Extras – CD-ROMs: Friends or Foes

Mariann Storck is the Law Library Manager at Godfrey & Kahn SC in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Godfrey & Kahn is a medium sized firm with four satellite offices, all located in Wisconsin.
Previously, Mariann was Assistant Librarian and Cataloger at Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee, and
a teacher in Milwaukee area schools.


A couple of years ago the comment was made that we added another full-time staff member to the IS department just because of the Library’s CD-ROMs. We started using CD-ROMs about four years ago, and ultimately ended up being one of the few firms in the area that had an extensive collection that had been successfully networked. Other firms had either decided CD-ROMs were too much of a hassle or weren’t advanced enough technologically. And, while it’s true that we did have a rocky road along the way, we finally were successful in networking them and minimizing problems.

However, this year, the IS staff started telling me that where there had been one disk in the 1998, in 1999 there were two. Or, where they had been able to program desktop access from IS headquarters, particular disks had reverted to installation at each individual desktop PC. The new version of LOIS took two days of IS time to get the N-Line update running, and it still failed. The last straw came when I was told some disks weren’t being loaded because we were out of disk space, and a new tower would have to be purchased at $14,000.

CDs – An Interim Technology? Opinions Abound!

I had concluded about a year ago that CD-ROMs were an interim technology, and that eventually I would be migrating attorneys and paralegals to the Internet. Based on what I saw as the readiness level, I was figuring sometime around the year 2002. However after the current rash of problems, I decided I needed to reexamine the issue now. I posted a request to the Law-Lib listserv that read as follows:

We are on a Novelle Network. When we first started networking CD-ROMs about 4 years ago, it was a big hassle in that individual installs had to be done at each desktop PC. Then, things got better for a couple of years and MIS could run a program from their offices without going to each PC. Now, for some reason, we’re back to where installation has to be done at each PC. drive. Furthermore, some single disk products are coming in as double disks this year even though there is no additional information. 1.) Has anyone else come across these problems? 2.) Are publishers trying to kill their CD-ROM products so customers will jump to Internet access sooner than planned?

I received several very informative and helpful answers. Many people agreed with my comments. Kecia Bailey, Head Librarian at Hardy Erich Brown & Wilson in Sacramento, CA, wrote, “I don’t think we’ve ever had anything just drop in the towers and run without some desktop installation.” The Information Manager at Waring Cox, PLC, in Memphis, TN, Barbara Bailey, wrote, “We must install all networked CDs except Premise based West CDs at individual workstations. It is a hassle plus we don’t do it unless the attorney asks for it. Therefore, the CDs are used less often than they should be.” Another comment, “I think they are trying to price them so that people will use Westlaw or go to the Internet…CDs are a pain in the neck for our MIS folx (sic).” Anne Washburn, Librarian at Smith Helms Mulliss & Moore, LLP, Greensboro, NC. Brown, Rudnick, Freed & Gesmer’s (Hartford, CT) Librarian Chris Graesser wrote that we “have basically junked our CDs for internet and online access…I think a big cost factor that is overlooked for CDs is the time required for the MIS staff to maintain the things. CD technology is definitely on the way out, at least in a networked environment.” Elizabeth McCambridge, Information Manager at Trenam, Kemker, Scharf, Barkin, Frye, O’Neill & Mullis in Tampa, FL, said it all when she wrote, “The most appalling part to me is the fact that CD-ROM sales people have zero technical knowledge when working with networking CDs and go wide-eyed when I try to explain the technical problems with their products.” Pam Dempsey, Head Librarian at Rodey, Dickason, Sloan, Akin, & Robb, P.A. (Albuquerque, NM), voicing all of our frustrations urges us to, “stick our heads out the window and yell, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!’”

A number of people came out in support of West’s premise based CDs. Kurt Metzmeier, Coordinator of IS, UK College of Law, wrote, “Here, here. The Premise program is the most well-behaved CD-ROM platform in the legal information field, and a (comparative) joy to administer. Any number of Premise CD-ROM products can be accessed with a single instance of the program running entirely on the network server. The LAN admin need only put shortcut to the main program on the user’s workstation one time.” He goes on to echo some of my feelings about Folio by writing, “Beats that monstrosity of inefficient programming, Folio, hands down.”

