N. Carolina College Offers Students Campuswide Access to CD-ROMs
In education, one of the most popular applications of CD-ROM has been in the library. Many college students now rely on this medium instead of printed sources to look up phone numbers, read newspaper articles, learn a foreign language and more. But a central problem with such technology has been limitations on access. Libraries often find patrons waiting for vacant computers or for someone else to finish using the disc they need. Not to mention the fact that, unlike books which can be checked out, electronic resources are off limits when the library closes. But Mars Hill College in Mars Hill, N.C., has implemented a solution to provide continual campuswide access to all of its library's CD-ROM databases. The 1,200 students and 80 faculty now may load their desired disc from any computer on the campus network. The college currently has about 120 IBM-compatible and Macintosh machines connected via a fiber-optic Ethernet backbone. Two CD towers containing 14 CD-ROM drives are housed in the computer services office. Among the programs available are Grolier's New Multimedia Encyclopedia and Gale's Biography Master Index. Other CD-ROMs contain the full text of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, atlases and more. Turning Blueprints into Reality Mars Hill brought the CD-ROM network to life in 1993, two years after defining the objective in its information technology master plan. Officials examined several approaches to CD-ROM sharing, including daisy chaining and tower-based products. They decided to purchase a CD-ROM server and retrieval software from Logicraft of Nashua, N.H. The firm's turnkey solution fits into an institution's existing computing environment; servers support the most common local area networks such as Banyan VINES, Novell NetWare, IPX/SPX, TCP/IP and any NetBIOS operating system. Logicraft's LanCD software works by routing or "redirecting" requests for data to the CD-ROM server. The client software component provides a user-friendly MS-DOS or Windows menu, allowing one to access a drive as if it were attached directly to the desktop computer. John K. Payne, dean of learning resources at Mars Hill, says students have embraced the new technology. In the past, he notes, three or four students often waited at each CD-ROM-equipped computer in the library. Today, those seven machines are still occupied much of the time, he notes, mainly because "psychologically, some students prefer to study in the library." But, unlike before, they now have the freedom to access the same resources from other locations on campus. Payne adds that the servers exceeded his expectations in terms of efficiency and reliability. "Whenever you implement a complex new technology, you expect a certain amount of downtime," he says, "yet we have had not nearly that much." The college installed two Logicraft LS4300 servers, each of which includes a CPU, memory, double-speed CD-ROM drives, a floppy drive and network interface card. (The firm has a complete series of LS4/5xxx servers.) Payne says future plans call for adding more CD-ROM drives to the servers and/or adding hard disks for frequently used products. Among the benefits of the latter method would be dramatic increases in drive-access times. The FastCD utility, included with LanCD, creates "virtual CD-ROM discs" on physical SCSI hard drives, allowing users to access applications 30 to 300 times faster than using CD-ROM drives alone. Optimized data caching keeps recently used data in a high-speed RAM cache for even better performance. Achieving Information Literacy Payne thinks these enhancements will encourage even more students to exploit multimedia and other information technologies for their research. Last summer, Mars Hill connected its campus network to the Internet. And beginning last September, the college began to offer dial-in access to the network, which allowed one to send e-mail, view a coming events schedule and load a CD-ROM from any remote location. According to Payne, such capability is especially important at Mars Hill College, which sits relatively isolated along the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains. In an urban area, he notes, students usually have the advantage of being able to visit one or more large university libraries. Payne expects his students will have just as much information at their fingertips, thanks to rapidly expanding technologies such as CD-ROM. And arrangements are being made to give local high schools access to the college's resources, including the CD-ROM databases. The end result, Payne thinks, will be students who are better prepared for a workforce that demands information literacy.
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.