Remember The Good Old Days?

Dialog screen

The first article database I remember using was Dialog, sometime in the late 80s or early 90s. Today I found myself amused that we used to call such things “interactive.” That is, you poked the command line interface with questions and it usually beeped a syntax error, all while they charge $4 per minute, plus the connection fees. (The image above is from a later CD-ROM version.)

A 1993 article in Phrack reminded me of some of the details and fun of such systems:

One of the research databases commonly used is the Dialog Information Service. Dialog is a subsidiary of Lockheed Missile and Space Corporation. It provides access to more than three hundred databases containing over one hundred million records. The significance of this service is that it joins all 300+ databases together, you can skip from one database to another simply by “beginning” the database. In the past, the user would have to individually call each database and pay an exorbitant charge to use it. Dialog eliminates this and keeps all the databases together. Because of the vastness, all sources are summarized with keyword searches. Dialog has substantial signup charges ($295. last time I asked them) in addition to the fact that each individual database charges an hourly rate. Each rate varies according to things like the relative importance of the topic, cost to put the information online, and the main determining factor: what they think the users will pay. Some database providers seem to defy any logical reasoning as to how they determined the cost to access their information.

Yeah, I used to walk up hill to school in a snowstorm too. More interesting is this picture of libraries and librarians of the day:

If you travel to your local university library you will notice computer databases to which you can access such things as doctoral dissertations (get brownie points by telling your professor how interesting his/her thesis was), medical research (look up that newly acquired disease that your doctor mumbled that you now have), even national newspaper articles. This is just another source of information at your disposal (aside from books that is). Popping up more and more in libraries are “fee based research services”. These are simply professional librarians who use research databases to retrieve the information you are too ignorant or stupid (or don’t have enough time) to retrieve yourself. Fees range from their cost only (ie, online charges) to upwards of $100. per hour of their time spent PLUS any online charges.

As you can probably deduce, it would be cost effective to use every possible free source of information before turning to online searchers. I recommend exhausting all the in-library databases before going online simply because the in-library databases are usually available on CD-ROM and you are not charged an hourly rate to use it. And don’t forget about all those free Internet FTP sites, Gopher, WAIS, WWW, and even usenet! Most librarians are just starting to pay attention to and make use of the Internet. However once you have read this article you will be well versed on one of the major databases that is being used by these research services. If you run into an online database in your library, I suggest that you know what you are doing, as librarians are very skeptical due to the fact that you are using their money to do your searching.