Will Optical Discs Be the End of Online Networks?

By Epstein, Susan Baerg; Brunell, David et al. | American Libraries, April 1987 | Go to article overview

Will Optical Discs Be the End of Online Networks?


Epstein, Susan Baerg, Brunell, David, Andre, Pamela, American Libraries


Will optical discs be the end of online networks?

Answer varies for reference, cataloging, catalogs

THIS QUESTION INVOLVES THREE SEPARATE ANDdistinct situations: optical discs for reference databases, for cataloging, and as a library catalog. The answer to the question is different, but still unclear, for each of the three.

Online networks will definitely continue to exist for referencedatabases. Although optical discs represent a fixed cost, and thus may be easier for libraries to acquire and budget, most libraries need a myriad of databases. Only a few of them are used often enough to justify the initial cost of the optical disc. Most libraries will eventually acquire optical discs for databases that are used frequently, but will continue to use online networks for the most current information and for less frequently used databases. These decisions are comparatively simple, being based on cost and frequency of use.

The decisions become difficult when we examine the use ofoptical discs as a cataloging source. Many libraries find a large percentage of cataloging records for recent acquisitions on LC MARC, the database most frequently found on optical disc cataloging systems. The growth and ready availability of the machine-readable LC MARC database has increased cataloging options since the early 1980s when the only machine-readable source of shared cataloging was the online network.

For libraries that can reduce their cataloging costs considerablywith optical disc systems, the decision between optical disc and network involves the issues of resource sharing and shared cataloging responsibilities. Can the library justify a higher cost of cataloging in order to participate in a "national database'? Many will not be able to do so. One possible scenario involves tapeloading of cataloging records for libraries using optical discs, with online access available for those acquiring materials not found on the LC MARC database and those doing retrospective conversion. But without either cost-effective tapeloading or subsidy by some other funding source (as has happened with two state libraries), more and more libraries will move from online networks to optical discs for cataloging.

The decisions become more difficult when we investigate opticaldiscs for local catalogs. Optical discs reduce telecommunications costs as well as the initial and maintenance costs of an online network. However, the use of an optical disc catalog requires compromises in the information provided, mainly in currency of data and material status. But many libraries would not be able to have an automated catalog and its enhanced access capabilities if they did not use optical discs. It is not a question of the end of online networks, but of coexistence: online access where possible and practical, and optical discs to improve current access, but at a level less than that provided by an online network.

The decisions become more difficult as you move from oneto another of these areas. In reference searching, many of the questions will involve financial tradeoffs, while the other two areas will require decisions as to the level of service and the service options the library will provide, as well as how scarce funds will be allocated.

SUSAN BAERG EPSTEINPresident, Susan Baerg Epstein Ltd. Costa Mesa, Calif.

Hybrid optical and online systems on horizon

THE DEVELOPMENT OF OPTICAL DISC SYSTEMSand the proliferation of "tiny silver frisbees' will not lead to the demise of online library networks. Indeed, I would argue that the development of optical disc systems for libraries will actually strengthen the role of bibliographic utilities such as OCLC, while increasing the need for effective regional networks to support and train the library community on the use of these new systems.

The optical disc systems that are currently being marketeddo, indeed, offer an inexpensive alternative for some online work.

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