Term 4 1994
- Feature article
- Regular features
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Herald Sun on CD-ROM
The Herald Sun on CD-ROM is a valuable product for school libraries. It provides full text searching of the Herald Sun and Sunday Herald Sun, and is updated quarterly. At a time when the provision of current information is imperative, this CD-ROM certainly overcomes the problems associated with storage of newspapers and document delivery.
The manual is user friendly but addresses several features of the program that are not currently available in this version. These include selecting a particular database and using the thesaurus. This can be a bit confusing. It does however, neatly explain the fundamentals of searching the database and provides examples of a variety of more complex searches, including restricting a query to specific fields, and using wildcards.
The manual could have been improved by the addition of a screen dump of a record, to outline the different fields. If anyone finds out what measurement the program uses in the "length" field please let me know. Likewise the field called "library" which contains useful searchable subject headings, is not documented in the manual. A list of these subject headings which have been especially added to provide quick searching on major issues is available from the Herald Sun, and will be invaluable for students researching issues for VCE English.
I evaluated the product on a machine equipped with 4MG RAM. The producers suggestion is that the product can run on 2MB RAM, but 4MB or more is ideal. Since I have never met a windows product that could run on 2MG, I think that this suggestion is a bit optimistic. On 4MG it ran adequately, but was slow in searching and redrawing the screen. A major flaw of the product is that it does not cache information, so the addition of a new search term to an existing string means that the entire search is reexecuted.
The software itself is easy to use. It opens at a basic search screen, and even without consulting the manual, it is clear that all you need to do is type in a search term and hit enter. What is a little deceptive is that the default operator is OR rather than AND. This means that multi-term searches can yield enormous results. It is however possible to change this default to AND, which is what most students are accustomed to from other database products. When the search is complete, a list of citations is displayed. By highlighting any one of these and pressing enter, the full text of the article is displayed. Interestingly records are displayed not in chronological order, but in "relevance ranking". The manual explains that relevance is determined by a variety of criteria including the density of each query within a document and the proximity to co-occurring query terms in a document.
As with all windows operated programs, it helps to have some knowledge about how to manipulate the desktop. Since the program does not close any windows, the search window can be a bit difficult to locate if you are not a proficient windows user. Likewise, you might have difficulty flipping between the full text of articles, and the window which lists the citations, if you are not used to the layered approach of windows.
There are several fantastic features of the interface. The first is the relate button, which performs a search to locate related terms. I performed a search on the term MABO and a list of additional suggestions including ABORIGINES, LAND, NATIVE TITLE, etc. appeared. The second feature is the possibility of highlight-ing just one of the search terms that you have typed in, and searching on that individually. For students this might be a good way of starting a search. Another feature is detour searching. You can double click on any one of the related terms to see the full text of the article, without returning to the original search screen. It is also possible to cut and paste any one of these new query terms to your original search. The program is incredibly flexible in this respect.
Other features of the interface include the "fuzzy" button, which identifies words with similar spelling. This is helpful for finding variant spellings. It can however be frustrating that the "fuzzy" button acts by default on the first word of a query. this means that if you mistype your query, before you have the chance to retype it, you are interrupted by the computer listing variant spellings. This incarnation of the manual does not contain instructions for altering this default, although it is possible to do so.
There is a facility for setting one's own preferences for the searching options and the display of records. If you are running a CD-ROM network the instructions in the manual do not make changes across the whole network, but presumably there is facility to do so.
Overall I was impressed with the sophistication of the product. Priced at $400 (education price) it most likely covers the cost of staff time spent scanning, clipping and filing newspaper articles. An impressive full text product such as this also affords Teacher Librarians the opportunity to train students in more complex Boolean searching; a skill which is becoming increasingly necessary.