Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Adding Value to the National Information Infrastructure: The EDINA Exchange Day, Edinburgh

John MacColl provides us with a report of EDINA's first general information event for the HE and FE communities held at the National E-Science Centre.

EDINA [1] held its first general information event for the Higher and Further Education communities on Tuesday 11 May 2004. EDINA Exchange took place in the National E-Science Centre at the University of Edinburgh.

The day began with an introduction by EDINA Director Peter Burnhill, who took us through the programme for the day, and highlighted some of EDINA's notable recent achievements. The morning session then began with presentations on the various subject and resource type clusters in which EDINA is active.

Bibliographic Data and Tools

The first of these was made by Christine Rees, Team Manager for Bibliographic and Multimedia Services, who explained that bibliographic services are primarily based on abstract and index (A&I) databases. EDINA provides a search interface onto these, either by developing and hosting an interface, or by taking an interface from a data provider. Coverage within EDINA services at present is strong in several areas. In health, agricultural and life sciences there is BIOSIS Previews, Update and CAB Abstracts. In the arts, humanities and social sciences EDINA offers Index to the Times, EconLit, PAIS and MLA. INSPEC covers engineering, informatics and physical sciences (INSPEC). Several of these services have Ovid interfaces, including EconLit, PAIS and INSPEC. Ovid is moving to offer its own gateway service in the UK from this summer, though EDINA will continue to offer INSPEC and CAB Abstracts.

Two significant infrastructure projects in this area are Xgrain and zBlsa. These have been funded by JISC in order to provide services based upon new digital library technologies but at the national, as opposed to the merely institutional level. Xgrain performs federated searching across a range of bibliographic databases, while zBlsa - using a resolver service called 'Balsa' - performs link resolution, presenting services which exist upon specific citations. As these functions of the national Information Environment mature out of the project phase to become services, their names will change to become, respectively, GetRef and GetCopy. GetRef searches across a range of A&I databases - some free, and others commercial - as well as the British Library's ZETOC table of contents service. It searches across common indexes, and is made available either via an EDINA-hosted interface, or as a portlet. GetRef supports a number of search protocols, including Z39.50, SRW/U and HTTP. The interface uses a simple Google-like search box, and presents results from various targets in a common format. GetCopy provides services on records, taking users from citations to full text by acting as an OpenURL resolver. EDINA call it a 'lightweight broker', since there is no institutional installation required - hence the original name 'Balsa'. GetCopy will tell users about services to which they have rights of access.

E-BioSci is an EU-funded project. EDINA is working with the RDN's BIOME hub service and will eventually host the UK e-BioSci platform. A prototype service is now available.

In the bibliographic tools area, EDINA offers SALSER - a union catalogue of serials holdings of Scottish universities, the National Library of Scotland and the Edinburgh and Glasgow public libraries. SALSER is a free service. A major related project is SUNCAT, the UK's new Serials Union Catalogue, being developed by EDINA in association with Ex Libris. A pilot service should be available from the end of 2004. It will provide a search service across the UK, and allow downloading of high-quality serials records.

Images for Learning

Rick Loup, Multimedia Services Development Officer, gave a presentation on the Education Image Gallery (EIG) and Education Media Online. EIG includes 50,000 images from Getty Images, 10,000 selected by consultation with the user community. It is hosted by EDINA as a pilot service until 31 July 2004. The content was selected by leading academics across a broad range of subjects and is ideal for embedding into presentations or for use in learning materials, and images have comprehensive metadata attached. The images are all copyright-cleared and free to download for educational use. All are in screen-resolution format, and free of watermarking. Images incorporated into printed materials are available in perpetuity. There are currently 40 subscribing institutions since the launch in January 2004. Images normally cost over £100 each to purchase - so these represent extremely good value (institutional licences range from £250 to £1,600).

