher
were to provide a list of deletions and additions to accompany the
annual title list. These improvements would make a very valuable
database even more useful.

Positive Aspects:

The most positive aspect of CJA is its unparalleled breadth of
coverage across disciplines, geographic regions, and languages. It
provides a truly international perspective on the increasingly
important field of criminal justice. The flexibility of the WebSpirs
interface makes this information readily available to both novices and
experts. Criminal Justice Press and SilverPlatter are to be commended
for their fine work on this database.

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