Lasers in the Library [CD-Rom technology]
St. Peter School Hilites, Apr 1990
Note: please check article date
Wouldn’t it be fun to have an encyclopedia that you could not only read, but watch and hear as well? When you “look-up” John F. Kennedy, not only could you read about him, but you’d hear his voice giving his famous inaugural address. The article about lions would roar. Think how much easier it would be for a student to understand the principle of motion in physics if the encyclopedia showed an animated demonstration of wave theory. Better yet (here’s the real Buck Rogers part), you could slip the whole set of encyclopedias into your shirt pocket.
There are students in Minnesota elementary and high schools who are currently using just such encyclopedias. Using a technology called CD-ROM (Compact Disk - Read Only Memory), a small silver-colored disk which looks like a CD music recording is inserted into a little black box connected to a computer This disk holds 640 megabytes of information. So? Well, that’s 150,000 pages of printed text - 25 feet of shelf space holds the same amount of printed information. Or you could say a single CD-ROM disk holds the equivalent of a stack of 6,000 floppy computer disks the same size - a stack about 50 feet high.
The information on these little disks is read by a miniature laser in much the same way music CDs are played. Like music CD’s, CD-ROM disks are tough. Fingerprints and minor scratches which would disable a regular floppy computer disk won’t destroy data on CD-ROM disks.
Not only do CD-ROMs hold a great deal of information, the computer program which is used with the silver disks makes finding the information on them very simple. A student types a key word and the disk is searched not only for main articles on the topic, but any mention of the keyword within other articles. For example if plastic was your topic, you would not only find the major article on plastic, but references to plastic in the articles on packaging, explosives, carving, chemistry, and environmental pollution.
Encyclopedia publishing is not the only use for this exciting new technology. Other cumbersome reference materials are also being offered in the CD-ROM format. Our old friend The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature is being replaced by CD-ROM, as are several science and technical reference sets. Atlases, art books, directories, historical timetables and documents, clip art, language dictionaries, public domain software, almanacs, and many literary works for concordance-type searching are now available in this format.
St. Peter High School students will begin gaining experience with CD-ROM technology starting next fall in the media center. I will be giving formal instruction in its use as a part of social studies units. So when your son or daughter comes home bragging about using a “laser” in the library, don’t expect to find little holes burnt through books. Expect a student better prepared to access the information of today and tomorrow’s world.