Personal Librarian and ROI: Personal Library Software's Well-Kept Secrets

By Cisler, Steve | Online, July 1989 | Go to article overview

Personal Librarian and ROI: Personal Library Software's Well-Kept Secrets


Cisler, Steve, Online


This column represents the author's personal opinions and not those of Apple Computer, Inc.

Editor's Note: Are there ONLINE readers who know or use Personal Librarian or ROI? If you're willing to share your experiences, please contact me at one of the addresses on the masthead. -NG

In the November 1988 issue of ONLINE I reviewed Verity's TOPIC full-text database management system. It provoked a strongly worded letter from a reader who felt all the capabilities she needed were provided by Boolean searching (May ONLINE, p. 88). While my intention is not to encourage online searchers to abandon familiar or useful methods, I do hope that some will take the time to look at new tools and apply them to appropriate situations. With that in mind, let's take a look at another text management system that has a number of intriguing features that will appeal to librarians and publishers who are compiling large, full-text databases that will reside on a hard drive or will be published on a CD-ROM.

PERSONAL LIBRARIAN: POWERFUL TEXT MANAGEMENT

About the same time as the TOPIC review appeared, a friend at the Congressional Research Service told me about a product used by Congressional Quarterly that was getting a lot of attention in Washington. Personal Library Software, 15215 Shady Grove Road, Suite 204, Rockville, Maryland 20850; 301/926-1402, produces a family of products under the name Personal Librarian, (Editor's Note: Personal Librarian was formerly called SIRE, and was marketed by Cucumber Information Systems. It was discussed in an article in DATABASE, June 1988, "Software Choices for In-House Databases," pp. 3442, written by Carol Tenopir and Gerald Lundeen.-NG) The chairman of the company, Victor Shear, asserts that their main business is providing back end systems for large organizations, other developers, and programmers, to develop specific applications for their clientele. However, he demonstrated Personal Librarian as a standalone version running on a Toshiba portable under Windows 2.0.

In past columns I have written about programs that work on different computing environments. Personal Librarian works on MS-DOS, OS/2, Xenix, Unix, and VMS (the Congressional Quarterly platform). MVS-CICS and Macintosh versions are under development. The graphical interfaces (Windows, OS/2, and Macintosh) offer a very nice front end that allows new users to immediately grasp the importance of its powerful features.

Personal Librarian offers 256 fields per record with unlimited field, record, and database sizes. It has a wide range of Boolean search tools, but it also accepts natural language queries. The Windows version made good use of pull-down menus and the mouse. Database administrators can create custom interfaces without programming in a matter of minutes. In addition the graphic versions include report generation tools for customized queries and on-screen report forms. These can be geared toward different users within an organization. Thus, the professional searcher who is at home with a command line interface can avoid most of the menus, but a person who uses the database infrequently will still have equal access to the information because of the unique features that have been added.

SEARCH RESULTS ARE RANKED AND WEIGHTED

Shear claims that PL's statistically-based expert system and topic searching results in a much higher recall than straight Boolean text database managers. For their demonstration PLS used tapes of ASCII files for ten days of news from a Louisiana newspaper When search terms were entered, the system used (unlike most others) OR as the default Boolean operative, thus retrieving a huge body of possible articles.

The most relevant were ranked first and a bar graph was displayed. The user can read the most relevant first or choose part of the bar graph to investigate. While it was not clear to me how their proprietary algorithms work, it reminded me of Dow Jones' DowQuest search capabilities. …

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