For Undergrads: InfoTrac Magazine Index Plus or Wilsondisc with Readers' Guide & Humanities Index? A Library Takes the CD-ROM Taste Test and Finds Some Tastes Split Down the Middle

Article excerpt

JUST A YEAR AGO THE QUEStion prompted by CD-ROM reference systems was, "Will we?" Today it is, "Which one?" Last fall, Sweet Briar College simultaneously evaluated the InfoTrac MAGAZINE INDEX Plus Sys_ tem arid the WILSONDISC- using the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature and the Humanities index discs. We were searching for a reference system that would bring new speed and thoroughness to student searches for articles in magazines and journals.

Prior to the CD-ROM trials, our students used microfilm and print indexes such as IAC's niicrofilm Magazine Index and the Wilson Readers' Guide. A few students have been taking advantage of a class in online searching, in which they learn to search the remote databases on Dialog Information Services. For the CD-ROM trial, however, we had to assume that more than 90 percent of our library patrons would not have online searching skills.

We have a very active microcomputing section in our library where students are encouraged to use word processing, spreadsheet, database, and other highly beneficial software programs, so we assume that the majority of our student population is computer literate. We, therefore, expected students to use computers without reluctance in their literature searches.

Side-by-side evaluation

We placed the two CD-ROM systems within a yard of each other in our main campus library We offered virtually no training on either system, preferring to depend on the instruction aids each vendor had provided. Our library staff members did respond, of course, if specific questions were asked about how to use the systems or the content of the available database. We also mentioned the systems in our required bibliographic instruction sessions for new students. Infomal staff/student surveys

Throughout the three-month test of the two systems, we conducted informal surveys of faculty, staff, and students to determine which product met our needs most precisely. Economics were obviously a factor; however, we did not ask users to comment on value/price comparisons, but simply to address the research benefits provided by the two systems.

The result was a virtual split down the middle on some aspects of the systems, with staff on one side and students on the other. The WILSONDISC system appeals to the trained searcher who can gather a great body of relevant material by using Boolean free text searching. Students were thwarted by Boolean, however. They sought the quick "hits" possible in an index-controlled database, and they were frequently confused when non-relevant citations appeared in a Boolean search, even though aU the search elements were represented in the citation.

Faculty members appreciated the ability to access the WILSONDISC online sources directly from the same terminal used to search the CD-ROM databases; however, in practice they actually used other terminals to search Dialog sources online when they sought more information. When currency was the issue, in fact, they were likely to use Dialog's NEWSEARCH- file, which contains references from as recent as the previous day and which covers some 2,000 publications for up to 30 days.

Students shun online searching

Students were discouraged from searching the WILSONLINE databases by the training that online access demands. Even those studentswho have completed online searching class would require additional coaching to use WILSONLINE effectively. For most undergraduate research projects, however, the maximum three-month lag in currency on the WILSONDISC system was not a factor in the value of the search results. In the rare event when a student needed more timely references, a hbrarian was asked to conduct an online search and Dialog, which offers us good cost control, was used.

Reference librarians like the dedicated disciplinary database approach that Wilson has adopted. They would use InfoTrac first and then search, for example, the WILSONDISC Humanities database to see if other references on the subject are available. …