WinSPIRS: SilverPlatter Information Retrieval System for Windows - version 5

WinSPIRS is the Windows-based software for searching databases distributed by the SilverPlatter company.

With WinSPIRS you can access the following databases on the ERL Server of the ITG Library:

  • ITG Book & Document Holdings
  • ITG Student Dissertations
  • ITG Serial Holdings
  • ITG Report Holdings
  • ITG Video Holdings

  • ITG Staff Publications
  • Medical Literature on Central Africa
  • Ann Soc Belg Med Trop (1920-1995)
  • Ebola/Marburg Virus Disease Literature
  • Tropical Endemic Diseases Control
  • Health Care in Developing Countries
  • Library and Information Science
Note: These databases can also be accessed on the World Wide Web at "" using the WebSPIRS interface. Remember that the default username "guest" will give access to the catalogs and databases produced by the ITG Library only. In order to get access to all the databases available from the ITG Library ERL Server you need to use other username/password combinations reserved for ITG staff members only (for more information, call the library at tel. "244" or e-mail at "").

The following aspects of database searching will be discussed:

In this short manual only the basic functionalities of the WinSPIRS software are dealt with. To obtain more extensive information, consult the <Help> (<F1>) module.


Start up the system

Using WinSPIRS implies prior installation of the necessary program files on your local PC. For information on technical requirements and installation procedures click on
Accessing the ITG Library ERL Database Server.

To start the system, click on the "c:\winspirs\winspirs.exe" program file or its shortcut icon on your desktop. The system will automatically log into the ITG Library ERL Database Server using a valid username/password combination. A selection box with all available databases appears. Most databases are represented by a single menu item, but some consist of several sections. All database(section)s can be searched individually as well as in any combination. You can select different databases simultaneously. Select the database part(s) of your choice from the upper window by clicking on them and pressing the <vvAddvv> button, or by simply doubleclicking on them. The selected database part(s) then appear in the lower window. When your selection is complete, press the <OK> button. First a database description, credits and disclaimer screen appears (if more than one database has been selected, descriptions of these databases can be displayed using the <Next> and <Previous> buttons); press the <OK> button.


Basic commands and help functions

The basic WinSPIRS commands are very easy to use. You need only a few commands to successfully search the databases, display and print bibliographic references. These are either active on the current screen, or can be accessed through specific buttons. There are generally two ways to activate the commands:
  1. Use the buttons and menus at the top and the bottom of the screen.
  2. Use the shortcut function keys.

<Help> or <F1>

  • WinSPIRS features an extensive help module for software utilization, available from the <Help> menu.
  • The CABI databases have a database-specific <Guide>, which currently is not yet available for the ITG Library databases.
  • Anywhere context-sensitive pop-up help screens can be requested via <F1>.
  • To get a survey of the available fields, use the drop down menu <Help>, <Guide> (when available, or <Utilities>, <Fields to Search...>.
The default screen contains three (white coloured) data windows:
  • In the upper one you type your search requests.
  • The middle one shows the search requests you have used so far during the current session.
  • The lower one displays the records retrieved by the current search request.
Both the middle and the lower data windows can be enlarged using the display buttons at the bottom right of the screen.


<Searches> or <F2>: searching the database(s)

Retrieval is the default action: if you type a term and click on the <Search> button the system will inform you in how how many "Records" this term occurs in the database, irrespective of the field(s) it is found in. Each request constitutes a separate set, indicated by the symbol "#". These sets are kept until the end of the session. When the retrieval sets no longer fit on the window you can navigate clicking on the elevator cage (or by dragging it) at the right end of the Search History windows or by using the <PgUp> and <PgDn> keys or the <Up> and <Down> arrows. Sets you no longer need can be deleted using <F12> or the <Clear...> button). Display features will be discussed later.

The following retrieval aspects will be discussed:

Basic searching techniques

  • The system retrieves search terms literally, as they are typed, but does not distinguish between lower and upper case.

