Directory Assistance on FirstSearch: Prospects and Potential

Article excerpt

This paper highlights the advantages in using the Pro CD database on FirstSearch. It also identifies some weaknessesfor business use and the constraints caused by the system. We provide guidelines and searching tips that will aid in maximum retrieval, usefulness of results, and cost-effectiveness.

There are a number of electronic phone directories on the market, giving buyers an opportunity to choose products that closely match their specific information needs and searching abilities.[1] Most of these products, however, are CD-ROM-based and are not accessible from remote locations or through World Wide Web access for end-user searching. Select Phone was among the first of such products to emerge on FirstSearch, providing full end-user searching capability at an affordable price.

FirstSearch is OCLC's online reference system designed for end-user searching. It provides access to more than fifty databases in numerous subject areas. Because of its flexibility, FirstSearch offers all of the advantages of CD-ROM systems and locally mounted databases with no complicated installation, maintenance, and updating procedures.

Pro CD, previously called Select Phone, was introduced on FirstSearch in 1995. In the spring of 1996, the Pro CD database was split into two new databases on FirstSearch: Pro CD Biz and Pro CD Home.

Pro CD Biz contains approximately fifteen million records of white page listings of businesses mainly from printed phone directories in the United States and is updated quarterly. Pro CD Home contains approximately eighty million records of residential white page listings and is updated semiannually. Both databases are compiled from U.S. telephone directories.[2]

The business database offers the following access points for finding businesses: business and personal names (for select businesses that may use residential phones for business purposes), city, state, zip code, area code, telephone number, and Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes or SIC subject headings. In addition it provides keyword searching and general subject searching in business names and city.

The residential database is searchable by business and personal name (for select businesses that may use residential phones for business purposes), city, state, zip code, area code, and telephone number. In addition, it provides liceyword searching and general subject searching in business names and city.

These databases, housed on the FirstSearch system, are intended for end-user searching. However, it is our experience that there is a need to introduce users to the basics of records and fields and to field searching capabilities using Boolean and proximity operators in searching. Such databases also require training to gain maximum benefits in retrieval and to cut costs, especially when using the per-search pricing option on the FirstSearch system.

This study will attempt to highlight the advantages in using Pro CD on FirstSearch. It will also identify weaknesses in applying the system for business use. In addition, it will provide guidelines and searching tips that will aid in maximum retrieval, usefulness of results, and cost-effectiveness.

Advantages in Using Electronic Telephone Directories

Several advantages to using telephone directories in electronic format have been identified in the literature. These include the provision of many access points, ease of use, search and retrieval capability, and the ability to search over wide geographic areas and to manipulate the information found. Quinley,[3] Foss,[4] Tafel,[5] Boettcher and Kingman,[6] and Ernest, Beam and Monath,[7] have identified other reasons for using electronic telephone directories. Among these are: ease in finding specific telephone numbers, business addresses, or residential addresses; ease in acquiring information on local hotels, motels, restaurants, dentists, doctors, universities, and car rental agencies; utility in finding an individual business or information for sales prospecting or market research; assistance in locating businesses in a particular area for identifying best prices, best services, and so on; and use as a crisscross directory. …