Spreading CD-ROM Technology beyond the Library: Applications for Remote Communications Software

Article excerpt

* Any physical distance which separates an information center from patrons presents a barrier to service delivery. Some mechanisms to resolve this problem include electronic mail, express mail, telefacsimile communication and local area networks. New information technologies, particularly CD-ROM databases, are difficult for users at remote sites to access. Providing access to information technologies such as CD-ROMs can enhance the library's image by satisfying its clientele. This article discusses the use of remote communications software as an inexpensive way to deliver information technologies to users at remote locations.

Consider this scenario. You manage the information center for a large corporation. You are responsible for the organization's library operations at corporate headquarters, and several branch locations around the nation. Express mail, electronic mail, and tele-facsimile communication are used for rapid dissemination of information to users at remote locations. But how do you provide direct access to information contained on CD-ROM databases, that which resides on floppy or hard disks or possibly in-house databases not available through a corporate network?

Even users located in the same building or corporate campus are reluctant to visit the information center. If information is unavailable at a user's own office or terminal, any distance separating you and the user may prove too great to bring them to your door. What if you could share information technologies such as CD-ROM products with users at remote sites or less-equipped satellite libraries by giving them access directly through their own microcomputers?

Providing library services to users at remote sites has always been a challenge for librarians in the central library location. There are several good reasons for providing service to users at remote sites:

* increase library clientele;

* improve organizational productivity;

* promote end-user/self-service

operations for routine information requests;

* promote or market library services;

* take advantage of natural patron

interest in new technologies;

* improve organizational status of

information center.

Barriers presented by physical separation from users are more considerable when dealing with new information technologies; CD-ROM products are a good example. Many are menu-driven, making them ideal for end-user access. If users cannot sit at the workstation, the database is of little use to them. The information professional can search the CD-ROM database for the user, but that defeats some of the utility of acquiring databases that allow users to perform their own research at fixed costs.

CD-ROM workstations are not designed for easy movement. Disks can be shared among several workstations and players, but the additional hardware is expensive. Such an arrangement may even violate site or software licensing agreements. CD-ROMs may be networked within a building, but that is an even more expensive solution to the problem. Since remote communication software accommodates only a single user per CD-ROM workstation, it should not violate licensing agreements with vendors.

Using Remote Communications Software

A more practical and cost-efficient solution to sharing information technologies with off-site users may be found in remote communications software (RCS). RCS is a type of communications software. Regular communications software, including packages such as Smartcom, Crosstalk and Procomm, are designed primarily for online communication with bulletin boards, online subscription services, and for conducting file transfers between computers. RCS can also perform these communication tasks, but it has more specialized function. It allows two microcomputers to linkup and perform as a single workstation. A user at microcomputer number one may control microcomputer number two as if sitting directly at the second terminal. …