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The information exchange

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Signing up for an electronic technical library ensures efficient access to material and guarantees that it is up to date

It is always the way that when you really need to find a document, the only copy in the office library is a dogeared edition, five years out of date.

Obviously, you are not to know that it is out of date, since you were unaware of an update being issued in the intervening years.

Technical Indexes and the RIBA's Construction Information Service are produced jointly with NBS Services to ensure that this situation does not occur. Information is broken down into suitably 'appropriate' packages for various professional interests, and you can buy into as many of these as you feel will suit your own particular purposes.

Standard deal The 'core' architectural package still provides you with electronic access to an impressive index of standards, regulations and advisory documents. All are appropriate for the UK construction industry (with Scottish variations included), and are displayed in their facsimile format on screen, for accurate reproduction quality. A huge library of information, which is easily retrievable, is contained within 30 or so CD-ROMs; from Architects' Journal articles, BRE reports, CIRIA guidelines, BBA certificates, BSI documentation and all relevant technical, trade and professional consultative bodies.

Buying into the Construction Products Library gives you a speedy review of a huge range of contractors, suppliers and manufacturers, including direct access to their brochures, again in standard facsimile format. The only drawback is that you have to build a significant wall of discs to accommodate this package, comprising about 110 CDs (although the containers, drawers and CD holders are supplied with the deal).My preference is to have these CD containers as near at hand as possible to maximise convenience, and so I currently have a large portion of my desk taken up with storage.

Setting up

The core-package set-up disc whizzes through the installation to provide you with a desktop-icon search facility.

Clicking the icon brings up a search box in which to type a range of criteria.

Remember to type accurately, leaving a space between BS (British Standard), for example, and the number or it fails to respond - and does not tell you why.

By maximising the search criteria, documents can be located incredibly quickly. The results for any given search are displayed in an easy to read scroll format. A handy summary tab allows you to check that the document located is the one that you are after. To retrieve the document (the results identify the CD to insert) insert the named CD, click the green 'go' button and the document is on screen. No more phone calls to the village library, no more running down to the local HMSO-approved outlet, no more begging calls to the practice next door to lend you its pristine photocopies.

As with most on-screen documents, it is advisable to print out documents to read, but check to see how many pages there are first!

Reproduction rights to these documents - for subscribers' internal use only - are part of the package. It is as simple as that.

Now online

The technical index is a very useful tool for any practice with a regular need for technical research facilities.

Those firms engaged in research and development of materials, expert witnesses needing to back up data with BS clauses, those wanting 'find' searches though Building Regulations or speedy checks on health and safety regulations - it is all here at your fingertips.

The only drawback is that it now seems strangely dated to access information via CD, and that is why Technical Indexes is now online. The amount of information contained on the Construction Products package, for example, means that a CD has to be inserted to make the search, and then taken out to enable you to insert the CD resulting from your search.

This can be a nuisance. Without doubt, for those of us with the luxury of dedicated Internet access and browse time, the website is a useful advance. However, for normal conditions and for many practices, the CD package would be a quantum leap for their access to information.

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