The Development of an "Information Superhighway." (Data Bases in Libraries)

By Alberico, Ralph | Computers in Libraries, January 1990 | Go to article overview

The Development of an "Information Superhighway." (Data Bases in Libraries)


Alberico, Ralph, Computers in Libraries


The Development of an "Information Superhighway"

The Network Infrastructure

In the library community, we tend to focus on databases and what they can do for us without worrying too much about the network technologies that make database access possible. In fact, one could say that networks from the infrastructure for the transfer of electronic information. It is the ability to communicate knowledge -- not to store it -- that makes libraries more than warehouses. Likewise, online searching is exciting for its potential to transfer information, not for its potential to store information.

Online searching depends upon timesharing and packet-switching technologies for its cost savings and interactivity. National and regional cooperatives from OCLC on down also depend upon network technology. Closer to home, there are many multicampus systems whose online catalogs are made available over some fairly sophisticated networks.

Networks are also found within libraries. Local area networks (LANs) are now being used by many libraries to solve problems of communication within the organization and CD-ROMs are being networked to achieve greater flexibility for clients. LANs and networked CD-ROMs will make our lives more convenient and our libraries more efficient, but the big network story centers around the global information and research networks that are beginning to emerge.

Books to Networks

Libraries have been on the minds of network designers almost from the beginning. J.C.R. Licklider, who wrote Libraries of the Future in 1965, was one of the developers of ARPANET and the timesharing technology that made it possible. Licklider, speculating on what the library of the year 2000 would look like, recognized the importance of separating the physical medium of the book from the information books carry.

We need to substitute for the book a device that will make it easy to transmit information without transporting material, and that will not only present information to people but also process if for them, following procedures they specify, apply, monitor, and, if necessary, revise and reapply. To provide those services, a meld of library and computer is evidently required. (Licklider 1965, p. 8).

Books allow us to transport information but not to transmit it. Existing computer networks allow us to transmit information but do not have the capacity of books for storing information. What we need is a network capable of delivering the same volume of information that books are able to store.

The speed and capacity of a network hav e alot to do with its effectiveness in delivering information. There was a time when 300 bits per second was the norm for online searching. Then came 1200 baud, which gave way to 2400 baud, and now we are starting to see 9600 baud. Online searching is much more interactive at 2400 baud than it was at 300 baud. As the speeds that packet-switching networks are able to accommodate increased, online searching became easier and more natural.

Current network speeds are adequate for delivery of bibliographic records. Speeds in the thousands of bits per second range will work well for delivery of plain, vanilla ASCII text. Text can be represented rather economically and is suitable for delivery of information packages, such as journal articles (minus illustrations). Delivery of images requires even more capacity, and digital video, the newest information medium, strains the capacity of even the most powerful networks. Clearly faster, more capacious networks are needed to transmit the many types of graphic records now available.

Communities of Scholars

Networks have dramatically increased the potential for the exchange of scholarly and research knowledge. The electronic forums in use today are rich and varied. Jokes, shop talk, and public domain software share space on the networks with electronic seminars and research correspondence. …

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