Online Searching in Australia

Article excerpt

Online searching has been well established in Australia since the late 1970s. Products and services from the rest of the world still predominate, with a small but growing percentage of Australian-produced databases and hosts. Recent years have seen an opening and divergence of the market in the form of different formats, products, modes of access and charging, and searching behavior.

KRI/Dialog and Orbit were the first major international services available in Australia. The National Library of Australia mounted tapes of databases such as MEDLINE, ERIC, and BIOSIS for searching nationally. Ausinet was the first commercial Australian host and today it offers Australian as well as international databases.

Currently many of the world's online services are used in Australia - Knight Ridder (Dialog and DataStar), Ovid Technologies (BRS), Lexis/Nexis, STN, Questel.Orbit, Wilsonline, Westlaw, the Nikkei (Japan), Ausinet, Ozline and ABN (the National Library of Australia), Kiwinet (National Library of New Zealand), Info-one (Australian legal service), Reuters full-text news service, M.A.I.D., and CompuServe.

Who uses these services? The currency of online services makes them most appropriate for the delivery of business, news, statistical, and financial data. In private and special libraries, library staff and individual researchers carry out online searches. There's often a mix of CD-ROM and online services. Business people who need information in a hurry also make use of commercial information services offered by libraries or brokers, who, of course, use online services for searching.

In many academic libraries the use of "traditional" online searching services concentrates on databases unavailable in any other format or when users need very current information. Individuals can also access some online database services via hosts such as CompuServe.

Online services are predominantly dial-up, with connecttime charges plus citation viewing or printing. Little change has occurred in this charging structure since the services first appeared. In the 1990s the traditional model of dial-up access and time-based charging has been challenged by three major developments: CD-ROM databases, local networking technology, and the Internet. These technologies have brought online searching directly to the people who want the information - the users - and in the process the mode of access and method of charging has changed.

CD-ROM Technology

CD-ROM versions of major bibliographic databases began appearing in the late 1980s. As the numbers of databases in such a format increased, the setting up of local area networks of CD-ROMs became a way of managing these electronic information resources and maximizing their usage. Many libraries and other organizations in Australia now offer a CD-ROM database service, some of which network locally.

New database producers have chosen to publish data on CD-ROMs and made a wide range of material available. The Australian Stock Exchange has produced useful company information on CD-ROM. Three different vendors now produce company annual reports on CD-ROM. There are directories such as the Business Who's Who of Australia, white and yellow telephone pages, and indexes to education, business, current affairs, and legal material on CD-ROM. Some of these were already available in an online format through a host, but their production in CD-ROM has brought them to a much wider market. Several major Australian daily newspapers - the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age, and the Australian Financial Review - can now be searched and retrieved in full-text format on CD-ROM, as well as online via Ausinet and Reuter Business Briefing. Other CD-ROM/online databases include the Australian Education Index, Australian Business Index, GeoPac (Australian Earth Sciences databases), CDATA and CLIB (Australian census data), and Austlit (literature index). (See the attached list for more examples. …