WORM (write once read many) optical digital disk technology has not yet become a factor in electronic publishing, but it is now well established as an in-house document imaging tool. Hundreds of organizations now scan paper documents and store them in document imaging systems. While the insurance industry is moving the most quickly to incorporate the technology, a number of libraries are selectively converting manuscripts and other archival materials.
Document imaging systems offer a number of benefits. First, they can condense the information that is contained in paper documents by converting the images into digital form and storing them on optical digital disks, saving significant amounts of space. Removable 5 1/4- and six-inch optical digital disk cartridges are used on PCs and small multi-user systems. Each disk can store the information contained on 10,000 pages. Optical digital disks with larger diameters (8, 10, and 12 inches) can store proportionately greater numbers of pages and large jukebox-type optical digital disk systems, which fit in a desk-size module, can accommodate information that would require from 150 to 300 four-drawer filing cabinets.
A second benefit of the technology is ease of access. Information stored on optical digital disks can be organized and retrieved using computer-based indexing and searching software. Each document--whether a single image or multiple images--may be tagged with any number of fixed search parameters, such as name, title, subject, date, number, etc It may also have more general parameters containing keyword indexes, summaries or abstracts, and notes or comments. Any or all of these can be used to initiate a multi-level or relational search, thus allowing one to access a specific document or a group of related documents.
The third benefit of the technology is relatively rapid retrieval and delivery. It takes from 10 to 30 seconds to retrieve an image from an electronic file containing millions of images and forward it to a user workstation.
Fourth, the technology offers multi-user and off-site access. Document imaging systems allow multiple users at different sites to access and view the same image simultaneously. The image can be electronically replicated and transmitted to as many people as need to see it.
Finally, the technology offers document integrity and security. Once stored on an optical digital disk, a document image cannot be misplaced, misfiled, altered, marked-up, or otherwise mutilated. In the case of restricted documents, access rights to some or all of the images can be granted or restricted.
A document imaging system can be a standalone system or it can be interface with a conventional automated library system. At this time the interface would have to be custom-developed.
A variety of companies market a diverse mix of document imaging systems ranging from PC-based to mainframe-based products. Some vendors are devoted exclusively to this market niche. They include FileNet, Acctex and Metafile. Others have their roots in the records management industry and offer document imaging using optical digital disk as an extension of their micrographics business. They include Bell & Howell, Canon U.S.A., Eastman Kodak, Minolta, and 3M. Among the first of the computer manufacturers to enter the market were Wang Laboratories, IBM, Digital Equipment Corporation, and Hewlett-Packard. They consider the scanners and optical digital disk drives as yet additional computer peripherals. IBM is the leader in PC-based systems. The others focus their efforts on multi-user systems.
Hardware needed includes a scanner, a CPU (from a PC to a mainframe), a conversion chip set or card to convert the images to electronic code, and a rapid access storage device (a WORM optical digital disk or a magnetic disk if very fast response time is required). On the low end, a scanner costs as little as $1,000, the CPU as little as $3,000, the chip set $200, and a small optical digital disk drive as little as $2,500. However, the typical fully configured PC-based system costs well in excess of $9,000. Applications software adds another $1,000 or more. Multi-user systems cost even more on a per-workstation basis--sometimes as much as $20,000 each. A major factor in the cost differential is the applications software cost--as little as $1,000 for a simple PC package to well over $100,000 for large, complex systems.
While no local library system vendor integrates document imaging with its system, it is possible to access an imaging system from any terminal on a local library system through a "gateway" in the latter system's CPU. Many vendors now offer such a capability. Recent products introductions by Comstow, Geac, and VTLS are described elsewhere in this issue.