Education Media Online has been produced by MAAS (the Managing Agent Advisory Service run by the Open University (OU) and the British Universities Film and Video Council) and EDINA. MAAS does selection, rights acquisition, digitisation, encoding, metadata creation and promotion. EDINA does hosting, design and development, delivery and user support. The service was launched in January 2003, and over 150 institutions currently subscribe, (although at present it is still free to use). The content is currently evolving and sources include Anglia TV, Films of Scotland, the International Wildlife Foundation, the Imperial War Museum, St George's Hospital Medical School and several others, with more in the pipeline, including OU Worldwide next year. Films can be easily imported and embedded in learning materials. Metadata is provided for each record.

Geospatial Data for All Disciplines

EDINA is well known for its geospatial data services, and David Medyckyj-Scott, Team Manager for Geographic Data and Research Services, gave the next presentation on what EDINA currently offers in this area. With the UKBORDERS service, EDINA acts as the primary platform for census data in the UK, with around 100 datasets of digitised boundary data. Recent developments include an easy download service for pre-built datasets, and a new boundary selector facility is currently in testing. UKBORDERS delivers around 2,000 downloads each month.

Digimap is an online map delivery service for Ordnance Survey data. It divides into Digimap Classic and Digimap Carto (which provides users with maps to take away). There are currently 84 subscribing universities and colleges, and nearly 17,000 registered users - less than 20% of whom are geographers. The service also receives a high level (around 50%) of undergraduate use. The value of Digimap to UK HE and FE is illustrated by the fact that the data downloaded in the last year would cost £6.5m at commercial prices. From September 2004, the product range will include a new range of scales for colour maps - 1:10,000, 1:25,000 and 1:50,000. Coming soon will be a redesigned download service, a new version of Carto, and a new subscription service for historical map data. On the latter, EDINA has been in discussion with the Landmark Information Group and the Ordnance Survey. Another developing service is geological map and other data for Great Britain from the British Geological Survey. Hydrographic data from the UK Hydrographic Office will also be coming soon as a subscription service. EDINA is also looking to expand into global and regional map data, rather than concentrating just on the UK.

Stuart MacDonald, Assistant Data Librarian, gave a presentation on the agricultural census service Agcensus. The census itself has been conducted every June since 1866. Data is collected separately in England, Scotland and Wales and EDINA staff have developed algorithms to convert the data into grid square estimates. The data has been used in epidemiology (public health), market research, GIS (Geographic Information Systems) modelling and agricultural planning. The new service offers both data downloads, suitable for use with GIS packages, and data visualisation.

Projects to develop geospatial tools include Go-Geo! the geo-data portal, which provides a one-stop shop to geographic data services. geoXwalk is a digital gazetteer service for enhancing geographical querying of resources through geographical parsing.

Geospatial teaching materials in a number of subjects are now available through the E-MapScholar Project. These have been developed by academics across the UK for use in real teaching contexts, serving up Digimap Ordnance Survey data. Learning and Teaching Projects Coordinator Moira Massey described how St Helen's College is producing case studies using E-MapScholar, including Blackboard courses in animal management, hairdressing, surveying and construction, sports sciences, public services and in foundation degree courses. A content management system underpins the application, assisting academics to construct learning materials. Users have been positive about the value to students provided in assisting them to develop concepts in geospatial data use. An example of a sophisticated learning resource which has been developed is a 'virtual work placement' built around a case study for a wind-farm proposal in Wales.

Supporting Scottish History

Moving into the realm of historic data, Helen Chisholm, User Support Team Manager, described the Statistical Accounts of Scotland which comprises two sets of accounts and is a Scottish national treasure - the equivalent of the Domesday Book. It represents an early exercise in population survey and record, making it a particularly appropriate resource for EDINA. The First Account covers the period from 1791-99. The Second Account was commissioned by the Church of Scotland in 1832, ran to 15 volumes and was published in 1845. Sir John Sinclair, who instigated the First Account, asked 938 parish ministers to furnish information on the basis of 166 questions on class, wealth, poverty, industry and the 'moral health of the nation'. As the 20th Century drew to a close, it was clear that the pages of the original volumes had become delicate and fragile and the data was becoming difficult to access. A service to digitise them was commissioned, run by a consortium representing universities, colleges, schools, archives and public libraries. The service was launched in January 2001, free to academic users, public libraries, archives and state schools, and it receives some 5,000 logins per month. It provides both the digitised text and its transcript. Teaching modules based on the Accounts are planned for delivery and indexes to the tables are in preparation.

