Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 11, NO. 4 / APRIL 1985 / PAGE 28

The Reader's Guide goes electronic; telecommunications talk. Corey Sandler.

As a writer, I've had a lifelong love affair with words and books and magazines. The perfume of my youth was the musty odor of the backshelves of libraries.

There were rainy Saturdays when I would read the encyclopedia for entertainment, or browse through the New York Times Index for 1938, or pore over the latest newsprint edition of the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. By age 13 or so, I was on intimate terms with both the Dewey Decimal System and the batting averages of the entire Los Angeles Dodgers roster.

(In adulthood, I fulfilled one of my deepest fantasies when I dated the children's librarian in the town where I was working. And I can still remember the unknowing jealousy I saw in the eyes of some of the fourth graders when I came to pick up L.S. after work.)

And now I am a writer in a world where most of my words are created without benefit of paper, and where some of them never make contact with printer's ink. There's a certain loss of tangible accomplishment when all that I can show for a day's work is four entries in my MCI mailbox. Sometimes I make printouts just so I can have something to point to.

However, the electronic world works both ways. (Full duplex, you might say.) More and more of the world's stored intelligence is becoming accessible to computer users at work and home. I can consult hundreds of newsletters over NewsNet; I can read from thousands of technical papers and journals on BRS; I can look up a term or a name in an encyclopedia on The Source, and I can find out everything I ever wanted to know about a company's finances from Dow Jones.

And now my old friend the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature has joined the electronic world. Publisher H.W. Wilson Company, one of the hoary veterans of database technologies (they called them indexes way back when) has put the Reader's Guide and 11 of its other offerings on the computer.

H.W. Wilson is the descendant of the lifelong work of one Halsey William Wilson, who was, according to The Saturday Review, to "bibliography what Webster is to dictionaries, Bartlett to quotations."

Old H.W. started his company in 1889 at the University of Minnesota, when he and his roommate bought a printing press and began printing syllabi for professors and selling books. The small business developed into a bookstore, and Wilson determined that his biggest problem in serving his customers was the lack of a database (err, index) of available books and publishers.

In 1898, Wilson began publishing a monthly listing of new and recent books, calling it the Cumulative book Index. Entries were listed by author, subject, and title in the same index, an organization that was unique at the time. Wilson also found a way to update his database quickly. Since entries consisted of lines of metal type, Wilson treated each lines as if it were a card in a library catalog. New entries were inserted among the earlier lines of type.

The CBI was a success, selling a respectable 300 copies at $1 each in its first year.

Librarians also began to sign up, and in 1901, Wilson added the first issue of Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, indexing seven magazines.

One policy started by Wilson and continued to this day involves a spreading of the economic burden among libraries large and small, rich and poor. Clients were billed on the basis of the amount of use a library could make of a publication. Larger libraries paid more, in other words.

In November of 1984, Wilson's company went electronic with Wilsonline. When last I checked, they were offering the following indexes on line:

* Applied Science and Technology Index, indexing every article in 336 periodicals on aeronautics, space science, chemistry, energy, engineering, marine technology, meteorology, petroleum and gas, physics, robotics, telecommunications and more; * Biological and Agricultural Index, with listings from 204 English-language publications in life sciences with coverage of agriculture, animal husbandry, biology, botany, genetrics, cytology, zoology and more;

* Business Periodicals Index, indexing 304 publications;

* Book Review Digest, with excerpts from and citations to more than 6000 reviews of current adult and juvenile fiction and non-fiction each year;

* Cumulative Book Index, with listings of between 50,000 and 60,000 books each year with full library information including author, title, subtitle, subject, cross-reference, illustrator, price, publisher, and other information;

* Education Index, covering 354 periodicals, yearbooks, and monographs;

* Index to Legal Periodicals, indexing 476 different legal journals, with author, bibliographic, and subject entries, and subdivisions for topical and geographical categories;

* Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, including 186 magazines, Creative Computing among them;

* Library of Congress/MARC;

* Journal Directory File;

* Publisher's Directory File, and

* Name Authority File.

The database searching procedures for Wilsonline are quite complete, and a bit complex. Searches can include Boolean Operators (and, or, and not); various truncation symbols for wildcard searches, and searching using qualifiers based on more than 25 elements of listings. For example, books can be searched on the basis of the author's name, the ISBN number, the Library of Congress number, the Dewey Decimal number, the publisher's name, and other categories.

In coming months, the rest of the Wilson indexes will come on line: Art Index; Bibliographic Index; Biography Index; General Science Index; Humanities Index; Library Literature, and Social Sciences Index.

As mentioned, old H.W. would feel right at home looking at the pricing schedule for Wilsonline; many libraries would also understand it right away. It took a mere mortal like me a bit of time, but basically the schedule has four different classes of subscription and ten discount rates.

The lowest charge--from $32 to $50 per hour, depending upon which index is being consulted--goes to institutions or individuals who are already subscribers to the printed index being searched. The highest rate, $65 per hour, is charged to non-subscribers to any Wilson product. You can bring down the price by paying into an account in advance of use--putting $2400 down drops most rates by as much as $10 per hour. Access to Wilsonline is through Tymnet or Telenet, and any capable telecommunications program should work. Expert to pay an additional $8 or so per hour for telecommunications.

Wilsonline maintains a toll-free phone number for information about its services. The number is (800) 367-6770. In New York State, call (800) 462-6060. The mailing address is: H.W. Wilson CO., 950 University Ave., Bronx, NY 10452.

Products: Wilsonline (information retrieval system) - Innovations