In the past few months I have been deluged with new CD-ROM products that will delight those who believe books still have a future and who want every patron to get his or her book of choice. While venerable reference publications for selecting books or identifying publishers may have recently taken a back seat among the hundreds of Internet guides, lists, and directories, they are likely to regain some respect as they appear (or reappear) on CD-ROM.
It's "in" these days to ask for a WWW address for a publisher or agency. Of course, both the currency and the quality of the source may be sorely lacking on the Internet. Likewise, you may be out of luck if you're looking on the Internet to find a comprehensive bibliography (say, a million items or so) of books in print or a well-organized and indexed collection of book reviews. Getting online information about out-of-print books is even more difficult.
But all is not lost. Academic and large public libraries and their patrons now have new CD-ROM options to access pertinent information from reliable sources faster than you can type http. I am a frequent user of all kinds of Internet services, but, for the specific information described above, I have a definite preference for CD-ROM resources. Particularly now, because, as I write this, Books in Print has not been updated for seven months on any of the online hosts, yet I keep getting the updated release on CD-ROM every month (along with superb new Windows-based retrieval software). Some of these CD-ROMS are brand new products while others are old wines in new bottles.
UMI's BookVault is a CD-ROM index to more than 130,000 out-of-print titles. This is not big news, you might say, because Bowker's or Whitaker's products for locating such titles have been in existence for many years on CD-ROM. The special twist of this database, however, is that you can not only locate such titles but also order an individual reprint from UMI's collection--literally just for you.
The database is accessed by Dataware Technologies' CD Answer software. It provides almost all the browsing, searching, and downloading possibilities you can dream of. The version I looked at is not the final release, and some features did not work, but by the time you read this, additional enhancements are promised to be in place. The disk can be used on Mac, DOS, and Windows platforms. For $99 it is a steal.
There is one feature that I'd like to see changed, which has to do with the short entry display format. While the long entry format can be changed by the user, the short format cannot, even though its excessively long order number is irrelevant in a brief citation (see Figure 1) and unnecessary until you are ready to place an order. (figure 1 omitted) In its place, the publication year and the price would be more important to know at first glance.
The Booklist CD-ROM, from SilverPlatter, includes about 23,000 print reviews of books, audio-visual materials, and CD-ROMs (yes!) that were published since September 1991. Another new CD-ROM is Choice Reviews from the Association of College and Research Libraries. It offers nearly 40,000 reviews from late 1988 to the present, mostly about books for academic libraries. Both databases use SilverPlatter's SPIRS software. Its Windows version is an almost perfect search engine, and its interface is top-notch. These CD-ROM versions are very welcome, notwithstanding the existence of their print-based brother publications with their regularly published, comprehensive, and cumulative indexes. The power and ease of search in the entire text of the reviews is impressive (except that with the lack of positional operators you cannot distinguish between information industry and industry information).
Having praised the search engine, however, I do have some criticisms of these products. If your instinct suggests using descriptors, think twice. In Choice Reviews, the 60 descriptors are rather broad for a specific search; in Booklist they are a bit outdated. …