AskZad, the new offering in Middle Eastern content from East View Information Services, is a series of databases for Arabic language materials: Pan-Arab News Index (PANI), Pan-Arab Newspapers (PAN) (AskZad Full-Page newspapers), Pan-Arab E-books (PAEB), Pan-Arab Journals Index (PAJI), Pan-Arab Academic Journals (PAAJ), Pan-Arab Dissertations (PAD), Pan-Arab Peer Review Articles (PAPRA), and Pan-Arab Conference Proceedings (PACP).
Sources for this review include information publicly posted or obtained directly from the publisher, data collected by CRL staff and members, and examination of the digital collection when possible. Other sources are noted where cited.
AskZad, produced by the Egyptian firm Arabia Inform, and distributed through East View Information Services, is a series of databases for Arabic language materials: Pan-Arab News Index (PANI), Pan-Arab Newspapers (PAN, also known as AskZad Full-Page Newspapers), Pan-Arab E-books (PAEB), Pan-Arab Journals Index (PAJI), Pan-Arab Academic Journals (PAAJ), Pan-Arab Dissertations (PAD), Pan-Arab Peer Review Articles (PAPRA), and Pan-Arab Conference Proceedings (PACP). Users need not subscribe to them all, but may choose specific databases.
The resources AskZad represents are considerable. According to Arabia Inform, the databases offer access to 44,000 e-books, dissertations, and peer-reviewed journal articles. Two hundred publishers are represented, as well as over 500 newspapers and content from 3,000 archived websites. Most of the content is scanned from paper copies, or added as born digital, although a very small portion to date has been converted from microform sources. New material is added daily. Incorporating thus over 500 million pages of Arabic content, these materials represent an important source for the history, politics, literature, culture, and even the applied and hard sciences from the Middle East and North Africa. Lists of titles in the various databases can be downloaded from the East View website at http://www.eastview.com/Online/DBtitlelists.aspx.
Arabia Inform launched the AskZad package version 1.0 in 2007, and version 2.0 in 2011. East View Information Services began offering AskZad in the U.S. by 2010. Such an aggregation of databases contains an enormous amount of material. The number of different databases can be confusing to the user, who might not be sure which one to use. However, cross-database searching is available.
THE DATABASES PART ONE
This first group of databases offers the broadest scholarly appeal, with extensive and vital materials for researchers.
PAEB (Pan-Arab E-book Library)
This database contains 23,483 books added since its creation in July 2009, with content still being added. According to Arabia Inform, over 80 percent of the titles included are hard to acquire in print form, and are drawn from the works of leading authors in Egypt and the Middle East. These appear to be scanned from paper copies. A small portion—around 430 titles at the time of the review—is in the English language.
The database content covers a large variety of subjects, such as religion, politics, economics, and literature. Metadata is given for each work in two formats. PAEB is the only AskZad database that offers bibliographic metadata in the MARC format, presumably furnished by Arabia Inform. The bibliographic information is all in Arabic, with no transliterations, which makes it somewhat less than useful for a library catalog where paired Arabic and transliterated Roman fields are desired. This MARC data is a very useful feature nonetheless. Each book also offers “Bibliographic Data”, different from the MARC record. The information in the “Bibliographic Data” is in Arabic, with a jumbled, almost useless non-LC transliteration. Only one page can be displayed at a time, and this makes reading cumbersome. All the AskZad databases share this problem. A recent upgrade has made it possible for books and other documents to be downloaded at once, rather than having to download each page as in earlier versions.
PANI (Pan-Arab News Index)
This database is a full Arabic language index for more than 2,000 newspapers and magazines and additionally a partial index of 1,000 news-related Internet sites. Its archives go back to 1998. Users can search as many years of the archive as desired. Arabia Inform reports that there are 24 million entries with 10,000 more added daily. PANI, as with most of the AskZad databases, offers quick and advanced searches in Arabic and Western languages. Results are mainly in Arabic. Each hit in PANI offers some basic bibliographic data – the title and date of the periodical, title of the article, and the author. No place of publication is given. The data provided also includes lists of important personalities, organizations, and places mentioned in the article. The full article is available for view only. No download is possible. As with most materials in the AskZad databases, the articles are scanned as page images, recalling press-clipping services from the 20th century. The scans don’t appear to be OCR’ed anywhere throughout AskZad, so no searching inside the articles is possible. Helpful keywords have been supplied for each article to ameliorate this problem. Many web pages are also included in the PANI and other AskZad databases. No internal searching or download of these is possible.
