Magazine article Special Libraries

Videotex: A New Tool for Libraries

Magazine article Special Libraries

Videotex: A New Tool for Libraries

Article excerpt

What Is It?

Videotex is a generic term for an easy-to-use, consistent approach to locating and selectively viewing information on a terminal screen.[1] The strength of videotex is its ability to make available vast quantities of information; it can be thought of as paperless publishing. In today's corporate environment, where terminals and computers are widely used by staff at all levels, videotex complements electronic mail and other corporation-wide communication systems by enabling the dissemination of information to any employee with a terminal or computer.

Initially developed in Europe during the 1970s for consumer applications, its most famous use is the French Minitel system, a small terminal used in four million French homes and businesses. Its first application was a nationwide online telephone directory, distributed free of charge to all telephone subscribers. Now a wide variety of services are available, including bulletin boards, games, financial services, grocery delivery services, and airline schedules. Minitel users spend an average of almost one and one-half hours per month using these services.[2]

Videotex has had a slower start in the United States, where the lack of a public network that would support consumer use of videotex has impeded its growth.[3] The Prodigy system promoted by Sears and IBM is an effort to bring a successful consumer videotex service to American households.

The largely untapped potential of videotex is to revolutionize the way information is disseminated in corporations. Most large companies now use electronic messaging systems and mainframe computers, providing communication between employees at distant sites. These communication networks are already in place, but these companies still print employee handbooks, procedure manuals, telephone directories, and other documents conveying large quantities of information on paper. Some documents are routed among departments, delaying their receipt for weeks or months. Others are issued as paper updates, and then (theoretically at least) each employee spends an hour or so filing the new information and discarding the old. With videotex, the office which issues the information becomes the information provider, responsible for preparing and maintaining the information, much as it does already. In videotex terminology, the information provided is called the "infobase." (See below.)

Strengths of Videotex

The defining characteristic of videotex is "one-to-many communication"; e.g., from one source to many users. It is ideal for information which changes often and must be widely distributed. Videotex presents information in a series of hierarchical menus that result in a logical presentation of data which is intuitively obvious and user-friendly. From the menus, users choose the service they want to use, and can display or print the information. Information is presented and organized logically in small amounts spanning one or several screens. Headings for each section of text allow users to pick and display the information which has been selected.

Because everyone shares the same master document, demands on computer time and resources are minimal and updating is easy. Large quantities of text can be handled, frequent updates are easily managed, and the number of users is nearly unlimited.

Videotex at Glaxo

The history of the development of videotex services within Glaxo Inc. illustrates some of the strengths and weaknesses of videotex. Glaxo is a multinational pharmaceutical company with strong research and development activities in several countries and a marketing presence in all major world markets. In 1986, the company adopted DEC VAX computers as the worldwide standard for all medical and scientific research, and began using ALL-IN-1 for worldwide electronic mail. With that purchase came VAX VTX, DEC's videotex system. It was installed but not used for several years. …

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