Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial Introduction to Issue 27: The Digital Library Jigsaw

Philip Hunter opens the box and looks at some of the choicest pieces of Ariadne issue 27.

Sarah Ormes, the UKOLN Public Libraries Focus is taking a short career break. Sarah has been with UKOLN for five years, which makes her positively antidiluvian in terms of web years. During that time both her role and her activities have expanded. Among other things Sarah was instrumental in the setting up of the hugely popular children's web site 'Stories from the Web', and in the last two years has run a very successful conference on Web Management issues for Public Librarians. Her column in this issue 'Lights Out, Silver Boots On' contains a selection of well-informed predictions about the next five years of wired Public Libraries. None of them seem likely to be wide of the mark, but of course time will tell. Ariadne and UKOLN wish her well in her future, and we hope to feature more articles by her in due course.

In this issue we feature an important proposal from Neil Beagrie, head of Digital Preservation at the DNER, who here floats the idea of a Digital Preservation Coalition, as a collective body for practitioners. Digital Preservation is now emerging as an area of key importance in a world which is going to be ever more dependent on the availability of documents in electronic form. It isn't something which, so far, is making much of a stir in the newspapers and broadsheets, and there isn't yet a genre of documentary television focusing on the preservation of electronic records - nevertheless Digital Preservation is an issue which requires to be addressed by academic and government institutions. Unless we can preserve the important aspects of the past - even the very recent past - there isn't much point in looking to the future.

Archaeology has done much to bring aspects of the past within reach, and in recent years television has added to these efforts (if not always successfully), making a knowledge of our ancestors available to a wide slice of the lay public. However television, though it reaches a wider audience than the written word, is constrained by its format to treat the subject in particular ways. The web is not so limited, either by its format or by a limited broadcast reach - anyone with a suitable machine and a reasonable attention span now has access to very interesting resources. Paul Jacobs has written about aspects of the Lahav Research Project, illustrating some advantages of the multimedia approach, both in terms of dissemination and the actual conduct of an excavation.

Part of the preservation exercise is creating and retaining enough metadata to know what a thing is. There are several mysterious objects from the 1st millennium BC lying in museums, in numbers sufficient to indicate how ubiquitous they were in their day, which have no obvious purpose. No description of their function has come down to us, and the context of their discovery supplies no unambiguous clues as to their use. The place of discovery of some is not recorded. So we have in our museums objects about which we can say virtually nothing, except that they are objects made of wood/bone/stone/ceramic, and that they date from the first millennium. Metadata therefore is in a sense coequal with issues of preservation; knowing where a thing is, or how to find it, is just as important as the description of a thing. Andy Powell contributes an interesting article on the Encoding of OpenURLs in DC metadata, which represents some kind of a solution to the problem of the changing locations of digital objects:

The OpenURL provides a mechanism for encoding a citation for an information resource, typically a bibliographic resource, as a URL. The OpenURL is, in effect, an actionable URL that transports metadata or keys to access metadata for the object for which the OpenURL is provided.... The citation is provided by either using a global identifier for the resource, for example a Digital Object Identifier (DOI), or by encoding metadata about the resource, for example title, author, journal title, etc., or by some combination of both approaches. It is also possible to encode a local identifier for the resource within the OpenURL. In combination with information about where the OpenURL was created, this allows software that receives the OpenURL to request further metadata about the information resource... this article focuses on the OpenURL metadata encoding mechanism ...

There are two Metadata columns in this particular issue. The second is by the UK Interoperability focus Paul Miller, who describes the work of the UK's new Metadata for Education Group, known as MEG. In the article he calls for widespread support of the MEG Concord as a first step on the road to a broad consensus on educational metadata.

In a related article, heading up this issue of Ariadne, Pete Johnston of the UKOLN interoperability focus office debuts in our pages. In his article, he reviews the implications of recent proposals to develop virtual learning in the UK Higher Education and Further Education sectors, in terms of support from libraries, archives, and museums.

Continuing our coverage of user issues, Ruth Wilson of the Centre for Digital Library Research contributes an article on e-Books from the perspective of the EBONI project. Ruth explains how EBONI will look into the usability of e-books through user evaluations using students and lecturers from a range of disciplines and backgrounds.

