Is FirstSearch really attractive?
College & research libraries news
This service could be the answer to y o u r patrons' information needs F irstSearch, an inexpensive online interac tive search service geared to end-user searching was recently introduced by OCL contains 17 databases with 15 to be added by the end of 1992. FirstSearch can be accessed using OCLC workstations or terminals on many other microcomputers and terminals via dial access, dedicated line, or Internet communica tions. This paper examines FirstSearch features and offers observations based
... bservations based on our month's free trial of FirstSearch at the University of Arkan sas at Fayetteville. This service was made avail able to graduate students and faculty during February 1992. Passwords were provided to patrons interested in searching the databases through their personal com puters on the internet. Mediated searches for patrons request ing this service were conducted by librarians. Costs FirstSearch allows patrons to control costs by charging by the number of search statements and not by connect hour or by records printed or displayed. Libraries may purchase searches in blocks of 500; the more searches purchased the cheaper the cost per search. Searches are always less than a dollar per search with prices varying from 45 to 90 cents per search state ment. However, the lack of the Boolean oper and "OR" can cause costs to mount. Based on 20 information requests conducted in Biosis/ FS for end users, a typical search had to be executed six times to allow for all the synonyms at a cost of $2.70-$5.40. Although the actual C. cost in dollars of a search is still relatively low, the search becomes more expensive if search ers factor in their time. Records can only be viewed/printed or downloaded one at a time so the time spent in viewing/printing/downloading can be considerable. FirstSearch Card Authorizations can be sold o Itr distributed free of charge, in batches of 10 to 25 searches, to library patrons enabling them to have individualized access. Users can keep track of how many searches are remaining on their accounts by checking the FirstSearch Ad ministrator online every morning. The Admin istrator will indicate the number of remaining searches in the accounts by subtracting the number of search statements used during the day. The Administrator would be more helpful to large libraries if the accounting software was interactive-subtracting the number of searches as they are used rather than once a day. Cur rently the system is updated once a day so searchers can use up their searches without re alizing it. This can cause endless frustration to those searchers at remote sites who did not realize they should have purchased more searches for their account. Making the Admin istrator interactive would enable patrons to know how many searches they have used and the cost of the search at the end of the transaction. Patrons can also control cost(s) if the limits for time, language, and formats are set at the outset. This is billed as one search statement. However, if the limits are applied during the process of searching, costs are incurred for each limit set (i.e., three search statements). If one has the patience for a few search statements, one could retrieve relevant information that w ould cost a considerable sum of money through other vendors. Usha Gupta is associate librarian, physical sciences, a n d Lutishoor Salisbury is associate librarian, agricul ture a n d biological sciences, Mullins Library, at the University o f Arkansas, Fayetteville