While Nancy Hurt, USAA Law Librarian in San Antonio, TX, has high praise about Premise CD programmers and engineers, her comments also indicate a significant degree of problems. Her Library runs 160 CDs over a network that allows desktop access for 130 attorneys. She wrote, “Now, I know West has taken a beating lately (and justly so) however, I have nothing but high praise for their Premise CD programmers and engineers. Over the past year, West has worked hand in hand with our IT staff to solve a lot of the network problems we were experiencing.”

Downloading CDs to a Server

Finally, a number of respondents addressed the issue of just downloading CDs to their servers. George Baker of Trumbull County Law Library has high praise for downloading as well as for CD-ROM technology.

We network over 40 CDs that are downloaded to a server that services ten terminals. We rarely have the problems that are in your post. While we do have the occasional glitches, the problem are rare. The benefit of downloading to a server versus using towers is mainly speed. The server is much quicker. We did run into a space problem recently and have upgraded our Compaq Prosignia Server that had 12 gig of memory to the Compaq Proliant 300 which can be expanded to 81 gig of storage memory. The 3000 has a possible 6 drives of 18.2 gig each. We are starting with 3 drives that gives us storage memory of 36.4 gigabytes. One drive must stay open.

We are running Novell Netware 5.0 and it works very well. Whatever system you use, there will be problems. However, when set up properly the system works quite well. Another advantage to the server is the discs are locked up. With our library having 24 hour access this was an important point. Our server is contained in the staff room which is locked at night which gives us more security. The problem with the internet is you can’t go directly to the search terms as you can on Westlaw, Lexis or CDs. This means you will often be required to read the entire article or case to see if you like it. The CDs allow us to browse search terms and quickly decide if a case is on point. Another great point is the linking capabilities. On the internet linking from one case or article to another is often impossible. Most states and federal cases are not on the internet so internet linking is impossible. In summation, the Compaq servers and Novel Netware have proven fast and efficient. We have even gone to a software that lets attorneys print from any terminal and keeps track of their printing for quarterly billing. This software works very well with our system.

Another librarian concurred with George by saying that they were also downloading CD-ROMs, and had found the same advantages. This librarian was also networking Premise products and was happy they weren’t investing in CD-ROM drives that become obsolete too soon.

Regarding Premise, my feeling about West CD-ROMs is that the cost is excessive. Perhaps in the case of government libraries, that’s not the case because of special offers.


Based on all of these comments, I have decided that we need to start examining alternate methods of obtaining the information we now have on CD-ROMs. My initial step has been to examine some of our single disk programs to see if they can be downloaded to the server to free up a CD slot in one of our existing towers. Secondly, I instructed the IS department not to order a new tower. Third, I am running trial periods on our CCH products (which, by the way, have not caused the problems addressed earlier but would free up a significant amount of slots on the CD towers). I have asked that all CCH users experiment with getting their information from Lexis, via the Internet or via CCH Online. Fourth, I have initiated a policy of no more CD-ROMs.

While it looks like Library out-of-pocket costs for Internet or CCH will be greater than the current cost of CDs, the savings in hardware and IS labor costs should be significant. My feeling is that I can pay for a lot of service before I equal or exceed what is being spent by IS in labor and equipment costs.

Of course, one action leads to anther problem. In this case, it is the question of billing online charges to clients. That’s another article entirely.

Reader Comments

Date: Thu, 01 Apr 1999 12:48:56 -0500
From: James Shelar
To: [email protected]
Subject: Folio

Does everyone/anyone else have the problem that it seems to defy
technology to load CD products that use different versions of Folio? We
are dumping any Folio version we can and going to an Internet version,
if there is one and it is acceptable. Some just are not very good.

Posted in: CD ROM, Extras