Source Publication (e.g., journal title)

Library and Information Science Annual

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Databases on CD-ROM (compact disk-read only memory) were the biggest news in the database industry in 1986. During the year, many new CD products became available, others were announced as forthcoming, and some of the big names in the information industry (e.g., DIALOG and H. W. Wilson) entered the CD marketplace. 11 was also a year of uncertainty and flux, with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) entering the market in the spring only to suspend its database distribution in the fall, prices of CD products changing frequently, and the number of users not yet approaching the projected figures. The professional literature was replete with articles explaining potential benefits of databases on CD-ROM; in addition, several books on the topic were published (see "References").

CD-ROM allows database producers to distribute copies of their databases on a medium that is more durable than magnetic disks and that provides high density capacity (up to 600 megabytes per 4%-inch disk). Libraries can offer unlimited end-user searching of these locally held databases, because they are priced on a subscription basis rather than on a connect-time basis and because the hardware, software, and database are all under local control rather than being reliant on telecommunications networks.

Although the potential for use of and impact of CD-ROM on libraries, publishers, and the online industry is expected to be profound, most experts predict a coexistence of technologies. CD is expected to be used in libraries with high volume online use of particular databases for retrospective searching by end-users, in libraries that want to budget and pay ahead for searching. and in areas where telecommunications is a problem. Online access is expected to be used for current searches, searches on less-used databases, and searching by libraries that do not want to commit themselves to the upfront subscription costs of laser discs. Print is expected to continue to coexist with online and CD and to continue as most publishers' main revenue source for many years to come.

Because laser discs are a new distribution medium for databases, there are still several unresolved problems. Different products use different software, making it difficult for a library to provide access to all the databases it wants. Laser discs are not yet standardized, so every disc cannot be played on the same disc player peripheral. Investments in multiple microcomputer workstations make start -up costs high for the library. Most laser disc updates are sent monthly, quarterly, or yearly so the information is not usually as current as corresponding online products. Finally, because the industry is so new, it is easy to get confused over who is in the business, what products are offered, and how laser discs will complement or replace online or printed products. This article discusses some of the developments in this area during 1986.

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