Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Planet SOSIG: DESIRE Training for the Distributed Internet Cataloguing Model

Lesly Huxley looks at the work of the project DESIRE: Training for the Distributed Internet Cataloguing Model.

Subject gateways like SOSIG [1] have already proved that librarians can play a critical role in the development of Internet catalogues and collections [2]. The next challenge for subject-specific gateways is to develop systems for distributed and collaborative cataloguing of Internet resources in the same way that collaborative systems are used for print resources with many libraries feeding records into shared databases. This paper discusses some of the work being done by the DESIRE project [3] within the European Union to develop the systems and methods required for collaborative distributed cataloguing of Internet resources and at some of the training issues involved for those responsible for managing such systems.

SOSIG is one of the lead partners in the pan-European DESIRE project, participating in two of the project’s ‘work packages’: Indexing and Cataloguing (WP3) and Training (WP8).

DESIRE (Development of a Service for Information on Research and Education) began in mid-1996, funded under the European Commission’s Fourth Framework programme. It builds on existing European telematics initiatives and WWW technologies with the aim of increasing the value they offer to European researchers. SOSIG is working with other European partners to develop distributed subject-specific WWW-based cataloguing systems, methods and tools [4] which help European researchers to locate - simply and effectively - relevant and high quality information on the Internet. The SOSIG training team is working with partners at the University of Newcastle [5] to develop training materials to support the needs of the distributed subject-specific services, taking into account issues of distance and the use of the Web to deliver material.

A workshop at the University of Newcastle in October 1997 brings together staff from the WP3 partners’ services, the WP8 trainers and invited participants from non-DESIRE UK subject-based gateways with a view to sharing experiences of Distributed Cataloguing Models and the tools, training materials and methods of delivery to support them.

The Distributed Cataloguing Model

There are three main partners in WP3 working on the development of distributed subject-specific catalogues of Internet resources:

The Orthopaedic Information Service, based at Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, is also participating in DESIRE as an evaluation service of some of the DESIRE tools.

These subject-specific services aim to provide a one-stop shop for their user community: researchers in the social sciences, for example, can connect to SOSIG and browse or search the catalogue records for descriptions of Internet resources, knowing that they have been evaluated against the SOSIG quality criteria and described and classified by subject specialists. Although providing similar services to their users, SOSIG, EELS, DutchESS and the Orthopaedic server all have differing underlying technical and cataloguing structures. One of the aims of DESIRE is to provide for the integration of such services through adoption of standards frameworks and technologies which can ‘speak all their languages’ without the need for common classification schemes or databases.

The SOSIG Distributed Cataloguing Model

The SOSIG model has evolved during its participation in DESIRE as a result of financial support from JISC and DESIRE and volunteer effort from UK and European users. The Model now has four main elements:

Core Staff

SOSIG core staff have responsibility for overall collection management and systematic link-checking. They locate, evaluate and catalogue resources across all subject sections and act on recommendations from other contributors. They catalogue directly into ROADS [8] templates online.

Section Editors

The expertise of SOSIG’s core staff is complemented by that of subject specialist librarians based in ten UK universities. These ‘Section Editors’ have responsibility for a specific subject section in SOSIG and locate and evaluate resources before adding their descriptions, keywords and classifications directly to the SOSIG catalogue using ROADS templates accessed via the Web. Section Editors are supported by funds from JISC which allow for a half-day per week’s protected time within each institution: in some cases responsibility is shared between two or more people.

A SOSIG Section Editors’ Admin Centre (password-protected) has been established on the Web to provide a quick and easy gateway to all the online documentation and templates Section Editors need to locate, evaluate and catalogue resources. Face-to-face contact between Section Editors and the core staff is limited: an initial workshop brought them together for training in applying evaluation criteria and cataloguing rules and another is planned for this Autumn to facilitate the sharing of experiences, provide an update on developments and a refresher on issues of concern. All other communication is by email, either person-to-person or via the Section Editors’ mailing list.

European Correspondents

European Correspondents are academics or librarians who have volunteered to submit new resources to the gateway on an informal but regular basis. The role of the European Correspondents was described in an earlier edition of Ariadne [9]. The European Correspondents’ pages [10] on SOSIG offer links to evaluation criteria, the scope policy and other documentation to assist their task.


SOSIG also invites recommendations from users: an online form is provided, accessible via the main SOSIG button bar. The ‘Add New Resource’ form [11] is the same as that used by the European Correspondents. All recommendations are checked, evaluated and - if acceptable - catalogued by the SOSIG core staff.

The SOSIG Model can be represented visually in two ways:

image of workflow
Figure 1: Workflow
image of task responsibilities
Figure 2: Tasks

Other Models

The workshop at Newcastle in October is designed to prompt discussion and sharing of experiences of Distributed Cataloguing Models. We already know, however, that the other DESIRE WP3 partners operate different models to SOSIG and that other UK subject-based gateways have different models again. DutchESS has, for example:

The Orthopaedic server uses clinicians who describe resources - particularly images - often on paper or in text files. These are then added to the database by core staff.

Other services make use of an extensive network of volunteers or a small group of paid staff: others rely heavily on automatically harvested records for initial location of resources, followed by systematic sifting and describing by volunteers or paid cataloguers. It will be interesting to see the visual representations and descriptions of these various models at the workshop.

Training for the Distributed Cataloguing Model

The DESIRE training work package (WP8) partners have already delivered a framework for the development of quality training materials to support DESIRE services [12]. This provides guidelines and templates for the production of materials and a pilot module on metadata based on these. The Distributed Cataloguing Model raises a number of issues for training:

Although DESIRE services operate different models, WP8 partners have identified common needs amongst them and developed the two-day workshop to train those who will be responsible for training their contributors at various levels. Participants will have ample opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other as much as from the tutors (from SOSIG , DESIRE and Netskills). The DESIRE ‘tools’ will come under scrutiny and be assessed for applicability across a number of models. Much of the sample material is based on the initial SOSIG Section Editors training materials (with revision after feedback) and SOSIG is used as an example throughout the two days. The workshop programme covers:

Day 1

Day 2

Participants from DESIRE and non-DESIRE services will attend on day 1; on day 2, DESIRE services only will participate. All the materials are subject to evaluation and peer review as part of the DESIRE project procedures. In an attempt to focus on issues of distant delivery of training, the sample materials will include a new slide viewer used at SOSIG workshops [13] and the pilot TONIC-NG system, still under development at Newcastle to deliver interactive online tutorial material via the Web.

It is hoped to make a summary of the results of the workshop discussions available in a future Planet SOSIG.


[1] The Social Science Information Gateway (SOSIG)

[2] Planet SOSIG: Issue 9 - A New Internet Role for Librarians

[3] DESIRE home pages

[4] Three key areas of research have provided tools for DESIRE subject-specific services. For more information see:

A review of Metadata: A survey of current resource formats
Selection Criteria for Quality Controlled Gateways
The Role of Classification Schemes in Internet resource discovery and description


[5] Netskills, University of Newcastle

[6] DutchESS

[7] EELS


[9] Planet SOSIG, edition 9

[10] European Correspondents’ pages

[11] Add New Resource form

[12] DESIRE Deliverable D8.1

[13] SOSIG Slide Viewer (uses JavaScript)

Author Details

Lesly Huxley,
Training & Research Officer
Institute for Learning and Research Technology
University of Bristol, 8 Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1TN, UK
Tel: +44(0)117 928 8472
Fax: +44(0)117 928 8473
email: lesly.huxley@bris.ac.uk