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The impact of electronic publishing on library services and resources in the UK

2.2 CD-ROM

CD-ROMs are a specific type of compact disc in general use in the library marketplace. Other standards may well come to the fore, particularly CDTV and CD-I which cater for multimedia products and which many expect to play a greater role in the future. As yet, these other standards account for only some 19% of the market (ref3) and are not separately treated in this section.

The take-up of CD-ROMs is increasing very rapidly. The number of CD-ROM titles grew by 63% between 1992 and 1993, and the number of companies active in the industry grew by 41% during 1992 and 8.6% in 1993 (TFPL Facts and Figures 1993). In financial terms the market for commercial CD-ROMs was worth £31.38 million in 1991 (ICC Keynote Report on the CD-ROM Marketplace), in percentage terms it grew by 180% during 1991. Three-quarters of secondary schools in the UK have the hardware to use CD-ROMs, and the Government is to provide £4.5 million to encourage their use in primary schools. This follows the allocation of £8 million for CD-ROMs in secondary schools.

CD-ROMs contain a wide variety of information. Over 40% of the market is taken up by full text databases, with bibliographic and reference material accounting for about 25% and 16% respectively in 1993. The fastest growth in recent years has been in full-text discs.

It is likely that an increasing number of learned and professional publishers will adopt CD-ROM as a means of storing and distributing large amounts of information such as bibliographic and other databases, directories, handbooks and long runs of past journal issues. CD-ROM offers considerable economies for libraries in the storage of vast amounts of information.

CD-ROM itself is a relatively cheap technology, though that does not necessarily apply to the products themselves because the main cost of many products is in the collection and presentation of the information. Publishers' pricing policies vary dramatically but overall the price of CD-ROM products seems to be falling quite sharply as the take-up of the products by libraries accelerates. This process is likely to continue.

The technology for using CD-ROMs is now readily available and generally affordable. At the most basic level, it comprises a standard CD-ROM drive costing less than two hundred pounds and the use of a PC. However, for many organisations a single CD-ROM drive will be insufficient to meet the needs of a large number of users and/or a large number of CD-ROMs. A number of solutions have emerged to address this problem, but these all dramatically increase the cost of making effective use of the CD-ROMs. There are several means of increasing the number of users, and the number of CD-ROMs in use:

Multiple single drives and PCs to increase the number of workstations which can be used.

Jukeboxes or other multiple drive systems which can cope with several CD-ROMs and, by combining a number of jukeboxes, can in principle cope with several hundred CD-ROMs. The jukeboxes cost considerably more than a single drive but still only allow a single user access to the information.

Networking CD-ROMs has now become an option, but CD-ROM networking is still very much in its infancy. Response times can vary, some products are almost impossible to network and the bandwidth of others, particularly the multimedia products, can exceed the capacity of the network. The cost of networking CD-ROMs can be very high.

This problem with accessing the CD-ROMs has meant a slower uptake of the technology by the market than might otherwise have been the case but many organisations with substantial reference collections now have at least one CD-ROM drive.

Although CD-ROMs are not expensive by comparison with paper equivalents and are generally welcomed by users, they present several management problems for librarians. These include:

Cataloguing .
Does the librarian catalogue every item on the disc or only the disc itself? If the latter, how does the user know what is on the disc without using it? If the former, how do you catalogue every entry on the recently launched Poetry disc, for example, which contains some 64,000 separate items?

Access .
The provision of ready access to the stock of discs and the prevention of loss. Because each disc can store very large amounts of information, loss of or damage to a single disc can create a considerable gap in the sequence of stored material. Additionally, in the case of loss or theft of its discs, at least one company reserves the right to levy compensation of up to £2,500 per disc from the user. Because the discs are small, theft is more difficult to prevent, while the provision of reference services through juke-box or carousel systems is capital-intensive and impedes user access.

Pricing and licensing.
Publishers' pricing policies have still to be developed. Some producers of CD-ROMs forbid the copying or down-loading of the stored information, while others levy charges for these activities in a variety of ways. The librarian has to devise a fair and logical charging system for clients, that allows for much individuality. Further, many producers supply libraries with their CD-ROM products on a rental basis, thus retaining ownership. When such a contract ends, libraries are required to return the discs to the supplier, leaving the library with a gap in information coverage and nothing to show for the expenditure. For this reason, librarians argue that discs paid for by annual subscription should be considered as owned, rather than licensed, or that the licence is extended indefinitely for CD-ROMs already supplied if a subscription lapses. It follows that the subscription charges may well increase, or an annual fee might be charged for this privilege. Similarly, if a current disc covers a period of years, its subsequent replacement by an up-to-date version should not result in the loss of information covering an earlier year.

Updates .
Despite the large storage capacity of the disc, searching a large database stored on CD-ROM can be a complicated and slow process. A database can only be kept up-to-date by the addition of weekly or monthly discs, or regular replacement of the set of discs by a fresh set. Searching a product involving a number of discs can be a very tedious process indeed, involving constant disc changing and necessitating the use of a powerful PC.

Archiving .
The permanence of information stored on CD-ROMs remains open to question, partly because of the limited life of the disc itself, and partly in consideration of future development and possible obsolescence. Already, double density CD-ROMs are being introduced and there is the prospect of a blue laser system that would triple the amount of data stored on a CD, rendering existing machines obsolete. Equipment capable of replaying the current discs may no longer be available in ten or twenty years' time.

Against these problems should be set the benefits of introducing CD-ROMs. These include:

Ease of use
CD-ROMS are relatively user friendly and can be searched by end users more easily and effectively than large volumes of paper, and without the time and cost pressures of pay-as- you-go online systems. This releases information specialists to assist with, or undertake the more demanding searches, leaving end-users to carry out the bulk of their searching unaided, and possibly at their desks through networked systems.

The storage capacity of CD-ROMs is large (600Mb per disc) so that a single workstation and a shelf of CD-ROMs can replace entire libraries on paper. With the increasing amount of information being created each year this is an important factor for many libraries with severe space restrictions.

Once bought, a CD-ROM can be searched without further cost. This is a major benefit to libraries catering for students, or organisations requiring a great many searches on the same data.

Currently libraries are installing CD-ROMs as fast as their budgets and applications allow. Limitations on speed of implementation are as described above and largely relate to the cost of the hardware, its complexity (networking) and decisions as to how many versions of the same database a library should have. Printed, CD-ROM and online versions are all competing for essentially the same budget.

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