Names and addresses, though not the most glamorous items of information, are invaluable for contacting individuals and businesses across the country. Most libraries address the need to provide such information to their patrons by acquiring phone directories for cities and towns across the country--an endeavor that consumes large amounts of shelf space. By compiling data from thousands of telephone directories and other sources, the FAST TRACK-Library Version products make finding telephone numbers and addresses quite easy. It offers libraries the opportunity to exchange shelves and shelves of quickly outdated telephone directories for their electronic equivalent on CD-ROM.
FAST TRACK sports a search interface that like the data it retrieves--is not fancy or sophisticated but utilitarian. The system retrieves directory listings based on the name of an individual or a business. The MS-DOS-based software takes a plain, nongraphical approach to data retrieval. Don't count on using your mouse with this product--the search interface relies completely on keyboard commands, with many tasks assigned to function keys. Searching FAST TRACK can be as simple as typing in a name and pressing Enter. Users can qualify searches according to state, city, area code, zip code, street, or house number. These other qualifiers can never be used without a name as the primary search key.
The search and retrieval software divides the screen into three subwindows. The top third of the screen contains the Entry Window for typing in search criteria on the left and the Detail Window on the right to display the information from a single listing. The Listings Window on the bottom two-thirds of the screen displays a summary of search results--one directory listing per line. The bottom line of the screen holds the Function Key Bar, which shows the current tasks assigned to each of the function keys. Directly above the Listings Window is a status bar that indicates which hotkeys have been assigned for quick reference to cities. Pressing the F3 function key toggles the cursor between the Entry Window and the Listings Window. One browses through the retrieved listings with the Arrow keys or the Page Up and Page Down keys. The details of the listing currently highlighted item appear in the box in the upper right portion of the screen.
NYNEX groups the listings database according to geographic regions with one CD-ROM disc per major U.S. region. The software can search only one disc at a time. Pressing the F9 function key brings up a list of regional areas, corresponding to the four regional discs. With the new region selected, the system automatically re-executes the previous search. In addition to the geographic regions, one can select numbers from a set of AT&T 800 numbers included on each disc.
The search software uses implicit truncation for the terms entered into the fields in the Entry Window. In other words, any item in the database that begins with the letters supplied in the search term counts as a match and is retrieved. If the user enters the term "SMITH," listings for "SMITHS," "SMITHSON," "SMITHSONIAN," and the like will be retrieved.
In most cases, the user will qualify the name search with information based on the other fields. Rather than searching the entire database for a name, a typical search would be limited by a city and state. Multiple terms can be entered on a field using the pipe symbol("1"), which combines the terms with a logical "or" operation when a executing the search.
Most people will find FAST TRACK very simple to operate and will easily perform successful searches without assistance. The interface cannot be considered as entirely intuitive, however. The keystrokes for moving around are not stated explicitly on the screen, so some may have trouble figuring out that the Tab key moves from field to field and that pressing Enter executes the search. The F3 Function key for moving between the Entry Window and the Listings Window is not a self-explanatory navigation technique.
The printing and downloading options on FAST TRACK-Library Version are quite limited. All that can ever be printed at a time is a single directory listing. Similarly, the product includes no feature for capturing retrieved directory listings to disk for importing into databases or word processors. This reflects the product's intended use as a tool for finding single directory listings. NYNEX prohibits this version of their product to be used for commercial purposes such as gathering listings for marketing campaigns.
The name-oriented searching in FAST TRACK-Library Version limits its usefulness. It is not possible, for example, to search by an address and city to find the name of the occupant, or to search by a phone number to find its owner. Another limitation concerns the inability to perform searches for all regions at once. In order to perform a comprehensive search across the entire United States, the user must search each of the four regional discs individually.
The FAST TRACK-Library Version includes a database of 77 million white pages listings, containing the equivalent of 3,400 white pages directories from cities across the entire United States. As noted above, NYNEX divides the database into four discs, each representing a geographic region--Northeast, Southeast, Central, and West. Though usually sold as a set covering the entire United States, individual discs can be purchased separately if the library requires information for a single geographic area. NYNEX updates the discs twice a year.
At 77 million entries, the database is large, but cannot be considered comprehensive. With about 88 million household telephone lines and 30 million business lines (see: Lynette M. Pozza, 1992 Changing Times of Telecommunications, Dun & Bradstreet Information Services, p. 3), the database covers roughly two-thirds of U.S. telephone numbers. The listings available cover both urban and rural areas. NYNEX states that the listings in FAST TRACK-Library Version derive from a number of sources and cannot precisely identify the types of numbers that would not be found in this version of their product.
The data for each listing record consist of the name, address, and telephone number. The name can be that of either an individual or a business, and the address consists of state, city, street, house number, and zip code fields. Each listing contains an indicator showing whether it is a residence or a business. The maximum data per record is eighty characters.
NYNEX FAST TRACK-Library Version succeeds in its main objective as a fast and easy tool for finding single directory listings. Its limitation of searching only by names makes it less powerful than one normally would expect from a modern information retrieval system. NYNEX offers this product as an alternative to collecting telephone directories. This product will indeed conserve shelf space and offers a more comprehensive service than most libraries are able to fulfill with conventional telephone directories. The $8,200 annual subscription fee greatly exceeds what most libraries would spend in acquiring telephone directories. The cost of NYNEX FAST TRACK-Library Version presses the limits of what most libraries may be able to pay, especially for an information source that is less than comprehensive with search capabilities that appear deliberately inhibited.