Optical Storage and Retrieval of Library Material

Article excerpt

The Ruth H. Hooker Research Library and Technical Information Center of the Naval Research Laboratory has installed an optical disk system consisting of a Sony autochanger, Sun minicomputer, Sun workstations, TDC scanners, printers, personal computers, and various other peripherals. The system stores large portions of the library's collection on twelve-inch optical disks and can be expanded to allow retrieval over the campus network by the scientists of the Naval Research Laboratory. The first segment of the collection to be processed is a technical report collection consisting of 140,000 reports averaging fifty-five pages each. A third of this collection has currently been scanned to disk and is available for retrieval and on-demand printing by the library patron.

This paper describes the development of an optical disk storage capability at the Ruth H. Hooker Research library and Technical Information Center of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). Optical storage was selected for the preservation and maximum protection of the library's immensely valuable collection of technical reports. This collection represents results of research in the areas of physics and engineering since the beginning of the Second World War, and much of this information is unavailable from any other source.

Optical disk technology also provides a viable, sensible solution to many of the serious recurrent problems that plague librarians. The most striking advantage of optical storage is that it is a permanent solution to the space problem; no matter how you treat them, index them, or catalog them, paper products, film products, and so on take up space, and space costs money. Omitting the costs associated with filing, retrieving, and refiling reports, the savings to the NRL in overhead will be more than $100,000 a year when the entire unclassified report collection has been put on disk. Space requirements will drop from 3,600 square feet to only 144 square feet. Optical storage also saves money by eliminating all future filing. retrieving, and refiling associated with physical storage. A paper copy of an item can be printed at the touch of a key and never has to be refiled, since the archived copy remains on the disk. This technology presents a dream scenario in which a librarian can sit in a pleasant environment, identify a paper, report, or picture, and retrieve the item in seconds without leaving the area or the patron.

While the costs of equipment and conversion mandate careful consideration and planning for the implementation of optical storage and retrieval, these costs are not so great that smaller libraries are prohibited from taking advantage of this technology. Small turn-key units can be purchased at reasonable costs, and if libraries collaborate in the scanning, costs can be absorbed in the budgets of even the smaller establishments.

Optical disk technology exists today and is being applied both in the government and commercial sectors. For example, the Internal Revenue Service, which must deal with the phenomenal problem of storing income tax returns both from the private and industrial sectors, has several prototype optical disk storage and retrieval systems currently operational and several others in the planning stage.(1)

The giant insurance company United Services Automobile Association in San Antonio, Texas, has produced a practically paperless operation using optical disk technology; smaller insurance agencies are opting for this technology as well.(2)

The U.S. Navy's "paperless ship project" launched by Admiral Metcalf in 1987 is an undertaking that includes converting vast numbers of documents to optical storage.(3)

The list of those who are applying this technology is a long one and users and potential users may be found wherever there are large quantities of information to be stored.

Libraries are obvious beneficiaries, since by their very nature they are places where large quantities of information are stored in every kind of format: books, journals, maps, charts, film, and computer databases. …