Librarians and consumers more and more frequently face the dilemma of choosing the best titles from among the rapidly increasing list of CD-ROM databases. Every discipline and subject field seems to be served by CD-ROM publishers, and many of them by numerous contenders.
For example, just a year ago there wasn't a single consumer-oriented CD-ROM database about pharmaceutical products. Now there are at least half a dozen, including the Mayo Clinic Family Pharmacist from IVI, PharmAssist from Software Marketing Corporation, Medical Drug Reference from Parsons Technology, Compton's The Pill Book, and the Complete Guide to Prescription and Non-Prescription Drugs from Health-Soft. Maps, atlases, and travel guides to cities and regions similarly fight for shelf space at computer stores, as do consumer health reference titles and movie directories.
The multitude of options also characterize the professional CD-ROM reference market, albeit with a somewhat different flavor. As I discussed in my November column, many of the most venerable abstracting/indexing databases are available with different retrieval software and in various levels of abridged editions. In this column, we'll take a look at the dilemmas facing librarians who would like to include more CD-ROM titles but realize that they differ in many respects from the traditional print publications.
If there are several CD-ROM titles available for a subject area, it is quite likely that preference will be given to the one which the library already had in print--the one with which both the librarians and the patrons are familiar. This strategy has much merit unless the familiar product comes with an interface that adds hardly anything to the printed publication. The Movies on TV and Videocassette reference book, for example, may have been a popular title in the library, but its CD-ROM version adds very little functionality. On the other hand, another movie reference title, Cinemania, may not ring a bell, since it has no print equivalent with the same title. Still, it is a collection of the top ranking movie reference sources (critiques of Maltin, Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, Katzan's Film Encyclopedia, plus many photos, sound tracks, and a few video clips) at about the same price as the other reference CD-ROM, and with incomparably smarter software.
In the case of abstracting/indexing services, it may be tempting to favor the database that most closely matches the journal collection available. After all, the print collection has been built on the basis of sound principles (and constrained by budgets). Databases that cite too many journals unavailable in the library may frustrate both the patrons and the librarian, who may instead favor the database whose journal base is not much broader than the journal collection in the libary.
A counter argument, however, lies in the fact that an increasing number of databases also include the full text of many of the documents cited--some in ASCII format and some also in image format--at reasonable prices. Also, nearby libraries may have many of the source journals cited in the database, and the informative cited in the database, and the informative abstract may convince the patron to make the short drive. Furthermore, those who wish to limit their searches to locally available titles can do so with most of the search software, so a much wider coverage in the database should not be a deterrent.
Librarians may be reluctant to buy a CD-ROM database if it duplicates what is available in print. Why bother to have Time or Money in the '90s on CD-ROM? Well, there are some good reasons: Any word in all the issues of the past four years is searchable, and the price of these CD-ROMs is between $20-30, peanuts for that type of accessibility. Though the pictures, charts, and typography are not comparable to those of the print publications, in terms of both quality and quantity, and though the search and output capabilities of these CD-ROM are less than ideal (see the January issue of Link-Up), they are extremely powerful access tools to the content of the most sought after journals. …