Running with CD-ROM; Can Libraries Keep Up with the Magical, Mega-Data Disk? Here's Help from an Industry Analyst on Who, What, and How

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Running With CD-ROM

Look at the topical distribution of available CD-ROM titles given in the box. Some 97 titles in 21 categories are identified. Of these, 25 or 25 percent are in the "Library" category. The second-rank categories, "Medicine & Biology" and "Demonstration Only," have just half the titles.

Library Corporation's Bibliofile may have been one of the world's first commercial CD-ROM products. OCLC and the Research Libraries Group have CD-ROM products in mind. The Western Library Network has announced that its catalog will be issued on CD-ROM early in 1987. CD-ROM publications are headed onto campuses and all types of libraries; vendors are knocking at the door. Faculty, staff, students, patrons, and senior administrators will soon be making assertive inquiries, just as they did when micro-computers were introduced. Even if a decision is made to defer acquiring CD-ROM systems and products, that decision will have to be defended.

Needs assessment

The usual planning litany applies to CD-ROM: What are the immediate information needs and opportunities? What will they be in five years? What should our priorities be, measured against cost, resource enrichment, improved access, and so on. Which features of CD-ROM might address these? Where and why is CD-ROM clearly inappropriate?

If needs assessment is a perpetual activity in your organization, you are already ahead of the game. If not, find a staff member who is or can become interested an CD-ROM, and designate her or him as CD-ROM projects coordinator on whatever released-time basis you can afford. Find the resources for at least a small project to evaluate your information resource needs and opportunities against CD-ROM's potential. For now, focus on the medium's fundamental characteristics, not on the few titles available.

Systems options

Today's market offers several ways for customers to acquire a CD-ROM system. For example, you could buy or lease a complete system from the product vendor along with the information product. Or you could purchase just a system from a systems vendor, such as Reference Technology, Inc. You might also choose to buy the system components and integrate them yourself. Though this option might be an attractive one a year from now, when standardized systems and information products become more generally available, I wouldn't recommend it at present.

Getting a head start on understanding system requirements and options will pay off handsomely when the time comes to procure them. You will also begin to get an idea of current prices and price trends, which will improve your bargaining position.

Your Staff CD-ROM specialist should begin to find out who is offering which CD-ROM publications, and on what terms. Some products are sold outright, others are rented or leased year-by-year, others are bundled with systems on a lease or subscription basis. If your needs assessment identifies a potential CD-ROM product now available in another medium, query the provider. Market intelligence is precious. You may be able to influence what becomes available.

Products Investigation

By all means, seize every opportunity to see CD-ROM product demonstration. In sizing up systems and this new medium, there is no substitute for hands-on experience.

For specific products, a good starting point is "Laserdisk Directory" by Union College Reference Librarian Bruce Connolly, in the June and July 1986 issues of Data-base magazine.

Another useful source is The Optical/Electronic Publishing Directory: 1986 (Carmel Valley, California: Information Arts, Post Office Box 1032, Carmel Valley, CA 93924, 1986, 110 p., looseleaf, $40).

The CD-ROM Sourebook (Linda W. Helgerson and Martin G. Ennis, eds., Diversified Data Resources, Inc., 6609 Rosecroft Pl., Falls Church, VA, looseleaf annual with monthly updates) is a more complete and current guide, but a more expensive one at $250 for an annual subscription. …