A CD-ROM Network: NRCCLG Information Access Program

By Mary Connellan

The Northern Region Catholic Colleges Library Group is a well established network of schools that has been operating for over 12 years. We now have 27 secondary schools in our group and meet twice or three times a term.

Our meetings provide a venue for the sharing of information, ideas and resources. At least one meeting per term is devoted to audio visual issues. We organise guest speakers, demonstrations and in-service days. For many years we have shared lists of video and periodical holdings.

When funding became available for the co-operative sharing of VCE resources, our group met and considered what resources our VCE students lacked. We identified the need for indexes and abstracts such as those available on Austrom and Austguide.

It was decided at the meeting that we would make this the purpose of our submission and a working party was formed.

The working party established what was possible within the guidelines of the funding. It was decided that the sharing of the CD ROMS would have to be achieved very economically. The idea of networking was out of the question because of the costs involved, but discussions with experts in the field told us that we could achieve a much cheaper but effective system without networking. The publishers of CD ROMS were contacted and it was soon apparent that we would not be able to link all the schools to a single CD ROM centre because of copyright restrictions. It was decided to divide the seventeen participating schools into four cluster groups with four or five schools per cluster. Within each cluster we would have a host school with a CD ROM player and a selection of CD ROMS, and the other schools within the cluster would be able to dial in and access the information on the CD ROMS held by the host school.

The working party drew up specifications for the project, and wrote the submission.

After we were successful in receiving funding, the working party reconvened and called for tenders. Each company was given the opportunity to present their proposal to the working party. From these tenders, Vital Electronic Services was chosen.

Our system is a simple one. Within each cluster we have designated a host school. These schools were selected on the basis of the schools being able to provide a dedicated telephone line and the staff to operate our system. The school houses a 386SX-33Mhz computer workstation with CD ROM player and modem.

All other schools within each cluster have a 386SX-33Mhz computer workstation and a modem.

Each host school has been supplied with indexes Austguide Austrom and Sage on CD ROM.

The "dial-in schools" need to book time in which to access these CD ROMS. The actual method of how this is done has been left to each cluster, but at a mutually agreed time, a dial-in school is able to access whichever CD ROM they have registered at the host school.

With this simple system, it is possible for only one school to access the system at any time -another good reason for keeping the clusters small. Some modifications were made to our original specifications. These included the choice of communications software and the decision to run our system with 9600 baud modems for increased speed.

It is only ever intended that at present we use this system for indexes and abstracts. The data is subject to far less corruption than graphics, particularly when feeder schools are in many cases dialing through school switchboards.

The system has been designed to allow for upgrading. It would be networked in the future should funding become available and all schools have access to direct telephone lines. We also intend to explore other information sharing through the system, such as bibliographies ofVCE resources, but the practicality of this has yet to be established. The working party has established guidelines for the overall operation of the system, but the day-to-day management has been left to individual clusters to decide.

The system works! We are now happily in the situation where 6,000 VCE students in seventeen of our schools have access to abstracts and indexes for their studies that were previously beyond their reach.

Mary Connellan

Head of Resource Centre St. Monica's College Convenor

Northern Region Catholic Colleges Library Group