Early last month the venerable Energy Technology Data Exchange (ETDE) abandoned its access restrictions for using ETDEWEB, a massive database of technical documents and reference links. The US Department of Energy’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information (DOE/OSTI) operates ETDEWEB for ETDE and Debbie Cutler manages that effort. She is also the ETDE Operating Agent Representative, as well as the DOE/OSTI International Program Manager. I interviewed Debbie about the change and where ETDEWEB is going.

Q: What briefly are ETDE and ETDEWEB? ETDE has been around for a long time, right?

A: ETDE stands for the Energy Technology Data Exchange, which began officially in 1987. ETDE is a multinational information exchange where participating countries and partners share their research results related to energy, technology and policy. ETDE falls under the framework of the International Energy Agency (the IEA). The information that countries and partners provide becomes part of ETDEWEB – the ETDE World Energy Base. ETDEWEB has almost 5 million metadata references (to reports, papers, journal articles, books, multimedia and more) and recently reached a milestone of over 500,000 full text documents/resources on site, ready for viewing and downloading. Another roughly 1.5 million citations have links to where the article can be obtained from the publisher or originator.

Q: ETDEWEB is now open to all. How is this different from before as far as users are concerned?

A: ETDEWEB debuted in 1999. Database access was limited to only people in member countries, and to get access, users had to register. In 2004, ETDE’s member countries expanded access to a small list of developing countries, which increased over time. Easier authentication methods were deployed in recent years which allowed users to gain access without needing to register. Then, the momentous decision to allow access to anyone was made in 2013, with implementation of this decision November 1st.

Q: How did this decision come about? Was it related to the open access movement?

A: One of ETDE’s mandates has always been to collect and disseminate targeted energy-related information. The open access movement has been a wonderful development, and ETDE has benefited greatly from more information being available in electronic form, and more freely available to a wider user community. But the sheer growth of the Internet has been a double-edged sword for information entities such as ETDE that have relied on a funding and labor-intensive submission model. While the movement did not directly lead to ETDE’s decision to open access more widely, it did play a role. Although open access policies have evolved in a very positive way, there are still challenges in finding much of the information that is out there. In my personal view, funding entities seem to have ignored the challenges and used open access as a reason to cut back on activities traditionally associated with information collection and dissemination. ETDE has seen many of its members’ library and information budgets cut or whole departments abolished. The burden of finding information is left to scientists and engineers to sift through the good or not so good results.  At its policy meeting in Norway this year, ETDE delegates re-affirmed the value of what ETDE does – connect users with good information. If ETDE is to survive, its database system must itself be free and open to the public and much less expensive for members to participate.

Q: ETDEWEB is something of a hybrid, combining gray literature reports with journal articles. How is that done? I think it is a great idea by the way. Research reports can be as useful as journal articles and the two serve somewhat different purposes.

A: ETDE’s philosophy has always been a hybrid mix. Thanks for agreeing that the idea is a worthwhile one. We have thought that the type of document or the media used for transmission was not so important as the information conveyed. So, our members routinely looked at many sources, which admittedly, added to their collection costs. You are right, too, that the purpose of each publication type is often different, as is the intended audience. Sometimes there are some hidden jewels in the reports (usually also including more of the data) that there is not room for such content in a given journal publishers’ format.  You may also find that there is some duplication of items at times in the database. If the research was reported in different avenues, it may be that some were more accessible to different audiences.

Q: What is OSTI’s role in ETDEWEB? How is it funded?

A: OSTI serves as both the delegate organization for the United States as well as its ‘Operating Agent (OA)’ or managing entity. As the OA, OSTI manages ETDE, directed by the ETDE Executive Committee or ExCo. The ExCo is made up of delegates from each member organization. OSTI’s Associate Director, Brian Hitson, currently serves as ETDE Chair. I have served as the OA Representative since the early 1990’s. As OA, all of the information for the database from members and partners flows into OSTI for processing and addition to ETDEWEB, an OSTI creation based on its expertise gained in developing other popular OSTI public systems. The previous authentication and account registration aspects added complexity and also influenced ETDEWEB’s visibility. We are hoping the recent changes will give us an opportunity to be more visible and also lessen costs. Our funding model has been a combined cost- and task-sharing endeavor. Each member shares in contributing to a common fund to run ETDE and also gathers and submits information for inclusion in ETDEWEB. No one country alone could have built what the collective ETDE has.

Q: OSTI is developing the PAGES system to collect and provide access to journal articles based on DOE funding. Is there a potential link to ETDEWEB here?

A: As ETDE too will be seeing some changes, it is a little too early to see how systems will complement each other.  Most likely, ETDE will look to federate portals among relevant federal agencies, particularly those offering access to federally-funded journal articles, as that prospect offers wonderful opportunities to provide patrons access to such content around the globe.

Q: Any other ETDEWEB innovations in the pipeline?

A: As alluded to in the questions above, ETDE will be seeing some changes beyond the open access. As an agreement, ETDE faces a renewal process at least every 5 years, as part of the IEA procedures. Policymakers can decide to stay or go, and ExCo meetings determine how and what direction ETDE will take given circumstances and resulting budgets. 2014 brings a new renewal period for ETDE and a committed group of members do plan to continue. But the model for collecting and disseminating ETDE’s information will be changing. Expect to see a more dynamic system along the lines of – possibly called ETDEWEB content will be a key underlying component to the system, but for database additions, ETDE will mostly rely on member-identified key sources for new content to search. This considerably reduces the task- and cost-sharing components for member participation and we hope it will lead to many new countries considering membership. Translation capabilities are a key feature of the new system that delegates are particularly excited about soon being able to offer their users. Stay tuned for further developments.


3 Thoughts on "ETDEWEB Is Now Open To All"

ETDEWEB sounds a lot like expanded to the international level. I was on the founding committee of, and can confirm one of the main goals was to expose much of the gray literature, such as contractor reports, to public searches. Both efforts were spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Energy, so how does ETDEWEB relate to

We tend to use the term, “gray literature” in a pejorative sense, implying inferior quality. However, many data reports and accounts of public meetings, while unlikely to make their way into traditional journals, nevertheless form a foundation for serious studies. Other “gray” contractor reports may cover models and experimental efforts in far more detail than a journal would want to show. I applaud the efforts of the U.S. Department of Energy to make gray literature more readily visible.

Hi, Ken,
Thanks for your observations. You are right to guess that there is a connection, in that both systems have OSTI in common. There already is an international analog to called, which OSTI was also instrumental in getting started after the success of You could think of ETDE (soon to be as a more narrowly-focused ETDE does strive to bring out the gray literature in its database, but it has largely not been so well known, largely due to access limitations (in my opinion). We have had a small segment of the database indexed in Google Scholar, which helped a little; there are positive signs just today, prompted by this article, that this may soon broaden, too. With, we plan to use similar techniques to what and use to crawl websites or search ‘Deep Web’ resources. ETDEWEB information will be the largest of many eventual decentralized additional sources. There are a lot of synergies ETDE has been able to benefit from, thanks to OSTI’s experience, partners, and countries’ willingness to try a new model. Like, will operate on a cost-recovery type of business model, with member countries financially supporting its operation.

Thanks to my experience with OSTI, I have argued that the gray literature may be just as important as the journal articles, as far as scientific communication is concerned. Research reports tend to have much more information, sometimes ten times more, because there are no page limits. See —

As for the dynamite portal, I have a brief review of it here:

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