CD-Rom sources

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CD-ROM Sources

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Definition and Background


CD-ROM (or compact disc read-only memory) is “a type of computer memory in the form of a compact disc that is read by optical means.” An optical CD-ROM drive reads back the disc by scanning its surface, which contains “digitized (binary) data that has been encoded in the form of tiny pits,” with “a low-power laser beam” (“CD-ROM,” 2006, para. 1). The format was originally developed by N. V. Philips and marketed by Sony Corporation in 1982 (Desmarais, 1992, p. 89) as a digital audio playback device, but by the mid-1980s, its advantages as a medium for general data storage were recognized by the computer industry (“CD-ROM,” 2006, para. 2). Specifically, these included “random access; high-density storage; durability of the medium; consistent, error-free data retrieval; cost-effectiveness per unit of storage; and archivability” (Desmarais, 1992, p. 89).


CD-ROM in Libraries


Libraries were among the first institutions to adopt the new format for data retrieval purposes, and have since seen a “proliferation of CD-ROM products” (Desmarais, 1992, p. 101). In January, 1985, at the ALA’s Midwinter Conference, The Library Corporation introduced BiblioFile, a large bibliographic CD-ROM database. Public access catalogs on CD-ROM soon followed, which had the unanticipated effect of streamlining interlibrary loan requests. Soon, publishers of reference works collaborated to produce information products based on the new format, with Grolier’s Electronic Encyclopedia leading the way. Titles flourished, including H. W. Wilson’s WILSONDISC line, OCLC’s Search CD450 series, UMI’s ProQuest family, and sources for business, medicine, law, education (ERIC), science (SCI), and atlas niches (Desmarais, 1992).


Along with the introduction of the new format into the library environment came a host of issues relating to equipment acquisition and maintenance, staff training, and new information retrieval techniques, methods, and skills required of users. In 1990, Popp and Kabir identify the extensive (and often expensive) investment in equipment and training that an adoption of the new format requires, along with questions of space, security, and successful user instruction. Articulating an overall goal for the title, integrating the title with the library’s current print-based sources, and teaching new database search techniques must all be considered (Popp & Kabir, 1990, p. 83-6). Additionally, tight library budgets are often strained by the hefty subscription fees that CD-ROM titles require (Desmarais, 1992, p. 103).


The Future


The rapid expansion of the Internet and its accompanying proliferation of online databases have seen some libraries deemphasizing CD-ROM sources and focusing more on Web-based services, which offer the advantages of full text, more complete coverage, and instantaneous updates (Ballard, 1999). Ironically, a shift in the early 90s from online subscription services towards cheaper CD-ROM series (Desmarais, 1992, p. 103) may have reversed itself slightly throughout the decade as more and more libraries have gained online access (see Fig. 1). A more balanced consideration of the strengths and limitations of both online subscription services and CD-ROM sources positions the two on a continuum rather than on opposite ends of the same spectrum. Chowdury (1999) notes that CD-ROM sources still maintain an edge over online collections when it comes to search capability and refinement (p. 219). Additionally, where libraries may turn to online subscription services for their breadth and instantaneous updates, CD-ROM sources still offer natural advantages as storable media for document delivery (Goethem, Wiles-Young & Edelman, 1995) and audio resources (Connolly, 2005).


Although the ongoing development of electronic, digital, and online resources may tempt one to view the CD-ROM format as an evolutionary cast-off, the reality in many of today’s libraries (Fig. 1) couldn’t be further from the case. CD-ROM sources have been successfully integrated into the host of electronic resources currently offered by libraries, and their unique strengths indicate that they are here to stay.


Fig. 1 (Tenopir, 1999, para. 19).




Ballard, T. (1999). Escape from the tower: moving databases from a CD-ROM to the Web. Computers in Libraries, 19(9), 70-2, 74. Retrieved November 19, 2006, from LISA: Library and Information Science Abstracts database.


CD-ROM. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:


Connolly, B. (2005). Promoting the library’s CD collection via iTunes file sharing. Computers in Libraries, 25(10), 6-8, 53-54, 56. Retrieved November 19, 2006, from LISA: Library and Information Science Abstracts database.


Desmarais, N. (1992). CD-ROM in libraries. In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science (Vol. 50, pp. 89-136). New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc.


Goethem, J. V., Wiles-Young, S., & Edelman, M. (1995). The new world order: serials management of electronic resources and document delivery. Serials Librarian, 25(3/4), 261-7.


Popp, M. P. & Kabir, A. F. M. F. (1990). CD-ROM sources in the reference collection: issues of access and maintenance. Reference Librarian, 29, 77-91.


Tenopir, C. (1999). Electronic reference and reference librarians: a look through the 1990s. Reference Services Review, 27(3), 276-80. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from Emerald Fulltext database.

Matt Pierce