We conclude our recent coverage of the UK eLib Hybrid Libraries projects with articles on both the HEADLINE and HYLIFE projects. We also have a report on the one day conference held in Edinburgh University Library in February, on a day when the city was heavily carpeted with snow, and the task of finding a taxi to anywhere was a tall order. There was another event in Manchester a week earlier, and three presentations from that day (HEADLINE, HYLIFE and the DNER/Hybrid Libraries presentation) plus two of the question and answer sessions, can be found via the 'At the Event' section of the magazine. The streaming speeds are pretty high (more than ten times faster than 56k modem access speeds), so only those users with high-band access to the Internet will be able to view the streaming video. In future we will do our best to ensure presentations are also available at modem friendly speeds.

Phil Bradley returns with his Search Engines column, and in this issue he looks at how site maintainers can tell if their access statistics are being warped by the visits of the most popular search engines. In this connection, we looked at Ariadne's access statistics for Christmas Day 2000. We discovered to our surprise that we had around 650 user sessions. This was received within UKOLN as an unexpectedly high figure, and the question of the interpretation of the statistics arose. Around 30 per cent of the accesses seemed to be accounted for by search engine robots, which fitted well with what we normally would expect - the total accesses for the day were around half the average week day accesses, and the usual proportion of search engine robots buried in that average weekday total is normally in the vicinity of fifteen percent. It was also possible for us to identify Internet Explorer search agents which might have skewed the figures - there were not many of these. It would not be unreasonable therefore to say that Ariadne had more than 400 human user sessions for Christmas day.

This might be looked at as evidence of some kind of cultural shift, and a shift of some importance to the designers of web services: not everyone has highband access, and the proportion of lowband users is increasing (i.e., modem users logging in from home rather than the office). In Europe this is likely to be the situation for some time to come, until highband access is easily and cheaply available. Other parts of the world will be relying on lowband access and lowband services for much longer.

Finally, researching our own past, we find some interesting developments in our access statistics over the year between January 2000 and December 2000. During two months of the year we took more than half a million hits in each month. In only two months did we receive less than a third of a million hits per month. During the whole year the number of raw hits received by Ariadne was around 5 million (5,057,897 in this analysis), and this gives an average hit rate per day of 13,857.

User sessions are of course more important and more reliable as a measure. The total for the year was just under half a million (467,093), of which, as indicated above, fifteen per cent is accounted for by accesses by search engine robots.The statistics in the table below were compiled from monthly UKOLN Systems Group reports, on 18 Jan 2001. Figures vary slightly according to the way they are compiled, but the general trends indicated remain consistent, and it is the illustration of the general trend which is the purpose of the table.

Ariadne stats (issues 1-25) from January 2000 to the end of December 2000

MonthHits per monthHits per dayPage Views per monthPage Views per dayUser Sessions per monthUser Sessions per dayAverage User Session Length
January 2000333,80010,767103,2353,33027,94590112:31
February 2000317,97110,964109,4363,77429,5811,02017:18
March 2000392,96212,676114,9493,70839,0861,26013:34
April 2000329,00510,966101,2523,37534,0191,13312:51
May 2000348,27611,234116,4493,75735,7981,15416:04
June 2000348,18311,606106,8413,56134,1281,13711:22
July 2000360,17511,618125,4634,04737,8921,22212:50
August 2000366,59011,825120,0703,87338,9791,25713:16
September 2000457,34615,244140,0114,66744,3311,47711:12
October 2000540,44117,433181,7215,86254,6721,76310:39
November 2000505,38416,846182,2166,07451,1221,70410:59
December 2000409,58113,212175,1885,65339,5401,27510:37



Thanks to all of those who took the trouble to fill in the Ariadne 26 questionnaire. The feedback from users is extremely valuable, and helps us to tailor the magazine more closely both to the users and our own requirements. We will be collecting information from this web form for at least the next two issues, so it is still worth the time taken to fill it in.

Thanks to Shirley Keane (for assistance with the Newsline section), and Ariadne's co-editor, Marieke Napier, recently returned from Australia.

Suggestions for articles for issues 28 to 30 are now being considered. Article proposals should be sent to: ariadne@ukoln.ac.uk. Books for review should be sent to:

The Editor
The Library,
University of Bath
Claverton Down
Bath BA2 7AY
United Kingdom

Enjoy the issue.

Philip Hunter
Ariadne Editor

Email: p.j.hunter@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/