PAN (Full Page Newspapers)
AskZad is licensed to distribute this full-image collection of 12 Middle Eastern newspapers. This database’s search engine is a little different, as it lacks keyword/subject or even author searches. Instead, the user browses for newspapers alphabetically by title from the pool of 12 newspapers mentioned above, and then browses by date within each title. No subject searches are available in this database. Access to full articles is given. An archive is provided for each item, but it only goes back to 1998. Pages and entire articles can be downloaded or printed. A new “fix” has recently made it possible for the whole document to be downloaded at once. This “fix” affects all the AskZad databases.
THE DATABASES PART TWO
Arabia Inform calls this group the “Academic Library.”
PAJI (Pan-Arab Journals Index)
According to East View, this database “contains full Arabic language indices of more than 700 Middle Eastern university-published journals and approximately 350 organization-published journals,” along with a few Western language journals (estimated at 178 titles in English at the time of the review). The user can search article metadata and abstracts in Arabic and Western languages; the results will match the language of the search. Searches in transliterated Arabic will result in English search results. Each search result includes an abstract of the article, which highlights the search term. The search also provides the bibliographic/reference data of the journal article; in some cases, the pertinent pages of the article can be perused.
PAAJ (Pan-Arab Academic Journals)
This database contains 225 applied or social science academic journals published in the Middle East. Most articles are in Arabic with some English and French. The extent of the archive for the various journals varies. Users can browse by the first letter of each journal title, or searching for a particular title, similar to the PAN database. Results include the whole run available of the journal chosen, with issues available from its archive. No subjects or keywords can be searched. The bibliographic data given is useful, but not in MARC format. The text of the articles was not available at the time of this review due to technical problems with the AskZad site.
PAD (Pan-Arab Dissertation)
This is a database of almost 7,000 dissertations published by graduate students in the Middle East. Over 5,000 of the dissertations are in English, with a handful in other Western languages and the remainder in Arabic. Its archive appears to go back to at least 1976. As is the usual case, Arabic is the primary search language. Transliterated Arabic, as well as English and other languages, can be used in searching with some success. A useful table of contents and abstract are provided for each item.
PAPRA (Pan-Arab Peer Review Articles)
This database consists of research articles published in “credible but non-academic” journals and periodicals. Abstracts, tables of contents, and minimal bibliographic material are included.
PACP (Pan-Arab Conference Proceedings)
This database contains the complete papers of “approximately 50 Middle Eastern conferences, including white papers, research presentations, etc.” Subjects covered by the conferences range from a congress sponsored by The Egyptian Society for Rabbit Sciences to another on the use and cultivation of sugarcane.
The basic parameters of these last two databases are the same as the others. They allow quick and advanced searches using Arabic or Western language. They provide bibliographic data for each item, in Arabic with a jumbled non-LC transliteration. Abstracts and tables of content are included. Search words are not always highlighted in search results. The pages of articles can be downloaded or printed one at a time, or the entire article can be downloaded at once.
Arabia Inform has used an in-depth filtering process to access content from around 3,000 archived websites, primarily focusing on Arab news. Full-text searching is available for this database, although users will only see text on the web pages, as all of the images have been removed.
Information about the AskZad material rights from the licensing agreement:
“Copyright of the publications in the database is owned by the respective publisher(s). East View has agreements with the publisher(s) granting permission to provide access to them on the subscription basis, including to institutional customers. User acknowledges that the AskZad product is published in Egypt and conforms to Egyptian interpretation of copyright practice. Content is potentially subject to withdrawal from AskZad in the unlikely event of copyright disputes with the publisher.”
