In the Spring of 1993, the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS) was first put on-line for general use; its existence was revealed at the ADASS conference that past November (1993ASPC…52..132K).  It was known then as the ADS Abstract Service, a component of the larger Astrophysics Data System effort which had developed a sophisticated internet based infrastructure predating the then just released Mosaic web browser by a couple of years.  The change to the web occurred the next year.

In 2013, the ADS finds itself as the central discovery engine for astronomical information, used nearly every day by nearly every astronomer.  Moving into its third decade, the ADS continues to serve the research community while remaining at the forefront of the massive technological and sociological changes occurring in the field of scholarly communication.

Celebration of May 8, 2013

To celebrate this important event, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics hosted a colloquium on May 8th 2013 at 4pm EDT. The keynote speaker was  Prof. Christine Borgman, the Presidential Chair and Professor of Information Studies at UCLA, who spoke about the role of information systems in scholarly communications.

Here is a recording of the talk, starting with an introduction by the CfA director, Prof. Charles Alcock.



ADS, Astronomy, and Scholarly Infrastructure

Christine L. Borgman
Professor & Presidential Chair in Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
Oliver Smithies Visiting Fellow and Lecturer, Balliol College, University of Oxford

Astronomy has a history of data collection that spans millennia. While known as a “big data” field, astronomy also has pockets of “long tail science,” characterized by small teams that manage data locally. Astronomy data are diverse in terms of instrumentation, disposition, and use, and yet astronomers often must aggregate and compare datasets with disparate origins. Findings from observational studies and theoretical modeling, in turn, are reported in a wide array of international journals. Celestial objects are the focus of study in these papers, and these objects can be described in many ways. Astronomy is distinctive among the sciences in having built a sophisticated information infrastructure to optimize the access to scientific publications and data. At the core of this infrastructure is the Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS), which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. ADS began as a data system, became a bibliographic system, and is now the coordinating mechanism for publishing, data, ontologies, bibliometrics, scientometrics, and other tools and services for using astronomical information. The talk will reflect on the role that ADS has played in scholarly communication in astronomy and in the larger scientific community, and on how it is positioned to lead science in the next 20 years.

Christine L. Borgman is Professor and Presidential Chair in Information Studies at UCLA. Currently (2012-13) she is the Oliver Smithies Visiting Fellow and Lecturer at Balliol College, University of Oxford, where she also is affiliated with the Oxford Internet Institute and the eResearch Centre. Prof. Borgman is the author of more than 200 publications in information studies, computer science, and communication. Her monographs, Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet (MIT Press, 2007) and From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure: Access to Information in a Networked World (MIT Press, 2000), each won the Best Information Science Book of the Year award from the American Society for Information Science and Technology. She conducts data practices research with funding from the National Science Foundation, Sloan Foundation, and Microsoft Research. Current collaborations include Monitoring, Modeling, and Memory, The Transformation of Knowledge, Culture, and Practice in Data-Driven Science, and Empowering Long Tail Research.

The ADS Abstract Service web interface

NCSA Mosaic displaying the ADS Abstract Service Search page circa 1994.

Over its lifetime, the ADS has seen its data holdings and user base increase several orders of magnitudes.  Its bibliographic database grew from 160K records in 1994 to 10 million in 2013. Its full-text archive grew from 6,000 articles in 1995 to almost 3 million documents today. Its citation graph increased from 250K edges in 1997 to over 57 million citations today.  Its user base grew from 200 users in 1994 to over 10 million today (of which 55,000 are heavy users). Here is a short list of milestones accomplished by the ADS team during the past 20 years:

  • 1993: Abstract Service launched implementing federated search to SIMBAD object database
  • 1994: First web-based version of the ADS Abstract Service released
  • 1995: Fulltext of ApJ Letters digitized and online
  • 1996: Citation data incorporated in ADS; links between bib records and datasets created; first mirror site online
  • 1997: Indexed astronomy preprints from arXiv
  • 1998: The online readership via ADS surpasses the worldwide print readership for the main Astronomy journals
  • 1999: Extracted and incorporated 1.2M citations from digitized literature via text mining
  • 2000: Incorporated usage data and Citation ranking in search engine
  • 2001: ADS’s 10th mirror site comes online
  • 2002: Digitized and placed online 300K historical scans from microfilms online
  • 2003: myADS notification service launched
  • 2004: Introduced fulltext search, private libraries
  • 2005: Introduced daily database updates of arXiv content, RSS feeds
  • ADSmetrics

    The modern ADS can compute a rich set of scholarly metrics over its collection.

  • 2006: Launched the ADS basic search, implemented openURL linking
  • 2007: Implemented user login system
  • 2008: Upgraded content in ADS with color and grayscale scans
  • 2009: Introduced the ADS topic search
  • 2010: Developed the ADS recommender
  • 2011: The ADS Labs website is launched
  • 2012: Incorporated metrics, visualizations in ADS Labs
  • 2013: The ADS corpus reaches 10M bibliographic records, 3M fulltext documents, and over 50M citations.

These accomplishments would not have been possible without support and contributions from a large network of collaborations which includes all the major Astrophysics Data Archives, Journal Publishers, Learned Societies in Astronomy and Physics, Astronomy Librarians, and research projects which both use and enrich the ADS in unique ways.