On-Line Services for School Libraries

By Lance Deveson, Beverly Pianta

On-line - What is it?

An on-line service will allow you, your teachers and students to connect via personal computer and telephone line to the world. For moderate charges you can access newspaper databases and download full-text articles, or access bibliographic databases.

What are the hardware requirements?

To access on-line services you need:

  • a (preferably direct) telephone line.

If you operate through a switchboard with an STD bar, it makes it extremely difficult to call any interstate services, or services such as Telecom's Discovery, with an access number beginning with 0.

  • a computer (almost any computer will do, Apple, IBM, BBC).
  • a modem and communications software.

Communications software often comes with the modem, or you can purchase commercial or shareware software. Some integrated programs such as MS WORKS, have communications software incorporated into them.

To minimise telecommunications and on-line charges, especially when searching full-text newspaper databases a 2400 baud modem is recommended, a 1200 baud is barely adequate and don't get 300 under any circumstances. 

  • a printer.

It does not need to be a dedicated printer, but it is convenient to have access to one.

There are no other hardware requirements. You do not need to have an automated library.

Some issues which may need to be considered

Who will perform the searches - librarian, student or teacher?

Facilities in your school may have an influence on your decision. If, for example, you have only one stand-alone computer in the library workroom, it may not be practicable for students to perform their own searches. If, on the other hand, you have a well set-up computer lab with modem access, it may be a class activity.

Telecommunication and other charges may also be a factor. South Australian schools have been making extensive use of Presscom for a considerable time, because, as Presscom is located in Adelaide, telecommunications charges are minimal for them. It is a different matter for interstate schools. If library staff are to perform the searches, how will this be prioritised in relation to other library duties?

If library staff were to perform searches after 6.00pm or on weekends, to minimise telephone charges, would this be offset by flexible hours, additional salary or in some other way?

How will the use of on-line services be funded?

Can the costs be shared by other faculty budgets? Should individual students be charges? If so, should it be on a full costrecovery basis or should the school, library or faculty share in the costs.

What measures will be taken to secure passwords to ensure that there is no unauthorized access to the databases? The onus of protection of passwords is on the user. The Nexus Bulletin Board has a sophisticated account management system which allows multiple users in each school with an account limit for each. Other databases do not have this facility.

Some tips to minimise costs (and hypertension)

It's quite daunting to dial up for the first time, knowing that the dollars are ticking away as you struggle to remember the correct commands to conduct your search. Full-text databases are much harder to search initially than bibliographic ones, because its so easy to get lost in reams of print scrolling across the screen.

Read the documentation carefully before going on-line. Work out your search strategy ahead of time. Consult a thesaurus if there is one.

Turn screen capture on before you start. This ensures. that everything that you do 1s downloaded to your computer for later leisurely perusal.

Do the searching when it is quiet and you won't be interrupted (before or after school if necessary), it will help you to be more relaxed.

When you encounter a problem or are not sure how to narrow the search more successfully, log off. Use the downloaded information to work out the solution, then log on again. In Presscom, it is possible to capture summaries of all the articles on a topic, log off, print them out, decide which ones are the most relevant, log on again and capture the full text of only those articles.

Make use of the hotline help which is available with many of the databases.

Check whether you are automatically logged off after a set period of inactivity (say, five minutes or so). If this is not the case and you accidentally terminate your session, make sure that you call up the service to ensure that you are logged off and are not clocking up a huge bill.

Which databases to choose?

Databases which I have found useful are:


The SCIS database is one that is familiar to many teacher librarians. As well as being used for cataloguing purposes, on- line searching of the database can also provide an invaluable tool for selection and collection-building. It allows a searching capability far superior to the microfiche access for several reasons:

  • on-line searching provides access to new records as soon as they are added to the database, compared with microfiche monthly up- dates which may be weeks out of date; it allows searching of the whole database at once, overcoming the tedium of searching first the annual cumulation and then the monthly update of microfiche,
  • it allows flexible searching via the most appropriate access point (mostly ISBN, title or subject). The subject approach is a useful selection tool. It is particularly helpful as a starting point for resourcing new curricula.

Curriculum corporation
PO Box 177
Carlton South
Victoria 3053
Phone: (03) 639 0699,
(008) 337 405


The AAP database is in fact comprised of three databases which contain 300,000 items of unedited news information from around the world. AAP90 has 102,000 items from June-December 1990, AAP91 has 186,000 stories from 1991 and AAP is the current year.

It can be accessed by schools via the NEXUS BBS operated by the Education Department of SA. Membership of Nexus is free (except for Telecom charges for interstate users) and it provides access to other educational bulletin board projects as well as E-Mail facility.


  • Nexus charges: 10 cents per minute
  • Austpac costs 11 cents per minute (approx.)
  • AAP charges: 2.5 cents (primary) 3 cent (secondary) per minute

There are also flat rate charges for schools with high use.

Nexus co-ordinator
Angle Park Computing Centre
Cowan St
Angle Park
SA 5010
Phone (08) 243 5559

SAGE - Science and Geography Education

This database, produced by the CSIRO, indexes over 600 articles from general science and geography journals. Many of the journals indexed are excellent yet inexpensive products of the CSIRO and are readily available in school libraries. It covers topics such as environment, earth science, astronomy and technology with an Australian emphasis.

Sage can be accessed via Nexus or Australis. The information on both of these services is updated in batches approximately once per month. This means that it is also a useful adjunct to the SAGE CD-ROM which is up-dated six-monthly.