The metadata supplied for each item differs in detail throughout the various databases. The e-library PAEB is the only database to furnish metadata in MARC format, in Arabic alone. Most of the other databases provide “Bibliographic Data,” which includes basic fields like title, author, publisher, date of publication, and keywords. This metadata is not in MARC format. It is given only in Arabic, but includes a transliteration of the important information. Unfortunately, this transliteration is in a jumbled, almost useless form; it does not follow Library of Congress rules. As of early 2011, it is planned that most of the databases will provide a MARC view of their metadata with transliterations provided by the publisher. None of these MARC record files are currently in a format available for uploading.
Technical platform and interface
The site provides interfaces in both English and Arabic for all of its databases. The only real difference is that all of the commands and search-tool terminology are in English for one interface and Arabic for the other. But users can search both in Arabic script or Roman script on both interfaces. When searching in Arabic script, it is best to use a Microsoft Arabic character set. A virtual Arabic keyboard is also provided. Searches will return results in the language of the search.
Quick and Advanced searches are available for all the databases. The Quick option searches the entire database for the term chosen. The Advanced search option is very well-thought-out, with a number of useful delimiters. Searches can be for titles, authors, publishers, places of publication, and keywords. Where available, Boolean terms such as AND, OR, NOT can be used in both Quick Search and Advanced Search. Although using the search interface was fairly intuitive, the AskZad User Guide supplied by East View is very helpful. A cross-database search is also available, covering all indexed text content.
The documents in all the databases are in the form of scanned page images; often the quality of the scans makes them hard to read at any level of magnification. The pages have not been OCR’d, so no text-searching within an item is possible. However, throughout most of the databases (with the exception of PAN and PAAJ), useful keywords have been given to aid in searching. Keyword searches also often result in “string” results, i.e., search results for the keyword “war” will contain “for-WARd”, “stal-WAR-t” and others. Once a “hit” is found, it is hard to find the subjects or keywords in the text itself, as they are not highlighted. The only way to find the subject in the document is to check the table of contents or abstract.
Page navigation in all of the databases is cumbersome, with only one page presented at a time. In a recent upgrade, AskZad has made it possible for pages or full documents to be printed or downloaded at once. Downloading still has room for improvement, however, as it is very slow, and demonstrates some specific problems depending on the web browser used. When using the latest version of Internet Explorer, a “download chunk” error problem occurs when downloading a large number of pages (generally around 65) at a time. The Firefox browser was able to successfully download over 100 pages in one execution, but it took nearly thirty minutes (smaller chunks, up to around 30 pages, downloaded in less than six minutes). On the other hand, the AskZad databases PANI, PAN, PAAJ, and Web Archive appear to have a file display problem in Firefox. No pages could be displayed when results were retrieved in a search of these databases. Arabia Inform does seem interested in improving its product, and further fixes and improvements can be expected.
Pricing information for the AskZad databases is provided by East View (http://www.eastview.com):
- Pan-Arab E-Books (PAEB): $2,000 minimum initial purchase of books is required, after which books may be added at will; buying large volumes of titles will be accompanied by discounts. The PAEB title list (over 23,000 books) includes items costing from around $1.60 to those that cost $600. The mean price is around $85. After the first year, $800 per year is paid as an annual fee whether new content is added or not.
- Pan-Arab News Index (PANI): $10,000 per year. There is no perpetual access/maintenance fee option. If the customer cancels the current year subscription, access is lost to all previously purchased content.
- PAN Full-Page Newspapers: One-time purchase, by title. Prices will be forthcoming and vary individually. No maintenance fee is charged.
- Pan-Arab Journals Index (PAJI): $4,000 per year. The archive is a $6,000 one-time purchase. If the customer cancels the current year subscription, access is lost to all previously purchased content.
- Pan-Arab Academic Journals (PAAJ): $4,000 per year. The archive is a $6,000 one-time purchase. If the customer cancels the current year subscription, access is lost to all previously purchased content.
- Pan-Arab Dissertations (PAD): $42 per dissertation. The minimum purchase is $500 per request. A maintenance fee is charged (please inquire).
- Pan-Arab Peer Review Articles (PAPRA): $30 per article. The minimum purchase is $500 per request. No maintenance fee is charged.
- Pan-Arab Conference Proceedings (PACP): $1,000 per year. No perpetual access/maintenance fee option. If the customer cancels the current year subscription, access is lost to all previously purchased content.
