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

2.3 Magnetic tapes and diskettes

The extent to which libraries hold pre-recorded magnetic tapes (other than sound recordings) as library resources is now very limited. In the past, some libraries (mostly academic but including some specialist libraries) wishing to make commercial databases directly accessible to users have mounted the magnetic tapes on their own computer systems. Conditions of lease or sale have been fairly rigid, but have not presented real problems, because of the nature of the medium. In most cases, this method of data distribution is now probably being replaced by CD-ROM.


Pre-recorded diskettes have for more than a decade been fairly common in libraries, particularly in the public and education sectors. In the 1980s, many public library authorities introduced software loan services; libraries in schools have included Computer Based Learning software and data for the school standard machines, across a wide range of subjects, as part of resource collections, and a similar situation has obtained in further and higher education, as well as in specialist libraries of all kinds.


Cataloguing rules covering software and data on diskettes (and intended to be flexible enough to be used for other electronic media as well) have been available for some years now (ref4), and although cataloguing is by no means problem-free, the difficulties resemble those that librarians have been grappling with for many years for other audio-visual resources. An International Standard Bibliographic Description - ISBD(CF) - has also been available for some years, and a revision is currently being considered.

Bibliographic control

Information on availability of software and data ("bibliographic control") has always been very uneven, although various attempts have been made over the years to improve the situation, particularly in the education sector. Again, although there are problems, they are no different than those associated with other audio-visual media.

Storage, display and security

Diskettes come into a library in various ways: as an insert in a book, as part of a multimedia package, as the principal component packaged along with a manual, and even on their own, with no more identification than a label. Libraries have had to come to grips with particular questions of storage and display, as well as security. For example, virus checking on software that has been borrowed, or even used within the library, has had to become a routine activity in many libraries and some have reverted to closed access. Some software publishers have been very supportive of libraries, replacing damaged diskettes, while others have attempted to introduce stringent restrictions on the uses to which libraries could put their publications. In particular, attempts to restrict lending have been common.

A specific problem arises with books which include one or more floppy discs. Most of these carry a strict copyright statement permitting one backup copy and use on one machine, compliance with which virtually rules out loans.


Survey figures show that in recent years leisure and educational software loan services have declined in public libraries, and evidence suggests that they are likely to decline even further. In school libraries, on the other hand, availability of software has almost certainly increased, partly because of the greater degree of standardisation of hardware and operating systems in schools. It is also apparent that software and data on diskette have become well-established as a resource in further and higher education. However, in all educational sectors, as systems move towards more secure storage and networked delivery, diskettes may well have a limited future.

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