Managing Data into the Future

Data Librarian Robin Rice then described EDINA's contribution to the newly established Digital Curation Centre (DCC). In June 2003, JISC and the e-Science Programme issued a joint call for tenders for this new Centre. An Edinburgh-led bid was declared successful early in 2004, and work began in March. Peter Burnhill, EDINA Director, coordinated the bid and is currently acting as interim Director of the DCC during its set-up phase. The intention is to commence a service in October 2004. 'Digital curation' represents an approach to data management which embraces both digital preservation and data curation. A national centre has been established because it is considered that the challenges involved are too great to leave to institutional solutions alone. Digital data curation embraces the needs of both the static documentary world and the new world of massive and dynamic data generated by eScience. The DCC will be run by a strong partnership including the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, UKOLN and the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC).

National Solutions for Learning and Teaching

Moira Massey described EDINA's work in supporting learning and teaching. EDINA is a partner in the National Learning Network (NLN) delivery service, along with MIMAS, JISC and Becta. EDINA provides a backup server and helpdesk, as well as administrative support. The JISC Online Repository for Learning and Teaching Materials (JORUM) will become a service from August 2005. This is designed to meet JISC's need for a repository for the learning materials it has commissioned over the past few years and into the future. It will provide a library for learning resources and the upload and publication of academics' own learning materials will be strongly encouraged. Resources can be delivered via institutional Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs).

A National Solution for Authorisation

IT Team Manager Alan Ferguson then described the Shibboleth Project which EDINA has just embarked on as part of the Core Middleware Programme. Shibboleth is an authorisation framework for access to Web resources which has emerged from the US Internet2 Programme. Shibboleth has international momentum now and is developing not just in the US but also in Switzerland, Canada, Australia and Finland. A number of vendors (including Blackboard, Ebsco, JSTOR OCLC, WebCT and Ex Libris) are developing 'Shib' interfaces already. Shibboleth is essentially a system for attribute transfer rather than username access. It permits role-based authorisation via attributes and works by users authenticating to their local institution, requesting a remote resource, and being asked for an attribute from the local institution. These are expected to be propagated from local human resources department databases.

Future Challenges

In the afternoon, delegates divided into groups to discuss a range of issues relevant to EDINA services and projects. Obviously stimulated by the morning's presentations, they came up with a number of salient points and questions. Some of the most interesting of these, which are now being discussed within EDINA and JISC, are listed here:


This was a very useful event which served both to raise awareness of the range of service and project activity covered by EDINA and to inform EDINA of the needs and wishes of its user community. EDINA staff were encouraged by the positive feedback the day received in the evaluation, and will ponder the various points and questions raised above, as well as some more general questions relating to boundaries of a different sort from those which can be customised through UKBORDERS.

For example, where should the boundary lie between JISC and EDINA when it comes to promoting EDINA services? And similarly, where does it lie between EDINA and local institutions? What about the boundaries which frame institutional information environments and the national Information Environment? When should an institution use GetCopy in preference to a local link resolver, or GetRef rather than a local federated search service? And how can these plug in to a secure national authorisation service? In developing repositories of objects, should the boundary be local, at the institutional level, or national, via JORUM, or both? Among the many hybridities to be resolved in the developing Information Environment, that of the local as opposed to the national solution to particular problems is a relatively new one when it comes to learning objects and discovery tools - though a well-known one in respect of bibliographic and other data hosting services. EDINA has been at the forefront of the solution to the data hosting needs of the community for many years. The EDINA Exchange event highlighted the new challenges which lie ahead of it as it moves towards its 10th birthday in 2005.


  1. EDINA Web site http://edina.ac.uk/

Author Details

John MacColl
Digital Library
Edinburgh University Library
and User Support & Projects Coordination Manager, EDINA

Email: John.MacColl@ed.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.lib.ed.ac.uk/

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