Networked Resources

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Local Databases

Last month's column gave an overview of the many different types of databases found on the Internet. This month we focus on libraries with locally mounted databases.

Many libraries have produced local databases, or purchased tapes from database producers and mounted the files on their systems, to use their OPAC software for search and retrieval. This is particularly true of libraries using NOTIS' Multiple Database Access System (MDAS) software, although other vendors also provide this capability.

The advantage to the library is that it does not have to purcahse a separate retrieval program. The advantage to the user is that all databases on the system can be searched using the same commands as the library's OPAC.

The list of libraries that have mounted other databases using their OPAC software is extensive. For example, the University of California.s MELVYL system has Medline and Current Contents, the Colorado Association of Research Libraries (CARL) has Magazine Index and Trade & Industry Index, Texas A&M has a number of H.W. Wilson's periodical indexes, Indiana State University at Terre Haute has ERIC and some Wilson indexes, Loyola University of Chicago has four Wilson indexes, plus Medline and the Index to Legal Periodicals, and the University of Saskatchewan has PsychInfo, CINAHL, Humanities Index, Canadian Business and Current Affairs, and ERIC.

However, there is a problem for Internet users wishing to access these databases. In many cases licensing agreements with the database producer limit the use of commercial databases to local users. The main concerns of producers are loss of possible sales and downloading of massive amounts of data by anonymous remote users.

System managers can (and many do) restrict the number of remote users and the time of day they are allowed access. Most places do not want remote use during working hours when the system is busy. In many cases a limited number of remote users can access the system during off-peak hours when usage is light. As a result, remote use tends to be occasional and only a small portion of the total use.

Database producers are being unrealistic in expecting lost sales if remote access is allowed. No responsible organization would rely on the availability of a remote system in lieu of purchasing a commercial product or using a commercial service.

Remote databases are great for occasional queries, product evaluation and comparison, and educational/training purposes, but for regular use, most places would buy the database outright or use an online service such as DIALOG to access the database.

Downloading is an issue online services have struggles with for years. Like the record companies, database producers fear losing revenue from unauthorized copying.

Online services place a surtax on users by charging them for each citation, even if the user is not downloading (copying) the information. Record companies have long sought a similar surtax on blank tapes. The truth is that taping for individual purposes has not hurt the record companies profits and downloading has not, and will not, hurt the profits of database producers. Since reselling copyrighted downloaded data (like selling pirated tapes) is clearly illegal, there should be few problems policing corporate or individual behavior.

Users do download from online services (and copy CDs onto blank tapes), but they do it for their own use, and they continue to use online services (and buy more CDs). Restrictive policies and high prices keep many databases from wider exposure and higher use. In an endless cycle, these actions provide database producers with justification for their high prices and restrictive use policies.

Wilson Indexes

Despite these problems, there are several sites on the Internet that do provide remote access to locally mounted databases. …