ERIC Identifier: ED300032
Publication Date: 1988-05-00
Author: Schamber, Linda
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information Resources Syracuse NY.
The Novice User and CD-ROM Database Services. ERIC Digest.
CD-ROM is a new storage medium that can serve as a quick, economical source
of information for students, researchers, writers, and professionals in many
fields. This digest will address some commonly asked questions that beginning or
novice users may have about CD-ROM database services.
WHAT IS CD-ROM?
CD-ROM is a form of optical disk or
laserdisk technology that is similar to the popular digital audio compact disk,
or CD. As their name implies, CDs are written to and read by the concentrated
light beam of a laser. The laser creates tiny pits, representing bits of
digitized information, on the plastic surface of the disk. An optical disk can
contain information in any form, including audio, video, text, graphics, or a
combination. Unlike magnetic media (audio and videotapes, floppy and hard
computer disks), optical disks are almost error-free and indestructible.
CD-ROM is a compact disk with read-only memory: information stored on it
cannot be changed. The most conspicuous advantage of CD-ROM is its large storage
capacity. One disk with 550 megabyte capacity can store 220,000 pages of text,
or the equivalent of about 1,500 floppy disks. Used with a microcomputer, CD-ROM
greatly expands the microcomputer's ability to deliver information in an
interactive environment. CD-ROM databases can be accessed directly by users,
thus freeing them from the necessity of consulting (and paying) an expert to do
online mainframe searches. Information from many CD-ROM databases can be
downloaded to floppy disk for later use with a word processor or other software,
or printed on paper.
CD-ROM does have several disadvantages. Its greatest drawback is that
information cannot be added or erased by the user. And CD-ROM still does not
have the storage capacity to handle full-text documents in very large databases:
many are indexes containing citations with abstracts. A number of databases are
updated monthly or quarterly, but for current information such as news, this may
not be sufficient. And while CD-ROM is capable of storing mixed media, most
publishers offer text because text requires the least storage space. Full-motion
video is not yet economical. Finally, the hardware does not allow a full range
of flexibility and compatibility for those who wish to use more than one CD-ROM
WHAT DATABASES ARE AVAILABLE?
CD-ROM versions of nearly all
popular reference sources are showing up in libraries, schools, colleges, and
professional institutions. One of the earliest (1985) and most popular products
is Grolier's Electronic Encyclopedia, which packs the entire text of the
20-volume The Academic American Encyclopedia onto one CD-ROM. An impressive
resource for writers is Microsoft Bookshelf, which contains 10 classic reference
books on one CD-ROM. These include a dictionary, thesaurus, spellchecker,
almanac, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, the Chicago Manual of Style, and a
zip-code directory. Other CD-ROM products include InfoTrac II (Information
Access Company), with listings from The New York Times Index and many other
newspapers and magazines, and the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature (H.W.
Wilson). Two visual resources are Facts on File Visual Dictionary (Facts on
File) and On the World (GEOVISION). On the World contains maps and lets the user
create graphics, symbol overlays, and text. Substantial portions of enormous
reference and research databases for business, law, medical and life sciences,
social sciences, and engineering and hard sciences are available on CD-ROM,
sometimes from more than one publisher.
IS CD-ROM DIFFICULT TO USE?
Most novices find CD-ROM easy
and fun to use. Microsoft Bookshelf, for example, operates like a desktop
utility. The writer uses just a few keystrokes to display a menu of reference
books across the top of the screen, open a "window" for the desired resource,
find the information (such as a zip code) and, if desired, download the
information directly into the text he or she is writing. Using many CD-ROM
databases, however, requires learning some basic computer searching skills.
Fortunately, most CD-ROM search software allows users to develop these skills
naturally as they access information. Help is available through help screens and
printed manuals. Many publishers also offer onscreen or print, and toll-free
Usually the search proceeds through a series of menus, beginning with choices
of search fields, such as author, title, or subject. Users type in keywords and
the system tells them how many items in the database contain those words. They
call up and read the items and, again using menus, decide whether to print the
information they want or download (save) it on a floppy or hard disk for later
editing with a word processor. As users become more accustomed to searching,
they can begin to use more sophisticated functions. For instance, they can use
partial words as search terms (truncation), impose conditions such as "and,"
"or," or "not" (Boolean operators) between search terms, or combine different
search fields in a single query. The software also offers different ways to
browse through the indexes or the database itself. The new Grolier's illustrated
encyclopedia, for example, has a hypertext feature that allows the user who is
curious about a highlighted term in the text to access a definition or
Novice users who are already familiar with computers and with library
searching will find it easier to learn to search a CD-ROM. The tendency is
usually to retrieve too much information: users must be able first to state
their requests in specific terms, then to manage and synthesize the information
they obtain. Institutions that have installed CD-ROM systems have found that
another tendency is to rely too much on the CD-ROM database and forget that (1)
other, traditional, reference sources are available, and (2) the library may not
have all the materials described in an index database. Finally, one drawback of
searching CD-ROMs is that not all search programs are created equal: users who
access more than one database may need to adjust their skills for different
HOW MUCH DOES CD-ROM COST?