This database contains the entire editorial context of the Murdoch newspapers of South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. Being a current newspaper database, it is updated daily. This is a fantastic resource for schools needing access to current newspaper articles. It is possible to search for a subject or combination of subjects, person or type of article (eg review, editorial, letter etc) or date. It is possible to narrow your search and then to preview the summary of articles before determining which are the most relevant. It is then possible to download the full-text of these articles to your own computer.

$75.00 connection fee (once only)
$15.00 minimum monthly charge which allows 1.5 hours of searching, 0.17 per minute thereafter.

PressCom Australia
The Advertiser Newspapers
GPO Box 339
SA 5001
Phone: (08) 218 9559 
(08) 218 9586


While not an on-line service as such, SPORTSCAN, a subsidized service operated by the Australian Sports Commission, performs on-line searches for you. For a fee of $10.00, Sportscan will perform a search on your sports related topic and, within two weeks, send a printout of citations. Full-text of articles are available for $3.00 each from Sportscan.

National Sport Information Centre
Australian Sports Commission
PO Box 176
ACT 2616
Phone (06) 252 1369
Fax (06) 252 1681

Other on-line services which you may consider include:
This is part of an article written by Lance Deveson and Beverly Pianta which appeared in School Library News November 1991. Permission has been granted by Statewide School Support Centre in Victoria, to reproduce it here. 


An online information retrieval service provided by CSIRO. AUSTRALIS provides access to a growing collection of online databases containing factual, numerical, bibliographic and research in progress information. Some of the many databases available that may be of interest to schools include : 

  • FAMI - Australian Family and Society Abstracts:
  • HERA - Heritage Australia;
  • LEI - LEISURE : Australian Leisure Index:
  • SAGE - Science and Geography Education (also available on CD-ROM).

There is a choice of subscription rates available and there are no AUSTPAC or account maintenance costs.

PO Box89
VIC 3002
Tel: (03) 418 7307
FAX:(03) 419 0459 


This is Telecom Australia's public videotex service, formerly known as Viatel. Databases on the system offer current news, weather reports, business and stock market information, and information from groups and bodies such as the Bureau of Census and Statistics, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Qantas, Sydney Hospital's Occupational Health and Safety Service, and Westpac. Discovery has several features which make it appropriate for use with students : it is easy to use; online charges are reasonable, and the system can be accessed from anywhere in Australia as a local call. Discovery can be used as a gateway to access other services such as AAP, Presscom and Australis.

GPO Box 188C
Tel: (03) 412 1666


(Computer Telecommunications Corporation). Established primarily to meet the needs of schools. Databases available include current online versions of the Australian encyclopedia, the Macquarie dictionary, The academic American encyclopedia, and the ERIC database for educators.

CTC 11th Floor
189 Kent Street
NSW 2000


Aimed primarily at users involved in business and agriculture, but it also provides current news, weather, financial, educational, and general information. While more expensive than Discovery, it provides similar coverage in some fields, and is easy to use.

Elder link
27 Currie Street
SA 5000
Tel (09) 218 4611


Based in California, the DIALOG utility offers more than 250 different databases, including ERIC. Enviroline, Energyline, The Academic American Encyclopedia, Facts on File, and the Associated Press news service. Special cheap rates are available to schools and tertiary institutions through the "DIALOG Classroom Instruction Program", while the "DIALOG Classmate" service, designed to provide an easy search environment for primary and secondary school use, is available for US$15 per connect hour plus telephone charges. The cost of the telephone charges is reduced significantly if schools use the OT Data Access service to link with DIALOG.

DIALOG Information Services Insearch Ltd Box
K16 Haymarket
NSW 2007
Tel :(02) 212 2867


Like DIALOG, this international service is based in the United States. It offers around sixty databases. A few Australian schools have taken advantage of its special rate for classroom use.

ORBIT Search Service
PO Box 544
NSW 2011 


The Ausinet service, provided by Ferntree Computer Services, makes available a large range of Australian databases, including Australian Education Index, Streamline (a water resources database), Australian Financial Review, and Edline. While there is currently no special rate for schools, AUSINET does offer information which would be difficult to locate in any other way.

Ferntree Computer Services
310 Ferntree Gully Road
VIC 3168
Tel: (03) 541 5600


This is a Telecom electronic mail and bulletin board service. As well as users being able to leave electronic mail messages there are electronic bulletin boards with informational about curriculum projects, for example, Readshare - a current project which invites teachers and children to share their responses to literature. There is also a writers' online facility whereby students can correspond with Australian authors. KEYLINK can also be used as a gateway to data bases such as the AAP database, and Presscom.

Contact for initial enquiries :
Teri Ellram,
Computer Consultant
Prahran School Support Centre
VIC 3183
Tel: (03) 520 7666



This is a network of bibliographic databases including ANB (Australia National Bibliography) , managed by the OZLINE Subsection of the National Library. The subject content of th various databases is Australian in emphasis and covers the disciplines of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Source materials for the eleven databases currently on OZLINE are mainly periodical and newspaper articles as well as articles from scholarly journals, conference papers and monographs. There are special rates for schools to access particular databases. Access is via Austpac, Telecom's packet switching telecommunications service, but becoming an individual subscriber is not required, as the National Library has negotiated automatic membership of Austpac for all OZLINE users.

Section National Library of Australia
ACT 2600
Tel: (06) 262 1536
(008) 02 0002 

Note: The Australian Database Development Association has produced a Directory of Australian Databases. References Australian Database Development Association. Directory of Australian Databases, (2nd ed.). Melbourne: Australian Database Development Association, 1986. Acknowledgement : Research undertaken by Lance Deveson, Curriculum Corporation.

Lance Deveson


Beverly Pianta