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New Database Will Refer Users To Documents at ERIC Centers

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Washington--The Education Department has completed plans for a new project aimed at making a broad array of educational research and information more accessible to the general public.

The department last month awarded a contract to Aspen Systems Corporation of Rockville, Md., to develop and operate a referral database that will direct users to information found in the 16 clearinghouses of the Educational Resources Information Center system, as well as other research.

The eric system currently has a database containing more than 650,000 documents and articles. It is available in more than 3,000 libraries and other locations.

But officials at the department's office of educational research and improvement, which oversees eric, said last week that the system needed to be made more usable for the public. They expressed hope that the new access eric would serve that purpose.

"We wanted an easier way for people who aren't sophisticated education researchers to use the database," said Robert Stonehill, eric's director. "We hope the new program will be a one-stop contact point for inexperienced users."

Aspen, which operates two other on-line referral databases, will receive nearly $400,000 in the first year of a three-year con4tract that could total more than $1.2 million, according to Mr. Stonehill. Three other firms also competed for the grant, he said.

A Starting Point

The database to be developed by Aspen will be considerably smaller than the huge eric system. Its goal will be to serve as a starting point for those looking for research on a specific topic.

Aspen also will establish a toll-free number for reference guidance for those who do not have a computer or who need help in using the database.

In addition, the access eric project will include public-information campaigns to make potential users more aware of the service. A periodical publication will be developed that will review the newest additions to the eric system, as well as research from across the field, Mr. Stonehill explained.

The idea for access eric surfaced nearly three years ago, when the department was taking an overall look at the federally funded network of clearinghouses. Directors of the centers, which catalog information by subject, suggested that a referral system was needed to make the database easier to use.

Access eric, which will be the first component added to eric since it was established 22 years ago, is expected to be available to users by November.--rrw

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