Tapping Russia's Hidden Science

Scientists worldwide might soon be able to tap into one of Russia's best kept secrets: a wealth of research data in obscure institute libraries or samizdat publications. This "gray literature," as it's called, is a prize feature of a database now being assembled by the Russian-American Information, Library, and Analytical Center (RAILAC), a nonprofit organization that hopes to launch a service on the World Wide Web this summer.

RAILAC already has tapped into some 25,000 databases in Russia, a quarter of which maintain more than 100,000 records each and a third of which are devoted to science and technology. A key selling point of the project will be its searchable database of gray literature, says Yakov Shraiberg, first deputy director of the Russian National Public Library for Science and Technology, which is spearheading a consortium of 16 major Russian libraries. "It's almost impossible to find this information outside Russia," he says. On a test Web site, Shraiberg demonstrated to ScienceNOW how plugging in the key word "nuclear" pulled up some 200 abstracts, some of which are linked to papers "of which no more than 50 were ever even printed," he claims. RAILAC staff will fax full-length articles for an as-yet-undetermined fee.

For now, most of the information in RAILAC's database is in Russian. But Shraiberg and his colleagues have spent the last week in Washington, D.C., pitching the center to various funding bodies in the hopes of drumming up about $500,000 to pay for translation staff, digital links to database sources, and a U.S. mirror site to ease Web access.