  • Diacritics are interpreted as standard characters: "e" = "è" = "é"; "zaire" = "zaïre"; etc. But for the stability of the system, it is preferrable not to use these diacriticals in search formulations. So use "e" instead of "è", "é", "ê" or "ë"; "a" instead of à", á", "â", "ä" ou "å", etc.

  • Truncation: WinSPIRS does not feature automatic truncation. Use the symbol "*" if you wish to apply truncation. E.g. "schistosom*" finds "schistosoma", "schistosoma-haematobium", "schistosoma-japonica", "schistosoma-mansoni", "schistosomiases", "schistosomiasis", "schistosomose", etc.
    Take care: using truncation with short strings or popular stems can lengthen retrieval times substantially, as a great number of words need then to be combined. The more specific a search formulation, the faster results are found.

  • Masking: question marks ("?") can be used to replace one or zero characters within a word. In this way "h?ematology" retrieves both "hematology" and "haematology".

  • Remember that in all our databases only English keywords are used. E.g. "tuberculosis" instead of "tuberculose". The same goes for all software elements: commands, prepositions and operators. However, French and Spanish versions of the WinSPIRS interface are also available (use the menu item <Options>, <Language Options...>; you will need to restart the system).


<Index> or <F5>: searching via alphabetical index

The system displays an alphabetical list of indexed terms ("Entry"), and indicates how many times these terms are used ("Occs" or "occurrences") and in how many different "Records" within the selected database(s). It is obvious that the number of occurrences can be far higher than the number of records, but it can never be lower. Such indexes have the advantage that your attention is automatically drawn to different ways of spelling or alphabetically closely related alternatives.

By default the <Free Text Index> is presented, comprising most of the 'data' fields like "Title", "Author(s)", "Publisher", "Keywords", "Abstract", etc. With the <Change...> button alternative field indexes can be accessed: "Language", "Publication year", "Journal name", "Country of publication", etc. From these index-extracts terms can be selected to use for actual searching by clicking on the <Search> button.

Field-specific retrieval

Searching for authors

  • Add the preposition "IN" and the field code "AU" (Author) to the search term. E.g. "finegold IN AU".
    In the databases offered by the ITG Library most author names consist of a last name and one or more initials, both groups separated by a hyphen ("-"). E.g. "Harrison-TWA". Author names with more elements have more than one hyphen. E.g. "Van-der-Stuyft-P" or "Garcia-Lopez-C".

  • Use the alphabetic "Author" <Index> (<F5>). This may draw your attention to unexpected initials variations. No matter how certain you may be of an author's name, many are not true to one format. Chances are that "Robert A. Smith" has published the paper you are looking for as "Smith-R" or "Smith-RAT". Don't forget to use the hyphens.

Searching for journals titles

  • Add the preposition "IN" and the field codes "JN", "JA" or "SO" (Source) to the search term. E.g. "N-Engl-J-Med IN SO".

    Take care: different databases may use different codes and field names for journal names and abbreviations. One of the following should give satisfying results:

    • JN: Journal name.
    • JA: Journal abbreviation (Index Medicus style).
    • SO: Source = Journal abbreviation + Year of publication + Volume + Issue + Pages cited.

  • Use the alphabetic "Journal name" or "Journal abbreviation" <Index> (<F5>). Don't forget to use the hyphens. Again, this may draw your attention to unexpected formats. Generally, when a specific journal is available in the local library, this is indicated explicitly in the bibliographic record (in the "*LHM field).

Searching for keywords

  • Keywords: add the preposition "IN" and the database-specific subject field code to the search term:
    • ITG Library databases: use KW (Keywords). E.g. "tuberculosis IN KW".
    • CABI databases: use SU (subject headings), DE (descriptors), OD (organism descriptors) or GE (geographic names). E.g. "schistosomiasis IN DE", "mali IN GE".

  • During display, keywords (and other terms) can automatically be added to the searches: select them with the mouse and activate the <Add to Search> button.


