Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Link: A New Beginning for BUBL

Dennis Nicholson and Joanne Gold present an overview of 'daughter of BUBL'.

The BUBL Information Service, formerly BUBL, the BUlletin Board for Libraries, is in the process of transforming itself into a new service called LINK, an acronym for LIbraries of Networked Knowledge. LINK already exists in embryonic form and can be accessed via the WWW at:


The service can also be accessed via Z39.50 at the same address - Port: 210, Database: Zpub. Gopher access is also available on Port 70, however gopher client access is currently very limited and is not recommended. Telnet access is planned but is not a current priority. This will probably be based on Lynx, but no final decision has yet been taken.

Since becoming an operational service in May 1991 BUBL has been managed and operated by staff of the library at Strathclyde University in Glasgow. However, it has never been physically located there, being based at Glasgow Unversity until September 1993 then on the UKOLN server at Bath University until this year, 1996. With the full introduction of LINK, sometime in 1996, the service will, for the first time, be both managed and based at Strathclyde University.

As indicated above, LINK is not yet an operational service. However its basic form is already largely in place. Once this is finalised, the service will grow through the gradual addition of resources from the Bath based service, and elsewhere, but neither the underlying philosophy of the service, nor the details of its structure, organisation, operational methods or technical basis are expected to alter significantly, at least in the short to medium term.

This makes it possible to contemplate an article which aims to explain and illustrate both the basic form of LINK and the reasoning behind it. Such an article is pertinent at this point, partly because BUBL is still seeking user feedback on the design of LINK (Tell Us what you think), partly because we believe that LINK will be more effective and useful as a tool if users and intermediaries understand how it is designed, structured and organised. With this latter point in mind, we have attempted to ensure that the design, structure and organisation of LINK is easy to understand, learn and remember. The key is the mnemonic Menus, Help, Search, Libraries.

Everything you need to know and remember about LINK is contained in these four words. The Libraries are subsections of the WWW browser interface to resources accessible via the service. They consist, or will consist, of the current BUBL Subject Tree but presented in Dewey Decimal Classification order. The current BUBL Subject Tree contains Internet resources of interest to the U.K. Higher Education community, and covers every major subject area. The present intention is to make all of these resources accessible via LINK, although discussions are currently taking place with JISC,who fund BUBL, regarding BUBL's relationship to the eLib Access to Network Resources projects ADAM, CAIN, EEVL, IHR-INFO, ROADS, RUDI, OMNI, SOSIG, and to NISS that may yet have a bearing on the final focus of the service. One possibility is that LINK will cover only those subject areas not covered by the other services and within this will focus in particular on Pure Science and Library and Information Science. However, other possibilities are also being discussed and it may be that LINK will specialise in covering all subjects via one search facility and in offering access to these via Dewey, LCSH and Z39.50. Further information will be reported through ARIADNE and other sources as soon as it is available.

Regardless of the final focus of the service in terms of subject coverage, the key interface with LINK will be the Search facility. All resources accessible via LINK will be catalogued and searchable via both a WWW Search form and Z39.50. All of the following will be recorded and searchable:

*** Item Name, Item Abstract and Item Content Type are system provided fields. As such we are unable to alter their names to more intuitive, easily recognised ones.

A general keyword search of all fields will be available and will include an implicit boolean AND facility. It will also be possible to search individual fields, to combine terms from these fields using AND, OR, and NOT, and to employ left and right hand truncation in searches.

As already indicated, the Search facility will be the real key to LINK, and extensive guidance in using it will be provided via the Help facility. This currently consists of three subsections:

Begin here covers the Menus, Help, Search, Libraries structure, Search help gives tips on how to get the best out of the search interface, and Service help covers such things as LINK services, BUBL, JISC, Sponsors, WWW and Z39.50 access and related items.

Access to Help and to other key functions, including the Dewey classified Libraries, is accessible at the top and at the foot of every page of LINK via the header and footer Menus. These are identical in terms of content and cover:

The footer menu looks like this:

[Help] [Search] [Browse] [News] [E-Mail Updates] [Tell Us] [Net Search] [More]

You can get a feel for its use and the functions it provides access to by clicking on each of the items in turn, then using Back on your browser and page down to return to this part of the article.

It covers the same functions as the footer menu, except that it also enables immediate access to the LINK home page at any time - try clicking on any part of the banner outside of the menu itself, then use Back on your browser and page down to return to this part of the article.

LINK is the culmination of a process that began as far back as 1991. In that year, BUBL almost came to a premature end when Project Jupiter, the Glasgow University based initiative which gave rise to BUBL in its experimental form, came to the end of its natural life and ran out of funds. A group of volunteers from Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities took over the service determined to build it up, widen its appeal, and develop a user base large enough to ensure its survival. Very few people in the U.K. had heard of the Internet in 1991 but a few farsighted individuals, some of them (believe it or not) librarians, had grasped its potential. BUBL helped feed these individuals with much sought after information about Internet developments and, in the process, helped ensure its own survival.

This was the beginning of an attempt to provide end users and librarians with a helpful interface to Internet resources. It led, inevitably, two years on, to the transformation of BUBL from a JANET based local-access-only service into a fully fledged Internet based service with gopher and World Wide Web servers linking its users to resources across the developed world. Shortly after this, towards the end of 1993, the BUBL Subject Tree was born - a first attempt to provide user-friendly helpfully organised access to Internet resources. This, in turn, led in 1994-1995 to the BLRDD funded CATRIONA project, an investigation into the feasibility of a distributed catalogue of Internet resoruces based on library standards like Z39.50 and MARC, and integrated with the traditional OPAC approach to hard copy resources.

CATRIONA - CATaloguing and Retrieval of Information Over Networks Applications - showed that there were already commercially available Z39.50 OPAC clients which, having searched for and retrieved MARC records describing electronic resources and containing URLs, could automatically load a WWW client like Netscape, pass it the URL and so deliver the electronic resource to the desktop via the catalogue. This meant that the CATRIONA model, which envisaged a distributed catalogue of Internet resources based on Z39.50 and MARC and integrated with the retrieval of information as hard copy resources was already a practical proposition at a basic level. Many enhancements to the standards and the software were necessary to make it a practical reality, with a requirement from parallel distributed searching being a key element. However, the central approach appeared a sound basis for a future development path.

The introduction of LINK was a direct consequence of the CATRIONA project. The aim was to design a service that could ultimately be an integrated part of a distributed catalogue of Internet resources based on MARC, Z39.50 and the CATRIONA model. The next step was to find software that would support a service of this kind and that would also provide other required enhancements to the BUBL service. In the event, Ameritech's NetPublisher software proved to be the answer, providing:

The software, which runs under Windows NT, is a vital tool in the implementation of BUBL's new strategy. It enables us to plan for what we believe is the future whilst at the same time staying abreast of developments in the currently favoured trend of WWW.

LINK is expected to become an operational service in the final quarter of 1996.