EIUI Researcher Conducts Study about the International Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts

Is your institution a subscriber to the Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA)? If so, you can assist with an evaluation of this major international information resource.

Since 1971 the ASFA database has been providing access to information about the science, technology, and management of marine, brackishwater, and freshwater environments globally. Operating as an international partnership of over 60 agencies, ASFA compiles and disseminates information produced around the world and is overseen by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Accessible by subscription from ProQuest, ASFA currently contains more than 2 million records, and aims to facilitate the global dissemination of information, particularly of grey literature.

EIUI researcher and Master’s student, Diana Castillo, is conducting an evaluation study of ASFA, in collaboration with the ASFA Board, FAO, and ProQuest. As part of this study, and with the assistance of ProQuest, ASFA subscribers were sent an invitation to complete an online survey about the database and how it is used. If you received the invitation message by email from ProQuest, please complete the survey by Monday, 2 April 2018. The views of subscribers are very important and will inform decisions of the ASFA Board about the future of the database.

About the Project

A significant hallmark of today’s society is the large quantity of scientific information about oceans available to researchers and decision-makers in a wide diversity of formats. Although much of the information is easily obtained, sizeable volumes may be unknown or limited in access despite being of potential benefit to key stakeholders. One of the oldest methods of organizing information for use, abstracting and indexing (A&I) services which focus on metadata production, is aimed at assisting researchers in the discovery process through using consistent descriptive language and brief summaries of the material.

A prominent example of a scientific A&I service, the Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts database has since 1971 been a major resource on marine science, technology, and management and related economic, social, and legal subjects. ASFA currently contains more than 2 million records, with its main aim to facilitate the global sharing of information, particularly of grey literature, i.e., information that is not produced by a commercial publisher, and unique reports that are otherwise difficult to locate (Farace & Schöpfel, 2010). In a 2005 study, ASFA was found to contain a higher percentage of grey literature compared to other databases used by marine scientists (Parker, 2005). Its focus on providing metadata for grey literature allows researchers from around the world to find technical reports and government documents they might otherwise be unaware of or unable to access.

Despite the history of ASFA and A&I services in general, however, their place in a changing information landscape is being re-evaluated. Due to funding constraints, changes in discovery platforms, and shifts in information seeking behaviour, many wonder what role A&I services, will have in the future (Hawkins, 2013). Academic and governmental libraries, key subscribers for A&I databases such as ASFA, face budget constraints that limit their subscription choices. Although A&I databases have a rich history in aiding information discovery and access, the move towards open access journals and the desire of users for full-text results can be seen as a threat to their long-term viability (Hawkins, 2013). Understanding how subscribers evaluate database usage and relevance, coupled with the costs of the services, is essential for conceptualizing the future of A&I databases.

This research will describe how users engage with and use ASFA and if it facilitates the sharing of information among stakeholders on ocean research and policy development. The data collected through three methods (interviews, survey, and data usage statistics) will be used to determine what users view as key features of ASFA and if it is meeting the information needs of stakeholders, and if not, what changes may need to be made to address those needs.

Further information about this project can be obtained by contacting members of the EIUI research team: Diana Castillo or Bertrum MacDonald.



Farace, D.J. & Schöpfel, J. (2010). Introduction grey literature. In D.J. Farace & J. Schöpfel (Eds.), Grey literature in library and information studies (pp. 1-8). New York: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co.

Hawkins, D. T. (2013, August 6). Information discovery and the future of abstracting and indexing services: An NFAIS workshop. Retrieved July 11, 2017, from http://www.against-the-grain.com/2013/08/information-discovery-and-the-future-of-abstracting-and-indexing-services-an-nfais-workshop/

Parker, J. (2005). Evaluating bibliographic database overlap for marine science literature using an ecological concept. Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, 42. DOI: 10.5062/F4P55KFS.


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