  • Remember that information on a specific subject will generally also be included in more comprehensive publications, without this being explicitly mentioned in the title or keyword fields. E.g. a review article with the keywords "protozoal-diseases" will probably contain relevant information on both "malaria", "amebiasis", "trypanosomiasis", "chagas-disease", "leishmaniasis", "giardiasis", "toxoplasmosis" and many other diseases, even if the names of these diseases do not feature systematically as separate keywords.

  • Also remember that synonyms of the concept you are searching for may prove far better search terms. E.g. use "schistosomiasis" instead of "bilharziasis"; use "trypanosomiasis, african" instead of "sleeping-sickness", or use "dracunculiasis" instead of "guinea-worm-disease".

  • For CABI databases, the most efficient way of using keywords is to access the <Thesaurus>. Apart from its "explode" capacities, the thesaurus features an alphabetic mapping system that may help you find the appropriate term.

  • A final way of finding useful keywords is using the <Suggest> button. The system automatically selects search terms which appear to be related to the ones you have entered. While many of the results may not be very helpful, generally a number of useful items will appear.


<Thesaurus> or <F9>: using the hierarchical keyword structure

The thesaurus is a controlled hierarchical structure defining the keywords and their mutual relations. Accessing the thesaurus is a step by step procedure:
  • After typing a term and clicking on the <Look Up> button, the system first displays an alphabetical list of permuted keywords ("Permuted Index"), starting with the thesaurus item closest to the term you entered. At this stage automatic truncation and mapping are active.

  • From this list one can switch to the hierarchical keyword structure by just double-clicking on the selected term, or clicking on the <Term Information> button. The upper part of the window displays extensive information about the keywords, their history and related terms. The bottom half displays its position within the total structure. Not all levels are immediately visible, but the number of subdivisions is indicated. One can navigate to higher or lower levels by simply double-clicking on them.

  • When search terms feature one or more narrower terms (subdivisions) one can choose to retrieve only this individual search term (<Single Term>) or to retrieve both the search term and all hierarchically lower level items (<Explode>). E.g. "explode africa, western" = "africa, western + benin + burkina faso + cote d'ivoire + gambia + ghana + guinea + guinea-bissau + liberia + ... ", etc. To activate the search, click on <Search Now>.

  • Subheadings Selection: e.g. "epidemiology", "drug therapy". Subheadings make the keywords far more specific, but using them increases the risk of missing articles which may also be relevant. Therefore it may be better to select <ALL - Apply All Subheadings> and afterwards limit the results while viewing the whole set (using <Mark>) or by combining it with additional keywords. Click on <OK> to activate the thesaurus search.


  • Individual thesaurus terms may have been recently adopted. Using them with older database sections may therefore fail to yield results. Always check the thesaurus term history and definition.

  • The ITG Library databases do not feature a thesaurus.

  • When different databases are selected, the <Thesaurus> button may become inactivated, even if several of the databases do have a thesaurus module.


Combining two search terms

Different search terms (or search sets) can be combined:
  • "AND": section: both term1 and term2. E.g. "aids AND tuberculosis".

  • "OR": union: term1 or term2 or both term1 and term2. E.g. "rwanda OR burundi".

  • "NOT": exclusion: term1 but not term2. E.g. "mycobacterium NOT tuberculosis"

  • The following are special cases of the 'AND' operator, specifying the distance between both terms:
    • "WITH": term1 and term2 appear within the same field (e.g. together in the title or in the abstract).
    • "NEAR": term1 and term2 appear within the same sentence.
    • "NEAR3": term1 and term2 appear within the same sentence, but with a maximum of 3 words apart. Obviously, other numbers can be specified, e.g. 'NEAR2", "NEAR5", etc.
    • No operator is used: when 2 or more terms are entered without an operator (e.g. "sexually transmitted diseases"), the system not only looks for references in which both words appear (cf. "AND"), but also verifies whether they appear one immediately after the other, irrespective of internal order. This relation is much closer than " AND" and equivalent to "NEAR2".
    Remember that search terms and operators can be typed in both upper and lower case!

