Art without engineering is dreaming;
Engineering without art is calculating.

Steven K. Roberts, N4RVE

Online Searching: A Primer – Book Review

I was on the online information retrieval beat for a few years, and this is just a quick little review of a 1982 book in the field.

Online Searching: A Primer

by Carol H. Fenichel and Thomas H. Hogan
Learned Information
reviewed by Steven K. Roberts
Interface Age — October, 1982

The process of searching for an item Puried somewhere amidst the world’s banks of published literature has under gone a metamorphosis, but the ripples are only beginning to be be felt outside the clique of information specialists.

The issue is online information retrieval. This involves the use of a terminal to interactively search bibliographic records comprising a database housed in a large computer system. Searches that once required days of manual digging can now be accomplished in a few minutes.

It has become possible to rapidly conduct a comprehensive literature and patent search on a new process, while compiling a bibliography of the surrounding technology and printing the balance sheets of competing firms. This tour-de-force of market research usually takes less than an hour.

The information services are not that easy for the beginner to use effectively—nor could they be made so without accepting some sacrifice in performance. For this reason, database vendors routinely offer seminars and training materials, but since those are either system- or application-specific, they are less than ideal as one’s first exposure to the field.

It was evidently this realization that spawned this book. Both professionals in the online field, the authors present a jargon-free volume offering an overview of the industry—as well as some hints on getting started and an excellent bibliography of supporting literature.

The book answers the basic questions (What is a database? How much does it cost? Why is online searching worthwhile? How does it work?) with no ill-fated assumptions concerning the reader’s prior exposure to computers.

The text is sensitive to its target audience: new comers to the online field in library, academic and business environments.

The long-promised “information revolution” is taking place and education is the key to fitting in. Effective use of the new systems is impossible without a basic underlying grasp of the online field’s potential; this work provides it painlessly.

152 pages $12.95