A CD-ROM system can easily cost
thousands of dollars. Disks run from a low end of about $200, to $2,000 or more
for specialized research databases. Databases that are available on a
subscription basis include regular updates and require the payment of an annual
licensing fee. Minimum hardware requirements are a microcomputer and a CD-ROM
drive. An interface card placed inside the computer connects it with the CD-ROM
drive. Many systems call for IBM or compatible microcomputers with hard drives
and at least 512K capacity, and most users also want color monitors and
printers. Some research is necessary: not all CD-ROM drives read all CD-ROMs,
and none read audio CDs. CD-ROM drives are sold at typical computer,
electronics, and department stores. Package deals, including equipment leases
and upgrade kits, are available. Microsoft, for example, is working on an
agreement with Sears to sell its Bookshelf product with a CD-ROM drive for about
While these costs may be discouraging for the individual, there is a bright
side. Libraries and schools, which tend to find CD-ROM more convenient and less
expensive than online searching and printed materials, are offering CD-ROM
services for little or no charge. They also offer personal assistance in the
form of librarians or instructors. This allows the novice user to become
familiar with the technology before making a purchase. In the meantime, new
products are being developed, existing products improved, and prices coming down
in this highly competitive market.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF CD-ROM?
As enthusiastic as users have
been toward CD-ROM and other optical disk technologies, the most exciting news
is yet to come. Designers are currently developing media that can be written to
and erased, including WORM (write once-read many) and DRAW (direct read after
write). They are also exploring ways to increase the capacity of compact disks
further, which would allow storage of more full-text databases such as
newspapers. New chips compress audio and video data, thus making it more
feasible to combine graphics and text for user-generated documents, desktop
publishing, and presentation graphics, and to offer more full-motion video.
Greater storage space increases the potential for more powerful software,
including highly interactive programs, natural language interfaces, and
artificial intelligence. Research efforts include CD-I (compact disk
interactive) and DVI (digital video interactive).
Databases are only the beginning. Optical disk applications include education
and training at all levels from kindergarten to corporation. With enhanced
interactivity and creative combinations of text, audio, and video, education in
general will become more like entertainment. Children, for instance, will teach
themselves reading and math skills while playing "games" with joysticks. Other
products include intelligent games and simulations, drawing and painting,
filming and animation, musical composition, and of course much improved
capabilities for document writing and data analysis.
Inconveniences of current CD-ROM systems are being addressed. "Jukeboxes" now
allow users to access many disks without manually changing them, and "daisy
chains" allow more than one drive to be linked together. Hardware in general
will become more standardized, less expensive, and more transportable.
Multipurpose CD players will be able to stand alone without microcomputers.
Portable units in cars, for instance, will provide maps and tourist information,
mechanical diagnostics, and music.
While optical disk technologies are still very young--audio CDs were
introduced in 1982 and CD-ROMs in 1984--their potential is revolutionary. New
products are being marketed so fast that almost the only way to keep up is to
read articles and advertisements in periodicals such as Byte Magazine, CD-ROM
Review, Database, Electronic and Optical Publishing Review, Optical Information
Systems, and PC World. Product reviews and publisher directories also appear in
professional journals for educators, library and information specialists, and
researchers in areas including management, law, economics, medicine, and
Becker, Karen A. CD-ROM: A PRIMER. C&RL News, 48(7), July/August 1987,
388-399. Dodson, Carolyn. CD-ROMS FOR THE LIBRARY. Special Libraries, 78(3),
Summer 1987, 191-194.
Gallinger, Susan. CD-ROM TECHNOLOGY EXPANDS INFORMATION
DELIVERY IN PUBLIC LIBRARIES: USING INFOTRAC II. Optical Information Systems,
7(6), November/December 1987, 391-395.
Hlava, Marjorie M. K. and Reinke, Susan
P. CD-ROM: HOW THE USERS REACT. Bulletin of the American Society for Information
Science, 14(1), October/November 1987, 23-24.
Lambert, Steve and Ropiequet,
Suzanne, eds. CD ROM: The NEW PAPYRUS. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press, 1986.
McGinty, Tony. THREE TRAILBLAZING TECHNOLOGIES FOR SCHOOLS. Electronic Learning,
7(1), September 1987, 26-30.
McManus, R. THE REFERENCE ROM. PC World, 5(4),
April 1987, 236-239.
Miller, David C. CD ROM JOINS THE NEW MEDIA HOMESTEADERS.
Educational Technology, 27(3), March 1987, 33-35.
Miller, David C. EVALUATING
CDROMS: TO BUY OR WHAT TO BUY? Database, 10(3), June 1987, 36-42.
EARLY USER REACTION TO CD-ROM AND VIDEODISC-BASED OPTICAL INFORMATION PRODUCTS
IN THE LIBRARY MARKET. Optical Information Systems, 7(3), May-June 1987,
Pearce, Karla J. CD-ROM: CAVEAT EMPTOR. Library Journal, 113(2),
February 1, 1988, 37-38.
Peters, Charles. DATABASES ON CD-ROM: COMPARATIVE
FACTORS FOR PURCHASE. Electronic Library, 5(3), June 1987, 154-160.
Shannon Smith. REFLECTIONS ON CD-ROM: BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN TECHNOLOGY AND
PURPOSE. Special Libraries, 78(4), Fall 1987, 288-294.
Stewart, Linda. PICKING
CD-ROMS FOR PUBLIC USE. American Libraries, 18(9), October 1987, 738-740.
Vandergrift, Kay E., Kemper, Marlyn, Champion, Sandra, and Hannigan, Jane Anne.
CD-ROM: PERSPECTIVES ON AN EMERGING TECHNOLOGY. School Library Journal, 33(10),
June/July 1987, 27-31.