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Data Access Diskette
Electronic Resource reviewed by Dean Tudor
Wow, there's a lot of stuff on this disc (660k)! If you live in the Toronto area, or if you use the phone a lot, you'll love the material here. If you're looking for data about another region, this disc won't be of immediate value. But perhaps something similar exists locally for you.
Data Access contains seven files: one introduction, three instructional and three data files. All of the material is in ASCII format, so it can be used with any word processing program (Word, WordPerfect, WordStar) or any information management program (such as askSam). You can use Windows, DOS, OS/2 or UNIX. Data can be read by any computer: if you have a Mac, just use the conversion program.
The instructional files tell you how to use the local dial-in data services and list all those now publicly accessible in Metro Toronto. Another file explains the use of online databases and lists all subsidized (read free or cheap) resources available in the Toronto area, with subject codes and breakdowns. There is also a beginner's file for very basic instructions on research methods.
The data files are the important ones. The file "CD-ROM" names the CD-ROM discs currently available in Metro Toronto, describing contents and locations. "Library" names the libraries within the Metro area that admit the public, with names, addresses, phone numbers, descriptions of collections, subject strengths, etc. "Subject" is a quasi-index. It lists CD-ROMs, libraries and full text services for 70 major subject areas. This latter file should be the starting point for any focused search for information on a specific topic.
Everything appears to be cross referenced: the set is designed to speed up your access to data in the libraries of Metro Toronto, with an emphasis on using computerized services to improve research accuracy and thoroughness, and cut the time and expense involved in locating information.
It's an extremely useful tool, in my opinion, but researchers need to remember that (a) it's restricted to data found within publicly-accessible libraries in the Metro Toronto region; (b) it doesn't consider electronic bulletin boards or other networks; and (c) a freetext indexing program is needed to retrieve and compare data drawn from the files (that is, you cannot just type in "environment" or "North York" and expect to capture everything on the subject).
On the other hand, for $23 it's a bargain, particularly since it costs about $30 (tax included) to buy a 170-page hard cover first [Canadian?] novel.
If you want to, you can, of course, print out files for reference. You can update the files on your own, move material around to consolidate what you specialize in, and so forth. Be aware that these are just text files, and that they look like a book on a screen. There's no real magic here, just a lot of useful data, well assimilated within the constraints of simple ASCII text files for import into your own set of computer programs.
Sternberg also has an updating service on his own BBS, which has additional new sources. It's updated every week and costs $50 a year to subscribe. Perhaps, if you have a modem, you could phone Sternberg directly, join the BBS for $50 and download Data Access for free (that is, its cost would be part of the $50 fee, which gets you updates and extra material beyond the Toronto region).
Check it out!
Published in Sources, Summer 1993