Combining more than two search terms or sets

Obviously, more than two terms can be combined.
  • Be sure to use brackets to specify the correct relationships. The following search requests give quite different results, the second being the most sensible:
    • "malaria OR cholera AND rwanda OR burundi"
    • "(malaria OR cholera) AND (rwanda OR burundi)"
    • "malaria OR (cholera AND rwanda) OR burundi"

  • Previously defined sets can also be combined. Be sure to include the "#" symbols (use the <Alt Gr> key), otherwise the cardinal number itself is searched in the database, not the set with that number. E.g. "(#1 OR #6) AND (#3 OR #5)".


Limiting retrieval results

This function is similar to the specification of fields: you limit the search to certain "values". WinSPIRS displays specific indexes for these limit fields, from which you can select the adequate items. When using the shortcut command mode these limit-field specifications can be entered before as well as after the search terms. Examples:

Limit to publication years

  • E.g. "malaria AND vietnam AND PY=2005"
    or: "malaria AND vietnam AND 2005 IN PY"
  • E.g. "ebola AND PY>1999"
  • E.g. "schistosomiasis AND PY=2003-2007"

Limit to language of publication

  • E.g. "(aids OR hiv) AND rwanda AND LA=FRENCH"
    or: "(aids OR hiv) AND rwanda AND FRENCH IN LA"

Limit to publication type

  • E.g. "leprosy IN KW AND PT=BOOK"
    or: "leprosy IN KW AND BOOK IN PT"
  • E.g. "cholera AND ecuador NOT PT=LETTER"
    or: "cholera AND ecuador NOT LETTER IN PT"


<Display> or <F4>: viewing records and evaluating search results


<Print> or <F6>: printing records

  • <Print Fields>: "As Shown" vs. "Default" vs. "User Selected" (using <Options...>).
  • <Print Range>: "Marked Records" vs. "All Displayed Records" vs. "Current Record [#1]" vs. "Records": user selected range. E.g. "2,5-9,11,14".
  • <Options>:
    • <Choose from these Fields/Fieldsets>: select fields to print by double-clicking on them in the lefthand window. E.g. "TI,TO,AU,SO,AB".
    • <Field Labels>: "Short Field Names" vs. "Long Field Names" vs. "No Field Names".
    • <Print Search History>.
    • <One Record Per Page>.
    • <Font...>: select "Font" and Size".
  • Sorting records and selecting only locally held titles are apparently only available in display mode, and should be applied before printing.


<Download> or <F11>: saving records

This is very much like printing records. Some extra parameters are used.
  • <File Name>: E.g. "download.txt" (the default "*.txt" extension is recommended for text fields).
  • <Directories> and <Drives>: e.g. "A:\", or "E:\TMP".
  • <Download Range>: "Marked Records" vs. "All Displayed Records" vs. "Current Record [#1]" vs. "Records": user selected range. E.g. "2,5-9,11,14".
  • <Download Fields>: "As Shown" vs. "Default" vs. "User-Selected" (using <Options...>).
  • <Options...>:
    • <Choose from these Fields/Fieldsets>: select fields to download by double-clicking on them in the lefthand window. E.g. "TI,TO,AU,SO,AB".
    • <Field Labels>: "Short Field Names" vs. "Long Field Names" vs. "No Field Names".
    • <Download Search History>.
    • <Download Record Numbers>.
  • Sorting records and selecting only locally held titles are apparently only available in display mode, and should be applied before printing.


<Database> or <F8>: changing databases

  • To change database(section)s: click on the <Database> button or press <F8>, after which the current database selection menu will reappear. Select one or more database(section)s by double-clicking on them and then clicking on the <OK> button.
    Take care: if you don't unmark previously selected databases, these will remain part of the new database selection.

  • As long as one does not leave the system, search formulations used on previous sections or databases can be used again. Take care: search sets refering to the thesaurus may not always function properly with other sections or databases.

  • To open other databases or sections without retaining search sets or formulations, use the <File>, <Restart> menu item or press <F7>.


<Exit>: leaving the system

To leave the system: select the <File>, <Exit>; menu or click on the 'close application' Windows button at the top right of the screen (<X>).