Subscribers may download an unlimited number of articles from Pan-Arab News Index (PANI), Pan-Arab Journals Index (PAJI), Pan-Arab Academic Journals (PAAJ), and Pan-Arab Conference Proceedings (PACP).
Buyers receive downloads of the information they have purchased for storage. They can download and save the article on their own servers. The AskZad license agreement states:
“Any authorized user may search, download, and save material included in the online subscriptions. Single printed copies of individual articles may be made for private use or research. Multiple copies may be made for classroom use, provided: that no charge is made for such copies, other than a nominal charge to cover the copy of reprography; that such copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage; and that the copies bear the respected publishers’ copyright notice.”
The AskZad set of databases represents a tremendous resource for scholars of the Middle East. Each database is a veritable treasure trove of research materials. The search engine is well thought out and easy to use. With the recent upgrade to AskZad, a more useable virtual Arabic keyboard has been adopted for those who don’t have access to the Microsoft Arabic character set.
However, the databases contain a few drawbacks. One major disadvantage is the fact that the items in the majority of the databases are only represented as scanned page images, which are often hard to read. Without OCR, no searching can be done within the text. These databases are analogous to press-clipping services. However, keywords have been added to the record for each item in the AskZad database, which makes searching easier. Tables of content and abstracts provided with each item are also very useful.
The way that items are delivered to the user can also be problematic. While downloading of full documents in PDF format has been implemented recently, there are still some bugs, such as data-chunking problems with the Internet Explorer browser, and problems displaying page images in the Firefox browser.
Performance of the search engine may at times be a problem. On a trial run of the databases for this review, speed of retrieval of information could be unacceptably long. Sometimes the action timed out before data was received. Databases were also unavailable on several occasions over the past four month period. Usually the connectivity problem was solved quickly once it was referred to East View.
While bibliographic data is provided for all the items in the databases (with the exception of PANI), for some reason the default format of “Bibliographic Data” uses a non-LC transliteration system, and as a result is unusable, and almost incomprehensible. While downloadable MARC records are promised as an upgrade in 2011, so far MARC records are only available for PAEB, and these are not yet downloadable. Furthermore, the metadata in the MARC records provided is given only in Arabic, with no transliterated information. Some libraries may find this a problem.
|Subjects covered||Arabic language documents: religion, politics, economics, literature, news, applied science, social science|
|Geographic coverage||Pan-Arabic regions|
|Chronological coverage||20th century, mostly since 1998|
|Content types||e-books, newspapers, academic journals, dissertations, conference proceedings, websites|
|Source formats||Paper, e-books, websites|
|Total titles||Over 32,000 (among 7 databases)|
|Total pages||More than 500 million|
|Digital collection launch date||2009 USA|
|Update frequency||Some databases, such as PANI (Pan-Arabic News Index) have daily updates|
|Major languages||Primarily Arabic; some English and other Western languates|
|Browser compatibility||IE7+, Firefox, Opera, Chrome, Safari|
|P||Authentication options||IP, password; compatible with proxy authentication|
|Archiving solution – master files||N/A|
|Archiving solution – derivative files||N/A|
|P||Availability in web discovery tools||Y (Google, Summon)|
|Open URL target||Y|
|P||Federated searching, z39.50||Y|
|Local host option||N|
|Color images (y/n and approx %)||N|
|Search full text||N|
|Advanced search (fielded)||Y|
|Search within results||N|
|Limit results by dates and/or document types||Y|
|Display highlighted search terms||N|
|Display snippet -- search term in context||N|
|Print full document||Y|
|Restrictions on use||http://www.eastview.com/Online/FAQ/EVSubscriptionTerms.aspx|
|Publisher / Distributor||East View Information Services|
|Address||10601 Wayzata Boulevard Minneapolis, MN 55305-1515 USA|
|Contact||http://www.eastview.com/ :: firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Subscription option||Y (See individual descriptions)|
|Purchase option||Y (See individual descriptions)|
|Multiple year payments option||Y (Negotiable)|
|List of purchasers available (y/n and url)||Purchaser list confidential|
|Sample license available (y/n and url)||Y|
|MARC records purchase fee||Y|
|Price tier basis||Flat fees|