Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial Introduction to Issue 33: Exploring the Information Environment

Philip Hunter with the editorial for Ariadne 33.

Welcome to the September/October issue of Ariadne.

The concept of the 'Information Environment' is now one which appears often in Digital Library literature. While it is not a vague concept, it is still one which is undergoing development. Implementing an Information Environment is therefore currently a problematic exercise. Those interested in undertaking such an implementation therefore will be interested in a number of articles featured in this issue of Ariadne.

Issue 33 opens with an article which fills in some of the background to OCLC's acquisition of netLibrary ('Utilizing E-books to Enhance Digital Library Offerings') [Shirley Hyatt and Lynn Connaway]. Before the acquisition of netLibrary, OCLC was noted principally for providing cataloguing, metadata, Interlibrary loans, reference, and other services. OCLC's WorldCat, an online bibliographic resource, now contains more than 49 million bibliographic records, covering more than 800 million library holdings. This by itself is a massive and extremely important resource. However a key target for OCLC is now the integration of information resources under the same interface as the bibliographic metadata for these resources. In the past WorldCat provided location information which enabled users to find resources matching the records. During the past ten years of Internet development the notion of what might be provided has changed, and now web-accessible full-text electronic documents can be offered via links within metadata records (as they are currently with the ARC e-prints Service, and others). When it was announced that OCLC had acquired netLibrary, the implications were obvious - as the authors say:

OCLC is supplementing its rich metadata repository with a digital library offering..... netLibrary provides additional opportunities for an enhanced information environment with a sound navigation and information architecture to make the entire environment function as a seamless and friendly package of resources for end-users. They will be able to not only access full-text journals, but also a collection of full text monographs and reference materials from one interface

In our second article Andy Powell offers a '5 step guide to becoming a content provider in the JISC Information Environment'. This looks particularly at the technical steps that content providers need to take so that their systems are interoperable within the JISC-IE technical architecture. The JISC-IE technical architecture has been designed with the requirements of that Information Environment in mind, but any such environment will have features in common which will be of interest beyond this particular project. Powell describes the architecture as specifying 'a set of standards and protocols that support the development and delivery of an integrated set of networked services that allow the end-user to discover, access, use and publish digital and physical resources as part of their learning and research activities'. Powell gives an overview of the kind of activities supported by the architecture - these include: integration of local and remote information resources with 'discovery' services; seamless linking from 'discovery' services to 'delivery' services; integration of information resources and learning object repositories with Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs); and open access to e-print archives and other systems for managing the intellectual output of institutions. His intention is to show that the technical side of providing content for the JISC-IE 'is not overly difficult, [and] that in many cases it will be in line with the things that content providers are doing anyway that it is compatible with other initiatives and general Web trends'. This article follows on from a general introduction to the technical architecture of the JISC-IE which was published in Ariadne 31 ('The JISC Information Environment and Web Services').

A related article, 'Student searching behaviour in the JISC Information Environment', penned for us by Jill Griffiths and Peter Brophy, looks at the EDNER project, which was created to provide evaluation services for the JISC-IE. This is a serious study of the factors involved in user behaviour. One of the results which emerged (there, as elsewhere), distressing to the designers of portal services and information environments, is that students prefer to locate information or resources via a search engine above all other options. And Google, of course, is the preferred option (this is known as the 'googling phenomenon'). Maybe this shouldn't be so surprising. Librarians have known for years that a common characteristic of most new students is that they know almost nothing about libraries and how they work. It takes a while before they can use the services properly. Google is an easy solution if you don't know what it can't find for you.

There are numerous other highlights in this issue of Ariadne, including 'Portals, Portals everywhere' (Ian Dolphin, Paul Miller and Robert Sherratt), and Pete Johnston's report on the 'New Directions in Metadata' conference held in Edinburgh in August ('Collaboration, Integration and "Recombinant Potential"'). Markos Dendrinos looks at a technical structure for speaking librarian services, based on speech recognition and synthesis technologies. Brian Kelly in his Web Focus column suggests that web managers should 'Get Serious About HTML Standards' Though he advises standardisation on XHTML 1.0 as the ideal, if possible, since it is a reformulation of HTML 4 in XML 1.0. This means that XML tools can be used to process resources, allowing a certain degree of future proofing. Liz Lyon provides a brief trip report from a Digital Libraries conference in Beijing. Brett Burridge describes his 'Index Server Companion', an application which allows Microsoft Index Server to index content from remote websites and ODBC databases. 'Climbing the Scholarly Publishing Mountain with SHERPA' (John MacColl and Stephen Pinfield) explores the SHERPA project which is concentrating on making e-prints available online.

Plus (of course) we have the usual regular columns from EEVL (the Edinburgh Engineering Virtual Library) and SOSIG (the Social Science Gateway). Penny Garrod's regular article looks at the current state of the changing environment for the Public Library sector.

We were saddened to hear that Ian Mowatt, Librarian at the University of Edinburgh, was killed in a hill-walking accident in Scotland shortly after participating in the 'New Directions in Metadata' conference (reported on elsewhere in this issue). Ian was a well-known figure in the Digital Libraries field in the UK, and will be much missed.

Ariadne would like to extend grateful thanks to Shirley Keane, who not only put together the Newsline column as she has done before, but also did most of the initial markup for the issue.

Suggestions for articles for issues 34 and 35 are now being considered. Article proposals and books for review should be sent to: ariadne@ukoln.ac.uk.

Enjoy the issue.

Philip Hunter
Ariadne Editor