UKOLN: report for the period 1 August 1999 to 31 July 2000: presented to Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries and to the Committee on Electronic Information of the JISC. (Library and Information Commission research report 83)
LIC grant number: LIC/RE/033
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The annual report is evidence of the range of expertise of UKOLN staff, their hard work and commitment and the ideas and energy they generate. I would like to thank them all for their effort and their contribution to a successful year for UKOLN.
Special thanks are due to Lorcan Dempsey, who has been our Director for many years: we wish him well in his new role and we will continue to enjoy our discussions when we meet in the digital landscape. I would like to thank our Management Committee for their support, in particular Ray Lester the Chair who unstintingly gives his time and considerable expertise. I would also like to thank Richard Heseltine for providing a home for the Interoperability Focus activity in the University of Hull.
We would also like to acknowledge the contribution of our own University which provides us with space and services. In particular, we are grateful to Professor James Davenport, the University Director of IT, to Professor James Calderhead who saw our potential contribution to his division and to Howard Nicholson, University Librarian, for his interest and practical support over the many years that UKOLN has been based in the library.
Acting Director, UKOLN
Building information architecture 6
Looking back 9
A Brief History of UKOLN 9
The people 12
Staff Changes and Activities 12
UKOLN Management Committee 12
Policy and Advice 14
Research and Development 21
Distributed Systems and Services 27
Information Services 30
Events Management 33
Getting and spending 34
UKOLN Funding 34
Spreading the word 36
Publications, Presentations, Software, Committees and Visitors 36
UKOLN is a national centre for digital information management. It provides policy, research and awareness services to the UK library, information and cultural heritage communities. Its goals are to:
influence policy and inform practice
advance the state of the art and contribute to knowledge
build useful and innovative distributed systems and services
promote community building and consensus-making through awareness and events services.
Building information architecture
The year under review has delivered highly significant developments in the national and international arenas where UKOLN makes its contributions and within the University of Bath. The need to engage in a real way with Internet and Web technologies is now recognised in all sectors of the economy. Alongside the ‘dot.com’ fever, we have seen different parts of the public sector intent upon using electronic means to further their individual missions and goals, exemplified in the UK, for example, by initiatives such as e-culture, e-learning and e-government.
What has been encouraging for UKOLN – though there is still much work to do – is the increasing recognition by policy-makers that the solution is not just about ‘technology’ or ‘content’. If customers are effectively, efficiently and without redundancy to use the ubiquitous technology to discover, locate, request, deliver and use the content they need or want, something more is required. One of the key challenges for UKOLN – and, again, there is much more work still to do – has been to articulate in a way that non-specialists will understand the nature of that ‘something more’. It is appropriate here to recognise the considerable effort that the former Director of UKOLN, Lorcan Dempsey, devoted to explaining the terms ‘middleware’ and ‘metadata’, the standards and protocols and other elements needed within cross-institutional networked information systems, if they are to work as optimally as they could and should. The importance of this advocacy and outreach work was one of the driving forces behind the reorganisation of the UKOLN staff, at the start of the year under review, into a fresh set of teams, so that we now see UKOLN’s activities and services being delivered through policy and advice, research and development, distributed systems and services and information services teams.
Within the University of Bath, the potentially highly fruitful collaboration with two academic departments – the Human Computer Interaction Group and, of most impact, the Division of Access and Continuing Studies (DACS) – was recognised. Contact with the latter during the early part of the session quickly led to a realisation that the longer-term mission and goals of UKOLN would be better served by a realignment of UKOLN from the University’s Library to within that Division. This organisational transfer – carried through with the full support of the UKOLN staff, the University Librarian and the University’s senior management – was completed in April 2000. We are now enthusiastic about the prospects of furthering more rapidly than would otherwise have been the case UKOLN’s work in the ‘learning’ arena. There is no intention or desire however, to dilute UKOLN’s work for the library sector, and now other ‘memory institutions’ (to use Lorcan’s evocative phrase) such as museums and archives. Rather, we see the move as enabling UKOLN to capitalise on its growing knowledge of what is really required for users to truly interoperate across different disciplines, domains, jurisdictions and sectors, at the same time as forging a more secure future for UKOLN within the University of Bath.
The following pages detail the work of UKOLN during the year 1 August 1999 to 31 July 2000. Highlights include:
Policy and Advice
Work in international consensus building has continued, with significant UKOLN involvement in the development of the Bath Profile for Z39.50. We have played a role in the emergence of the e-University, leading a study into the role of existing electronic learning resources. We have taken a lead in the issues behind description of educational resources, with UKOLN convening the newly formed Metadata for Education Group (MEG).
The third in the series of annual Institutional Web Managerment Workshops organised by Web Focus was held in London in September 1999. The workshop, titled ‘The Next Steps’, was attended by over 120 delegates. Web Focus represented the JISC at the Ninth World Wide Web Conference, held in Amsterdam in May.
Public Library Networking Focus co-ordinated the production of a set of technical standards and guidelines for the NOF Digitise programme.
Alongside bibliographic performance measurement services, we have collaborated with the Library and Information Statistics Unit at Loughborough University on a study of acquisitions trends, and worked on projects to improve library services to visually impaired people.
Research and Development
We continue our interest in building architectural frameworks for resource discovery systems and we will take this work forward, building on the work of MODELS in both the IMesh Toolkit and Renardus projects.
The Agora hybrid library project provides a working system for users to access ‘information landscapes’. We are pleased to be responsible for disseminating the results of this project.
We have maintained a network of European and international collaborators in our research agenda. Projects such as SCHEMAS and Cedars enable us to maintain our contacts with global efforts to build the infrastructure for the digital library.
Distributed Systems and Services
We are primarily responsible for the technical aspects of the Resource Discovery Network (RDN). Our most visible contributions are the ResourceFinder, a service that allows people to search across all the RDN subject gateways, and RDN-Include, a mechanism by which the ResourceFinder and top-level RDN browse hierarchy can be embedded into third-party Web sites, in such a way that the look and feel of the third-party site is retained as far as possible.
In co-ordinating the technical and cataloguing development of the RDN, we have produced a number of standards framework documents and discussion papers which we hope will prove useful in the wider development of the Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER).
DC-dot, UKOLN’s Dublin Core generator and editor, continues to be very popular and is currently used to describe over 1,100 new resources each month. Recent activity has seen the development of DC-assist, a configurable metadata help tool, designed to complement the kind of help that is already available within tools like DC-dot.
Our Web-based services continue to be heavily used and are widely referenced. Ariadne, Exploit Interactive, Cultivate Interactive, the eLib Web pages, our informational Web pages on our areas of interest, and our mirrored resources provide a valuable component of national and international information use within the communities we serve.
Our professionally managed events support our work programmes and the JISC Committee for Electronic Information’s objectives. During the year we organised, among other events, the final three workshops in the MODELS series, a series of meetings that led to the development and eventual ratification of the Bath Profile, the public launch of the Resource Discovery Network and the bi-annual JISC/CNI (Coalition for Networked Information) conference.
We look forward to further developing this body of work next year, to consolidating our position as a central cross-sectoral and cross-domain resource, and to continuing to develop working relationships with partners and the University of Bath.