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Databases on CD-ROM: A Tale of Two ERICS

Article excerpt

Databases on CD-ROM: A Tale of Two Erics

ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center) is a computerized database for educators. It consists of the Current Index to Journals in Education file of article citations from over 750 professional journals and the Resources in Education file of document citations from sources such as conference proceedings and other unpublished works. ERIC is particularly valuable in keeping track of this latter type of "fugitive" literature.

Until recently, ERIC was available only online and only through mainframe-based vendors. University libraries and other institutions subscribed to the online database and provided search services for a fee. However, ERIC is now available on CD-ROM discs through a licensing agreement from a number of vendors.

The advantages to being able to access ERIC through CD-ROM discs rather than an online service include convenience and immediacy of data acquisition plus the independence it affords faculty and students in doing research.

The Players

At the University of North Texas, in Denton, Texas, our College of Education is considering the purchase of ERIC on CD-ROM.

Before going ahead, we took a comparative look at two ERIC-based products.

Two vendors who license ERIC on CD-ROM shipped us their products on a thirty-day trial basis. SilverPlatter Information, Inc. sent their Version 1.j and Dialog OnDisc sent Version 2.20. Our comparisons and evaluative comments are restricted to the on-disc functions only.

Components and Costs

Each product comes with floppy disks, either 5.25" or 3.5", containing the search/retrieval software, and a complete manual for installation procedures and reference.

SilverPlatter delivers ERIC on three CD-ROMs. The archival set is one disc covering the years 1966 through 1975 and another covering 1976 through 1982. The third, or current disc, covers 1983 through the most current update--which for us was September 1988. Initial cost for the archival set and current disc with quarterly updates for the first year is $1,200. Thereafter, quarterly updates of the current disc are $650 per year and annual updates are $390 per year.

Dialog supplies ERIC on two CD-ROMs, one covering the time period 1966 to 1979 and the current disc (ours went from 1980 through December 1988).

A major difference between the two products is that Dialog OnDisc allows users to shift to an online search of ERIC using the same search strategy as implemented on the CD-ROM version (provided the user has a modem and an account with Dialog). This feature likely accounts for Dialog OnDisc's considerably higher cost: The first-year, startup cost is $1,650; thereafter quarterly updates are $950. Dialog offers no provision for annual updates at a reduced cost.

User-Support Features

Both companies provide good manuals, though we feel there is room for improvement. Since both firms market databases other than ERIC their manuals are generic in that they try to cover all databases.

Nevertheless, we experienced no difficulty in installing either program following the outlined procedures. In each case it took us about an hour to be up and running.

Dialog's manual contains an excellent chapter devoted to the composition and functions of the ERIC database. However, we feel that SilverPlatter's on-disc support for users is slightly better.

The SilverPlatter program offers three different on-disc, user-support modules. Tutorial provides information relative to the keyboard and basic rudiments of searching. Guide is a comprehensive introduction to ERIC, explaining the database's composition and how it can be accessed. The Help function is context sensitive and provides details about the system's other functions and commands.

Dialog's on-disc help includes Database Description, a brief description of ERIC and Review Search Helps, which is a context-sensitive help feature used in their Easy Search Menu mode. …