Brief History of PsycINFO

Linda BeebeLinda Beebe, the senior director of PsycINFO (the psychology search engine), has written a brief history describing the evolution of the world’s premiere resource for psychological literature. [Update: the original link is no longer accessible; see a cached version here.] It provides a fascinating look at a part of the discipline that we often take for granted.

PsycINFO began in 1967 with the first electronic publication of the bibliographic records included in that year’s print Psychological Abstracts. The ability to produce an electronic product so early in the computing revolution came about as a result of grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a Scientific Information Exchange Project.

In 1965 the APA Publications Board approved an experimental study of the feasibility of producing Psychological Abstracts by the Photon process, which would yield magnetic tapes that could be used for information retrieval.

The production process was crude by today’s standards, as the electronic output was the result of a long paper-and-pencil creation process. However, when implemented in 1966, it greatly changed nearly everything about the production of Psychological Abstracts….

With a monthly, rather than a bimonthly, publication schedule, lag times were cut dramatically from as much as 3 years to as little as 3 months. The quantity of abstracts published also increased, moving from 8,381 in 1963 to 13,622 in 1966; and by the end of the decade the annual output had risen to 18,068….

In 1980 PsycINFO published 31,764 abstracts in electronic form…. By 1989, the annual total had grown to 52,442 abstracts….

The million-record mark was reached in 1995. Now there are more than 3 million records. Many of these link directly to PDF and HTML full-text, through the PsycARTICLES database.

After the millennium, new databases started to come online. PsycBOOKS offers full-text access to books and chapters, including 1306 “classic resources” (e.g., A History of Psychology in Autobiography). PsycCRITIQUES provides book reviews, going back to 1956. And PsycEXTRA provides access to “grey literature,” such as division newsletters and conference abstracts. All of these were then given a new interface in 2008 with the launch of PsycNET.

The next big evolutionary leap will be the introduction of PsycTESTS, which will do for tests and measures what PsycINFO did for the literature. This will make it possible to find the right test for your project, as well as new possibilities for historical datamining.

About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

3 thoughts on “Brief History of PsycINFO

  1. The earlier part of this story for Psychological Index, Psychological Abstracts, and PsycINFO is told in this article.

    Benjamin, L. T., Jr., & VandenBos, G. R. (2006). The window on psychology’s literature: A history of Psychological Abstracts. American Psychologist, 61, 941-954.

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